Importance of body language in communication
Communication is made up of so much more than just the words we use! And therefore, it’s a crucial skill to possess and exhibit, in all aspects of communication, everywhere, every time, not just in the workplace or during formal communication. Nonverbal cues such as tone of voice, gestures, and posture, all play their part in effective communication, because people not only listen to what you’re saying in a get-together, party, boardroom meeting or a sales pitch, but they also observe, some nonverbal cues such as your smile, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and posture. In other words, they pay attention to what your body language says.
Body language alone is said to account for more than half of all communication. Body language can convey the impression of a readiness to take action in social interactions or physical exertion.
Let’s start by discussing what body language is; what it means and how it is identified!
Body Language explained
In the most simplistic terms, body language is the unspoken component of communication through which we voluntarily or involuntarily exhibit those feelings and emotions that we do not voice out. It could range from a simple relaxed facial expression, a cold face, a genuine smile, a sigh, tilt of the head, looking elsewhere, arms crossed, legs stretched or crossed, slouching or gazing deeply, eye movement, sitting or standing upright to express interest/ disinterest, or directing attention with hand gestures, touch and the use of space and more, to indicate that you’re listening, you qre convinced or you are in disagreement. It can also mean avoiding a defensive, arms-crossed posture or tapping your feet restlessly.
Did you know: Body language exists in both animals and humans!
There are few agreed-upon interpretations of a specific behaviour in every society. And so, interpretations may differ from one country, one region or one culture to another. That being said, these variants have given birth to an ongoing debate on whether body language is indeed universal. In social interactions, body language behaves as a subset of nonverbal communication, supplementing verbal communication. Studies further show that nonverbal communication accounts for the majority of information transmitted during interpersonal interactions. Your body language is primarily responsible for the establishment of a relationship between two people, besides being directly responsible for influencing this relationship to be good or bad. Apart from this, your body language also ‘beckons’ subsequent response or reaction, after explicitly revealing your attitude during an interaction through formal or informal, positive or negative attitude.
Is it necessary to know body language? Oh yeah, its the same as the sign language! Nope!
How does recognizing body gestures help!
When you are equipped to “read” signs like these, you will not only be proficient at decoding the entire message that someone is trying to convey to you, without actually saying it, but you will also be able to gauge and interpret other people’s moods and emotions. You’ll thus be more aware of how to react, what to say or do, besides improving your conscious understanding of how others react under a variety of situations. If thars not enough, you will also be well prepared to modify your body language to appear more positive, engaging, and approachable.
Difference between body language and sign language
People who wish to educate and apprise themselves about body language must understand that it is, in no way or manner similar to any sign language! Sign language is a language that operates with its own complex grammar system, and possesses the ability to exhibit the same fundamental properties shared by all ‘languages’. On the contrary, body language is completely devoid of a grammar system and must be interpreted and understood as a disposition, rather than having each associated movement be described with a specific meaning. In that sense, body language is not really a language but it is referred to as one due to popular culture.
Let's now study the Significance of body language.
It is believed that words account for roughly 7%, body language 55%, and tone of voice accounts fir 38% of effective communication. This is also referred to as the ‘7%–38%–55% Rule’, and is often considered in studies of human communications. In other words, we as humans pay more attention to body language and tone of voice than we do to actual words! Studies also explain how nonverbal communication is deep-rooted in the brain and how significant is body language in communication.
Now with only 7% of attention focused on verbal communication, it becomes extremely critical and pertinent to communicate effectively, relying heavily on gestures, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues to express ourselves.
Animals in the wild survive, mostly because of the nonverbal cues, voice signals received from the herd and body language of the herd and the predators. Similarly, humans make extensive use of body language in communication in addition to verbal communication. Body language can skillfully demonstrate your confidence and commitment in more ways than one may actually realise. The significance of body language primarily lies in how it alleviates or deteriorates your value as a person or your own personal brand during critical situations such as a job interview, a first date, or just a typical day at work. Now, how one presents themselves to others in each situation is of great importance. Positive body language conveys the impression that one is approachable, attentive, and open to new ideas and suggestions.
