Getting Your Candidate to Speak: 7 Nonverbal Techniques
Candidates aren’t always forthcoming; then again, there are times when they talk too much. How, as a recruiter, can you get your candidates to strike that perfect middle ground?
Here, we will explore seven techniques that you can employ during conversations with candidates to demonstrate that you are listening – to encourage your candidates to open up and reveal. And, for those times when your candidate is stuck on talk mode, you can dial down on these techniques to subtly quiet them down.
Before we begin, remember that there are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, you can use these techniques to encourage open conversation with candidates. On the other hand, you can also use these techniques to engage in trust-building behavior when you notice that a candidate is closed off in some way.
1. Head Tilt
Aside from cupping your hand behind your ear (not recommended in interviews), nothing says “I am listening and empathizing with you” more than a simple head tilt. Use this when you need to deliver bad news or when your candidate is sharing a difficult story.
If you have a dog at home, watch if he or she tilts his or her head when you are speaking and consider the impact of this gesture on yourself. If your dog can affect you in this way, imagine the impact you can have on candidates.
2. Triple Nod
If the head tilt says “I am listening,” then the triple nod says “I hear you, I understand you, and I encourage you to go on speaking.”
Research shows that when you nod three times after someone is done speaking, they will generally speak up to four times longer. So, if you want someone to be more forthcoming with you, you can’t beat the triple nod.
We generally think that mouths are for speaking, but they are also for listening. You can communicate a lot nonverbally through the movements of your lips or mouth. That means that your candidates will communicate in this way, too, so you should be on the lookout for these oral cues during an interview.
When you see the following behaviors in your candidates, you can show that you are attuned to their feelings and open up the dialogue by asking about what is on their mind:
- When a candidate holds one or all of their fingers over their mouth, they might be more focused on their response than they are on what you are saying. They are likely holding back their opinion, so stop speaking and give them the floor.
- When a candidate closes their lips tightly or purses them, that is a sign that they are unhappy with what they are hearing. Pay close attention to what caused this reaction and then explore why it made the candidate lock up.
- When your candidate puckers their lips, they are considering what you are saying very carefully. In this context, the puckered lips are often accompanied by other nonverbal cues, such as one finger over the lips and an averted gaze.
- When your candidate shifts their puckered lips from side to side, they are probably considering alternatives to what you are saying.
4. Eye Contact
When you make good eye contact, you demonstrate that you are paying attention and are engaged in what the speaker has to say. We communicate the opposite message when we check our email while our candidate speaks; we might as well tell them to go tell someone who cares.
A good rule of thumb here is to engage in eye contact 70 percent of the time, or 7 seconds out of every 10. Much more than that could get creepy, and much less is avoidant.
Eye contact is very intimate, so it’s a lot harder to remain upset with someone who is engaging in eye contact. If you find that you are unable to meet your candidate’s attempt to make eye contact, or they are unable to look you in the eyes, then something may be wrong. Typically, we think that the person is hiding information or being deceitful, but it could just be that there is a level of disdain or fear, and therefore eye contact is too intimate under the circumstances.
“Proxemics” is a fancy term for the space between us. When you move closer to someone, you indicate that you like them or want to engage more fully. If you don’t like them or the subject of their conversation, you will seek to put space between yourself and them.
This action is tied to the limbic brain’s flight response. It may manifest in an interview when your candidate suddenly leans back in response to a question from you. Pay attention to this reliable cue and ask yourself what might have caused the candidate to subconsciously “flee” from your question.
6. Open Body
When you show an open body, you indicate that you are open to interaction. On the other hand, when you cross your arms, you are placing a barrier between yourself and your candidate. Regardless of your reason for crossing your arms, your candidate will feel like you are blocking them off.
If you see your candidate putting up a barrier of their own, it will be hard to get them to reveal much, so you may want to work on building trust if you want them to open up.
7. Fronting and Feet
Finally, the angle of your body makes it very clear whether or not you are open to someone. Facing someone head-on is called “fronting,” and studies show it makes you seem more honest. (Side note: You might want to consider this principle when you choose your LinkedIn profile picture).
Take note of your candidate’s angle relative to you, including their torso and feet. If their feet are pointing to the door, take that as a reliable cue: It means they want to leave the room.
If you notice your candidate turning their torso away from you, especially in a standing position, then they are not ready to fully engage. If you can position yourself in front of them in a nonthreatening way, then you should be able to get the conversation flowing more smoothly.