Speaking Without Words: How Advisors Can Harness the Power of Nonverbal Communication

by HighTower Advisors on July 17, 2019

“Working with thousands of advisors on a yearly basis, I can tell you that advisors know how to tell a story,” said Kristie Van Leeuwen, a body language expert, certified behavioral analyst and founder of PeopleReader, Inc. “But I often see them delivering their message looking defeated, depleted or fatigued.”

In a presentation at the 2019 HighTower Advisor Summit, Van Leeuwen discussed the importance of finding congruency between the words that we say and the nonverbal signals we give off while speaking.

“When there’s a lack of alignment between the two, it causes an erosion in your message, and often an erosion in trust,” she said.

From the position of our heads, to the way we stand and hold our arms, you can tell a lot about how a person is feeling by simply analyzing body presentation. Van Leeuwen uses her knowledge of body language to help individuals and firms achieve sustainable revenue growth through personalized coaching, and her programs have helped thousands of people learn the behavioral and communication techniques that help facilitate success.

Here are some of her tricks for reading a room and mastering nonverbal communication

1. Look at body positioning

If you want to know what (or whom) someone is interested in, look at the positioning of his or her body. Typically, Van Leeuwen says people will point their belly buttons towards the person or thing they want to be paying attention to.

“This is what I call ‘navel’ intelligence,” said Van Leeuwen. “We point with our belly buttons toward the things in which we’re most interested.”

If you are having a conversation with someone, and his or her body is pointing away from you, you likely don’t have that person’s full attention.

2. Utilize power poses

Engaging in “power poses” – like standing tall with your hands on your hips – before major meetings and events can help you feel and act more confident.

“These poses are tied to ego,” said Van Leeuwen. “That doesn’t mean that everybody who uses them is an egomaniac, but using power poses signifies to the people around them that they want to be recognized. They minimize the possibility of dismissal, show that you are in a position of control or leadership, and decrease cortisol levels, which are our stress hormones.”

3. How you say something says a lot

If you want to know how a client actually feels, watch for a lack of congruency between the words the person is saying and the way in which he or she is saying it. For example: Someone says she is very excited, but her face, body and tone of voice seem anxious and sad. (She is not excited!)

Van Leeuwen recommends using visualization before important conversations to help match your tone to your words.

“Before you pick up the phone, you need to make sure your head is in the right space,” she explained. “One of the best ways to do that is to just spend a minute imagining the impact you’ve had on people’s lives. It’s nearly impossible not to light up the conversation with passion and drive when you think about your impact.”

4. Trust your instincts

According to Van Leeuwen, 55 percent of human communication is conveyed through nonverbal cues, 38 percent through tone of voice, and just seven percent through words. If you feel a stark difference between what someone is saying and how he or she is saying it, you’re probably right on.

To learn more about how HighTower helps advisors find new and creative ways to connect with clients and potential clients, email us at

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