The importance of body language is clearly evident during public speaking when all eyes are set on one single person, and how this sole person is under tremendous pressure to be careful about what they say and how they say it.
Few signs used in body language:
Facial expressions from a part of body language that relies heavily on decoding multiple facial signs concurrently; such as eye, eyebrows, lips, nose and cheek movements- in order to accurately interpret, a person’s mood and state of mind; its best read under the context in which it is occurring and the person’s likely intention.
Happiness evokes smiles, excitement, curiosity and body language radiates a greater sense of energy in general with the person most likely to be looking down.
Sadness is reflected with the lack of a smile or an apparent unwillingness to smile, sighs, wandering off eyes, withdrawn attitude. A totally de-energised body language with heavy steps and eyes that are downcast.
Focused: A deep focus is apparent with lowered and more centred eyebrows (also called the ‘knitted brows’), with eyes that are more focused and will look more determined usually associated with positive moods. are looking more focused and centred overall. A focused person prioritises his/her visual appreciation on a particular point or area, jointly with increased mental function. An example is when a person is looking and talking to another, thus making the person the focus of their visual attention, whilst concocting about the next thoughts to convey.
Unfocused: An unfocused facial expression will feature raised eyebrows and an unfocused look to the eyes. The person will look less enthusiastic and least interested in any task that they are undertaking.
Depressed, Bored, dejected and anxious moods are often associated with looking unfocused.
Confident: A confident facial body language displays a more focused, centred and energised look, with the person more likely and willing to make eye contact.
Afraid: The facial body language of someone who is afraid looks stressed and de-energised with raised eyebrows that appear taut, partially open mouth and downcast eyes looking down. An exception to this is if a person is suddenly afraid or alarmed: in this case, to move them out of harms way whilst visually identifying the source of the threat, a person will instinctively pull their head back and look at the source of the threat.
The fearful response invokes a lesser level of focus with raised eyebrows and scalp contracting in a particular manner, that can remain contracted from fear whilst they regain a focused look. To regain focus and get rid of fear or stress people actively employ body language to cover up and appear convincing. As an example, actors and business people may involve themselves looking at something in order to visually appreciate the physical presence of it, or by more directly physically interacting with something i.e. squeezing a stress ball, smelling a flower etc.
While facial body language can be interpreted as a sign of genuine emotion, a lack of it may suggest a lack of sincerity! For example, a lack of wrinkles around the eyes suggests a potentially fake smile. However, the pupil of the eye can be considered as a reliable way to interpret the facial expression. Studies show that when a person is interested in something or someone they have no control over the expansion of their pupils. Not only that, the person would blink a lesser number of times than the regular rate of 6-10 times per minute.
Studies show that the brain processes facial and bodily expressions simultaneously when intending to convey visual signs of a person’s emotional state. Emotions judged on these parameters result in a high level of accuracy because the emotional signals from the face and body are very well integrated.
Hand and neck signals and postures
Head and neck signals
The comfortable positioning of the head and the neck help accurately identify the body language.
Nodding of the head is an acceptable sign of approval or encouragement for the speaker to go on, or to say a ‘yes. On the contrary, shaking of the head generally stands for a ‘no’, and a single nod is a sign of acknowledging another person in a respectful manner; similar to the Asian practise of bowing to a person as a sign of respect.
In terms of meaning, it is the opposite of nodding.
Most cultures use the Head Nod to indicate ‘Yes’ or agreement. It’s a hampered form of bowing in which the person goes to bow symbolically but stops short, resulting in a nod. Because bowing is a submissive gesture, the Head Nod indicates that we agree with the other person’s point of view. According to research conducted with people who were born deafblind, they also use this gesture to signify ‘Yes.’
