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Influencing Others in Business Environments

Throughout human civilization, the art of selling ideas or products has

been a cornerstone of society. Some people have become masters at this art,

yielding themselves and their companies large amounts of profit. Why is it that

some people are better at this than others? This paper will take a look at the

various aspects of nonverbal communication in selling (or influencing others to

buy) and in job interviews by examining in detail the various aspects of

proximics, haptics, physical attractiveness, and other nonverbal cues that

influence people to say yes.

Artifacts and local environment

Several studies have presented evidence in support of the theory that

“dressing for success” affects one’s ability to influence other people. One

study found that people dressed in suits versus people dressed in casual or

working-class clothes actually affects a subject’s likelihood of answering a

question correctly. In this study, a person dressed in a suit had a 77% percent

chance of getting money returned to them, while those dressed casually or in

working outfits had a 38% chance (Bickman, 1971). This study suggests that a

person’s status affects how well they are received by the person they are trying

to influence, and thus their likelihood of being able to influence them into

buying an idea or product.

Seating arrangements can affect ones ability to influence others.

Seating arrangements that are closer to one another have a greater effect and

lead to a less hostile environment than when people are seated opposite of one

another (Sommer, 1967). Sommer found that when a relationship is of a

competitive nature (i.e. bargaining situations such as labor contract

agreements) there is a preference for this style of seating because it “reflects

a desire to obtain information about one’s competitor.” Another study suggested

round tables help to “increase informality and feelings of closeness in

comparision to square or rectangular tables” (Sommer, 1965). Dawson (1986)

suggested having the members of the negotiation dispersed, that is, have

intermixing the opposing members together helps smooth over negotiations.

Placing artifacts in the negotiating environment can have affects on the

negotiation. A flower, vase, or abstract artwork have a tendency to promote

informality and affiliative behavior while books and magazines placed in the

environment discourage these processes (Mehrabian, 1971).

Voice and Tone

Voices have a significant persuasive affect. A study by Mehrabian and

Williams (1969) suggested that there are four nonverbal cues of voice that have

a persuasive effect. These are: having a louder amplitude, having a greater

intonation, having greater fluency in speech, and having a faster tempo during

speaking. Another study showed that when one has a louder and more fluent voice

they were more likely to get a favorable decision on a job interview or in a

legal battle (Hollandsworth et al., 1979). Faster tempos have a more persuasive

affect by exhibiting expertise and competence (Buller, 1986). But, there is a

limit. Speaking tempos greater than 375 syllables per minute decrease their

persuasive affect with faster tempos exhibiting greater and greater levels of

loss of persuasiveness.

Physical Appearance

Phsyical apperance has several manners in which it can help or hinder

the outcome of a negotiation. Raw physical attractiveness, one’s innate or

genetic attractiveness, has been shown to dramatically affect the attentiveness

of an audience. One study did an experiment with a woman, first she was dressed

to look unattractive, then she was dressed attractively. The study showed that

among male audience members her ability to influence them varied with how well

she dressed. When she was dressed well, she was seen as more persuasive than

when she was dressed unattractively (Mills & Aronson, 1965). Another study

between a middle aged male professor and a younger attractive male undergraduate

yielded some interesting results. The study showed that among a female

audience, the young male was seen as persuasive with or without evidence to

support his theories; whereas, the male professor was only seen persuasive with

evidence (Norman, 1976). All of these studies suggest that the persuasive

affect of attractiveness is most significant with the opposite sex. That is,

the persuasive effect of attractiveness only works when the audience members

being influenced are not of the same sex as the speaker. Why is this so?

Bettinghaus and Code (1987) offer this answer: “Attractive sources influence us

because of their attractiveness, not because of message content. That is, since

we identify with, and desire approval from, attractive sources, we respond to

them, not the messages).”

Listening and Silence

Listening (or silence) is another key and often under-rated aspect of

effective nonverbal behavior. While most people think they know how to listen,

few can do it well (Churchman, 1993). One cliche concerning listenings said,

“You can’t lose a negotiation while the opponent is talking.” Interrupting an

opponent or cutting them off during speaking tend to have a negative effect

during negotiations (Chuchman, 1993). Silence is also an important

characteristics during successful negotiations. Hopkins suggests during the

closing aspect of selling it is important to be silent and resist any temptation

to speak after asking a closing question. Getting someone to listen to an idea

or information about a product is often difficult. A study by Doby (1970)

showed that it is easier to motivate people to listen to the ideas presented

when the person feels like he/she does not know enough about it.

Proximics and Haptics

While persuasiveness varies with distance for speakers of large

audiences, there are some general trends for selling and negotiations. Distance

between individuals are divided into zones: initimate zone, social zone, etc.

For the sake of negotiations, a distance of 1 1/2 to 3 feet is best (Baron,

1976). Another study found that during an interview, a close proximity gives

someone a greater likelihood of getting hired versus being further away. This

is due to a greater feeling of warmth and enthusiasm that is portrayed during

the interview (Imada, 1977). A person’s body position can also affect how well

one’s ideas are perceived. Leaning forward or having a “more direct body

orientation” can lead to greater persuasiveness (LaCross, 1975). Another study

showed that having an open body position allows for ideas to be evaluated in a

more positive manner versus having a closed body position (McGinley, 1975).

Touch or haptics is another nonverbal cue that can play a role is successful

negotiating. A light touch on the arm during a presentation. Various studies

have shown that a person becomes more willing to “sign petitions or complete

questionnaires, to assist with scoring inventories, and to help an interviewer

pick up dropped questionnaires” (Crusco, 1984). Hence, the shaking of hands at

the beginning of a business meeting to facilitate good will and cooperation

(Dawson, 1986).


The role of nonverbal communication within business meetings should not

be over-rated. Nonverbal behavior does play a role and can help with success in

negotiations, but is not the be all, end all to negotiating successfully.

However, being aware of violating someone’s personal zone or knowing when to be

quiet is as important as knowing what to say. In general, more successful

persuaders were found to be smiling, nodding, and gesturing at appropiate

moments during a business meeting or job interview (Edinger, 1983). What is

important to remember is to know when to use these various cues to your

advantage, and to know not to overuse them. Specific research in this field was

difficult to find, and more research is needed before greater and more detailed

conclusions can be drawn.

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