Reading a room is a skill that can be learned; a guide to nonverbal cues like how people stand or hold their hands.
Sue Shellenbarger’s report for the WSJ focuses on the smartest ways to network. Some people enter a room of strangers and move seamlessly from one conversation to another, uncovering new business contacts. How do they do it?
These people know how to read a room. They extract clues about which people have the most to offer and which to avoid.
Noticing subtle, nonverbal cues can help. Domineering people tend to talk most of the time and avoid eye contact with listeners, research shows. People who are genuinely open to new relationships adopt an open stance, shoulders apart and hands at their sides, turning slightly toward newcomers to welcome them.
Influential people often lead the conversation, but good networkers leave plenty of time to show interest in what others say. An influential speaker has listeners who are nodding and leaning forward, raising their eyebrows or murmuring brief responses such as “Really?” or “I see,” research shows. Listeners who stand close signal a desire to please. So do those who mirror a speaker’s gestures, tilting their heads at the same angle or simultaneously shifting their weight onto one foot.
Come prepared. Think up a list of topics you can offer to a conversation, such as a tip about a new restaurant, weekend plans or industry events. Steer clear of politics, religion and hot-button social issues.
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