In continuing with the focus on communication, a major part of it involves the body: facial expressions, posture, hands, eyes, and the like. Inf fact, only 7% of our conversations are the words said – 38% involve the tone of voice while the rest (55%) involves body movements.
Researchers have said that “words are used primarily for conveying information, while body language is used for negotiating interpersonal attitudes and, in some cases, is used as a substitute for verbal messages” (Pease & Pease, 2004). Body language, also, conveys emotions and what someone may be feeling at the time. According to the Pease’s, understanding body language includes the ability to understand a person’s emotions while listening to what they say, along with the context from where they are coming from.
Body language can be welcoming to another or it can close them off. But body language may not be a true reflection of what is being said as it can mask one’s true meaning. For example, someone may say that they are ‘fine’ but have their arms folded in front of them, which is a defensive pose, while not maintaining eye contact. While you may not be aware, you are always communicating and revealing your feelings and attitudes without saying any words.
Body language includes:
- Facial expressions, which are the most expressive part of our body, and includes: eyes, eyebrows, mouth, all individually as well as collectively
- Hands – there are more connections between the brain and our hands, which can convey power, dominance, or deceit; this includes handshakes, which can seal deals or show character.
- Posture – emotions are shown a lot by someone’s posture, such as slumped shoulders, or confidence when standing erect or with your hands on your hips (like Superman), or being closed in with arms folded.
- Legs and feet – how we sit or stand can say a lot about a person; for instance, someone who feels overly confident may sit with their legs open, while sitting with your legs crossed can mean indifference or uncertainty. Tapping one’s foot can indicate nervousness or boredom.
- Space – how close or far we stand from someone can indicate our intimate feelings about them but also following some protocol, such as closeness to peers or your boss.
- Paralanguage – this includes tone of voice, pitch, rate, and inflection of the words we convey; each of these can change the meaning of the intent conveyed. For example, someone may talk really fast when they are nervous.
- Social media – this has to be included now as part of communication, since this has become the norm for many. This includes: text messaging, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Each of these are used in conversations, especially with Millennials and Gen Z’s; it’s not uncommon to hear that they have been ‘talking’ to someone, only to find out it’s only through one of those mediums.
Now that you have the basics, it’s time to do a self-assessment to see how you are communicating with your body – what is it conveying in your interactions with those you deal with on a daily basis? Go and pick a situation that both was a positive encounter as well as one that wasn’t, perhaps resulting in conflict, and assess how you were presenting yourself, both in words and body language. It would be helpful to have someone you know give their opinion from the outsider’s perspective.
Here are some quick tips to communicate more effectively with your body language:
- ensure your words and actions are congruent, or matching; you can tell someone that you are okay with something they did but your mouth may clench, indicating you are upset with them
- check your voice – the tone (loud, soft), the rate (fast, slow), pitch (high, low) and inflection (emphasis on certain words). As stated earlier, these can change the meaning of a statement with each of these, leading to misinterpretation and hurt feelings
- moderate both the speed of your communication as well as your facial features; this will take some practice but, over time and with practice, it can be done. Sometimes the facial expressions can be automatic before we realize so working on them consistently will create a new habit
- pay attention to your mood and emotions and not go into conversations if these are too high, especially if you’re angry. It’s perfectly fine to put off having a conversation in the heat of the moment but come back once you are calmer. There will be times that you have to check your emotions at the door but, once alone, you can implode. This again may take restraint and practice.
In writing this, communication is very complicated! But, with awareness and intent, you can become a good communicator, of which body language is a huge part but it does take practice and consistency to become so. The steps above will get you on your way.
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