Understanding Body Language:
The Unspoken Communication
Written by: James R. Weiss
Does this sound familiar? You are hosting a formal meeting or conducting a department get-together to discuss a new strategy for the coming year. Everyone appears to be paying attention but you are getting mixed signals from your audience.
Mike is smiling and shaking his head in approval as you present the new budget, but his arms are folded in front of his chest which is sending you an entirely different message. Mary, your assistant manager, is picking on her cuticles and toying with her cell phone and if that’s not bad enough your right hand man Bob is rolling his eyes and gazing off into space.
It doesn’t take long before you mouth dries up and your voice begins to crack just enough to let your audience know that your composure and confidence are disappearing into thin air. Before you can say please pass the Malox your anxiety level has shot through the roof.
What’s going on here? You have spent countless hours preparing this presentation. Why are the members of your team bored? At the end of the meeting there are several pats on the back for a job well done and Mary manages to politely smile as you quickly leave the conference room. After a long sleepless soul-searching night you have come to the realization that your staff was unconsciously using their body language to let you know that they did not like your presentation.
The next morning just before dashing off to the office for another day of e-mails and paper work you decide to ask several of your key people to help you prepare the agenda for the next department meeting. Yes, you got the message loud and clear. The unspoken, ever present nonverbal communication was talking to you loud and clear. You are thankful for the wake-up call and have decided to listen more closely to your staff’s verbal and nonverbal messages.
Body language is one of the oldest forms of nonverbal communication. The use of facial and body gestures predates language by thousands of years. It is primitive but still one of our major forms of communication. Recent research indicates that nearly 70% of all communication is nonverbal.
If you are serious about creating a new professional image for yourself you must learn how to use body language to your advantage. To help you begin understanding the subtle-unspoken messages you are constantly sending and receiving I have compiled a list of the most important and frequently used forms of nonverbal communication.
The first exercise I require my clients and workshop students to undertake is to spend at least three hours a week watching TV or a movie without sound. The purpose of this exercise is to help them gain information about the emotional and psychological aspect of this program by reading the body language of the actors rather than relying only on the dialogue.
Fundamentals of Body Language
- Sit forward in your chair with your head slightly tilted during an interview or an important meeting. This is an excellent way of letting the speaker know that you are interested in what they are saying
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed, especially during a job interview. This particular piece of body language indicates that you are hiding something or being deceitful in business and personal matters. Crossing your legs can also mean that you are putting the burden of proof on the other person, especially if your knee is facing them
- Avoid fidgeting with your pen, cell phone or anything else during a meeting or interview. This is by far the most over used nonverbal form of communication. If the speaker is truly boring try to manage a polite smile and take notes even if this means writing out your shopping list.
- If possible avoid rubbing your eyes during a meeting or interview. It suggests boredom and possibly contempt. If you must do so please excuse yourself first
- Stroking or rubbing your chin indicates that you are very carefully listening to them
- Slightly raising your eye brows during a conversation indicates that you are happily surprised by what the speaker has to say
- When you truly want the speaker to know that you are listening to them hold your head still instead of shaking it in agreement. This indicates that you are seriously concentrating on her presentation
- Gently stroking your hair during a meeting or social engagement is a very strong indication that you are either interested in the meeting or the person you are talking to
- Never forget to make eye contact with the person or group you are talking to. If you fail to do so they will doubt your sincerity and not give you the attention you are looking for
- When being introduced to someone never use both of your hands to greet them. The person you may feel trapped by your double grip.
There are thousands of other subtle forms of body language and nonverbal forms of communication.
If you have any questions about body language or upgrading your own professional image please feel free to contact me