How Arm and Leg Positions Can Help You during a Competitive Intelligence Interview - dummies

How Arm and Leg Positions Can Help You during a Competitive Intelligence Interview

By James D. Underwood

Body language can give very important clues as you interview people to collect data for you competitive intelligence. As you conduct your interviews, observe what your subjects do with their arms, hands, and legs.

What hand and arm positions and motions during a competitive intelligence interview

The eyes may be the windows to a person’s soul, but the hands and arms also tell you a lot about what a person is really thinking. You can probably remember a conversation with someone who appeared calm and honest while at the same time wringing his hands. This type of behavior can indicate that the individual is highly stressed over the conversation.

As you observe someone speak, try to pick up on what their hands and arms are telling you. What you see is often what it means, so keep the following details in mind:

  • Open hands with palms showing usually means that the person is being open and honest.

  • Watch the person’s arms, too. Open arms typically indicate openness. If the arms are folded, however, the person is probably feeling defensive (or a little chilly).

  • Watch for indicators of stress, such as clenched fists or the tightening of muscles that may indicate that the person is uncomfortable or feeling stressed by the topic of conversation.

  • Take note when a person turns her palms down. If the conversation progresses in a way that makes the person feel more comfortable, she may turn one or both palms up.

When meeting a person, consider shaking hands to gather insight into the individual. You may be able to size up a person’s attitude just by the way he shakes your hand:

  • Limp fish: A limp handshake often indicates that the person isn’t interested in engaging with you. They may feel uncomfortable and want to flee the scene as quickly as possible.

  • Firm: A reasonably firm (but not painful) handshake can be an indicator of confidence and a desire to engage.

  • Painful: Some people shake hands as though they’re arm wrestling — to demonstrate their superiority. More often than not, a painful handshake is a contrived behavior, a symptom of a control freak or someone lacking in confidence trying to overcompensate. It often indicates a lack of integrity and insecurity or ego in excess.

Who initiates the handshake may also carry some significance. In most cultures, the person of higher standing typically initiates the handshake. If the individuals are on a level playing field, then the one who initiates the handshake is usually the more confident of the two.

Also take note of the duration of the handshake. Some people never seem to know when to let go. When someone extends a handshake beyond a normal, casual moment, you probably should take that as an indicator that they have a predisposition toward control behaviors.

Similar to when someone gets too close (in your bubble zone), people who are overly controlling with a handshake alert you to a number of issues that relate to control behaviors, which often indicate a lack of honesty or a need to manipulate others.

Always keep your mental radar trained on signs of control. Some people control by talking, others by dodging or procrastinating, and still others by being aggressive.

Always take cultural differences into account when evaluating any nonverbal communication. For example, in some cultures, holding out a hand that is supported at the wrist by the other hand is a sign of respect.

What leg positions and movement can tell you during a competitive intelligence interview

Some leg positions and movements are no-brainers. If somebody’s running away from you, that’s a pretty good sign that the person wants to avoid you. If they’re running toward you, they’re about to embrace or attack you, depending on their facial expression.

When a person is sitting down, however, leg positions are more subtle indicators of how they truly feel. First, try to establish a baseline of how the person usually sits by noting how the person is sitting — legs crossed or not, both feet planted legs open, and so on. During the conversation, note any changes in leg position.

Here are a few leg positions and movements that may convey a person’s unspoken attitude:

  • Crossed legs may indicate a defensive posture. The person feels distant or threatened.

  • Moving the legs so that they’re pointing away from you but are still close together may signal negativity or a lack of engagement.

  • Sitting with legs close together and hands clasped together may indicate an effort to create a false impression; for example, trying to appear more contrite and sincere than the person really is.