Feet firmly planted on the floor, arms resting on the table, he looks straight ahead at you, oozing confidence. Across the table, the subject moves in his seat, eyes darting side to side with an occasional, hopeful glance toward the door.

Interrogation? Or business meeting?

The tactics for success are similar for both, and in the lines that follow we’ll touch on some of the secrets that professional interrogators use to accurately identify and decode non-verbal behavior, and how motorsports professionals can be more effective and tactful in their own communications.


Imagine having the ability to read another person so well that you can predict their thoughts and next moves. Reading and interpreting “tells” that give you clues as to how to approach different individuals can help to ensure you have a successful end to your interaction with that person. Whether you are building your business, making a sale, or negotiating a deal, the ability to accurately read and decode body language may very well separate you and your sales efforts from the competition’s.

But make no mistake, it starts with you. By now you’ve heard about the importance of first impressions. And, as you approach a person or group of people with whom you are looking to do business, they in turn are judging you and seeking to determine two things: trust and credibility.

How are you non-verbally communicating to others that you are trustworthy and credible, that you are someone they should be doing business with? Stand tall, avoid the slump, and project confidence with your posture. Confidence comes from within and portrays on the outside. In your head, picture yourself being successful in your goal. Say something strong and positive to yourself before you walk in the room (“I’ve got this”). Make and maintain good eye contact with interested parties. Smile (even when you’re nervous).

Using a person’s first name will also build trust and confidence in you. When they trust you, they are more likely to trust your product/service/deal. Consider this introduction upon first meeting: “Hi, I’m Matt. What do your friends call you?” When you offer your name first, you are building reciprocity. Many people will feel compelled to “return the gesture” and give you their name. By asking “What do your friends call you?” you are subliminally planting a clue that you are “friends.” Be sure to use the variation of their names that they respond with. For example, if Charles responds, “Hi Matt, my friends call me Chuck,” then be sure to call him Chuck.


Treat every potential customer like you are building a business relationship for life. Even if it is not clear how you’d ever encounter that person again, things have a way of coming back around. So build rapport frequently throughout your interaction.

One way to build rapport is by asking an open-ended question to find something the customer is interested in. For example, “If you had no obligations today, and could do anything you want, what would you do?” Now here’s the key: Listen. Encourage that person to speak without interruptions. Refrain from “one-upping” their story. If you have common ground, converse back and forth, like a verbal game of catch where you toss the role of speaking to one another.

If you are unfamiliar with the customer’s interest(s), admit that and ask questions to learn more. Use active listening to ensure the person speaking knows you are paying attention. Making a person feel listened to is one of the most powerful tactics in human communication.

Now, you are off to a good start—your meeting is going well, you made a good impression, and you have built rapport. How do you know when to make your “ask?” To determine when the time is right, you must read what their body is telling you. For example, feet point where the interest lies. If their feet are facing you, they are interested. Make sure your feet point at the customer to subconsciously show that you are interested. If their feet are facing the door, they are looking to leave for some reason (do not make assumptions as to why). Foot position will give you a clue if you are doing well during rapport-building just as well as if you are speaking to their interests with your business information.

A key, and often misinterpreted body language occurrence, is when a person has folded arms. First, determine if that is a normal stance the person is comfortable in. You’ll know this if they commonly relax in that position. Second, make sure the customer is not cold. Finally, never make your “ask” when the subject’s arms are folded. An interrogation fact that holds true for business is that a person will never say “yes” when their arms are folded. If it’s nearing time to make your move, attempt to unfold their arms by handing them a bottle of water, for example. It’s a thoughtful gesture, and that person will unfold their arms to accept the water. Be sure, too, to have your own bottle of water, so that you are in similar positions. This is the principle of “mirroring” that says people like people that are like themselves. (Read that again.)

Anyone in almost any kind of business relies on communication on a number of levels. Mastering non-verbal communication helps you understand the customer’s need. It helps the customer understand what you can provide. And it provides the framework, the foundation, and the “goods” to make the sale.

Most importantly, good communication is crucial to having happy, loyal customers and a lucrative, successful business.

A Medal of Honor recipient with more than two decades in law enforcement, Matt Episcopo has helped companies around the world—from start-ups to Fortune 500’s—improve their leadership, customer retention, and employee engagement. He is also the author of “How To Gain The Upper Hand, P.O.W.E.R. Tactics That Get Leaders Results.” Additional information can be found at his website,

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