Body Language Says More Than Words
“Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.” —Deborah Bull, British dancer and writer
Welcome to today’s lesson where we’ll take your skills and apply them to your body. According to body language experts, the reliance on nonverbal communication for meaning dates back to our early ancestors. Open body language was used to show that someone had no concealed weapons and was not a threat. It’s why we shake hands with the right hand—the sword hand.
Today, we use open body language to show that we are receptive and mean the person no harm. On the other hand, closed body language can be perceived as threatening or distrustful.
Your own childhood teaches you the value of using non-verbal communication. You learned early that crying brings comforting hugs and food. Smiling and giggling makes others happy, so they smile in turn. As you got older, you learned that stomping your feet and screaming was not always effective for getting what you wanted. Long before you were verbal, you were communicating. You still are, whether you realize it or not.
When someone is listening to you, they are paying attention to more than what you are saying. Listening is a full-body experience. They hear not only your words but also how you say them. Your tone of voice conveys your emotions and registers as pleasant, forceful, angry, and so on. They see your facial expressions and gestures. All of this is occurring simultaneously to create the entire communication experience.
You can use body language to enhance your communication or detract from it. Here are a few do’s and don’ts.
1. Communicate involvement by leaning forward and slightly tilting your head to one side.
2. Relax your facial muscles and smile genuinely. Just separating your lips a bit softens your expression and makes you look friendly and approachable.
3. Make good eye contact with the person who is speaking. If you are speaking, move your gaze around, but don’t flit. Just pause for a second or two, and then move on.
4. Lean toward people to show interest.
5. Stand still and breathe quietly.
6. Use a comfortable, relaxed posture.
7. Gain agreement by reaching out with your right hand, palm slightly up, then slowly pull it toward your body.
1. Make random movements like bobbing your head or tapping your foot, especially when you are seated. You seem nervous.
2. Hold objects in front of your body like a shield. It can communicate nervousness, uncertainty, and defensiveness.
3. Fuss with your clothing or hair. This makes you seem insecure and childish.
4. Touch your face, especially your mouth or nose. This is interpreted as deception.
5. Glance at your watch or phone. You seem bored.
6. Text during a conversation. This is rude.
7. Slouch. You lose authority.
Your body speaks louder than your words. Learn to pay attention to what it is saying.
Step 1. Start observing body language in others, both when they are speaking and when you are.
Step 2. Pay attention to how they use their body language to communicate what they are feeling.
Step 3. Decide how you can use this information to improve your body language skills.
In addition to body language, your voice and how you use it is an important part of communication. See you tomorrow, when we focus on controlling your tone when you write and speak.
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