An exception to this is a head bobble – tilting of the head from side to side and is a common sign of saying yes, ok, or I understand in some manner, in India. Its interpretation can be ambiguous and depends very much on the context in which it is applied.
Lowering of the head emphasised with lowering of the eyes may indicate a sign of submission, just as raising of the head from a lowered posture may indicate an increase in interest in what someone is saying.
Tilting of the head to a side could be an expression of interest, curiosity, uncertainty or questioning what the other person is communicating, depending on the context. A head popped up by the hand while tilted could be a sign of thinking about something or, in terms of an ongoing conversation or disinterest. A slightly forward-tilted head that is pulled backwards may indicate suspicion.
General body postures
Emotions can be well detected through body postures,
Seeking or avoiding postures
For example, an angry person would display approach tendencies as compared to a scared person would feel weak, submissive and display avoidance tendencies.
Sitting or standing postures
A person sitting till the back of their chair, leaning forward, with their head nodding along the discussion displays an open, relaxed and ready to listen to demeanour. On the other hand, a person who has their legs and arms crossed with the foot kicking implies that they are feeling impatient and emotionally detached from the discussion.
Chest and shoulders in body language
The posture and movement of the chest is an important factor when considering the messages the body as a whole sends out. A relative fullness or shallowness of the chest, especially around the sternum, can help assess the mood and the attitude. A fuller chest, positioned relatively forward, is a sign of confidence. If it is protruding forward, it may indicate that the person wishes to be socially prominent and make a statement of physical confidence. A pulled back chest indicates a less confident attitude.
Positioning the chest closer towards another person, maybe a sign of paying closer attention to them as part of a conversation, or, in other circumstances, it may be a sign of physical assertion and aggression.
Touching the chest can indicate different things. A person who places two hands over their heart may do so to emphasise that they are being sincere in what they are saying.
Rubbing the chest, especially over the heart, can be a sign of discomfort, possibly from stress and tension.
The shoulders play a vital role in how people perceive us. They reveal our health and emotions, and they assist us in communicating. Shoulders at the back with the chest forwards generally indicates confidence. If the shoulders are positioned forwards with the body hunched then this can be a sign of low confidence or self-esteem; it may also be demonstrative of a feeling of dejection or sadness.
Shoulders positioned lower, display a relaxed disposition whereas raised shoulders express feelings of tension or anxiousness
A shrugging of the shoulders, a quick up and down movement, is often used to express unfamiliarity about something or being unable to help in any manner.
While strong and flexible shoulders relay a sense of vitality and natural rhythm, weak and stiff shoulders convey the impression that the person is depressed.
Gestures Explained- Gestures are movements made with body parts (example hands, arms, fingers, head, legs) and they may be voluntary or involuntary.
Arm gestures can be interpreted in several ways.
Arms that are folded during a discussion, or while one standing, sitting or even walking displays an unwelcoming attitude. It could mean that they have a closed mind and are most likely unwilling to listen to the speaker’s viewpoint.
Another type of arm gesture also includes an arm crossed over the other, demonstrating insecurity and a lack of confidence.
The shrug is an example of a universal gesture used to indicate that someone does not understand what you are saying. “It’s a multi-part gesture with three main parts,” they explain. “Exposed palms to demonstrate that nothing is hidden in the hands, hunched shoulders to protect the throat from attack, and the raised brow, which is a universal, submissive greeting.”
While standing, a person with akimbo arms and feet pointed towards the speaker could suggest that they are attentive and are interested in the conversation. However, standing with arms akimbo is considered rude in Bali!
Similarly, the superman pose, of standing with both hands or fists near the hips or lower back and moving the elbows inwards and hands with/without fingers dug into or resting on the belt or pants suggest male attraction to women.
Hand gestures often signify the state of well-being of the person making them.
Relaxed hands indicate confidence and self-assurance, while clenched hands may be interpreted as signs of stress or anger. If a person is wringing their hands, this demonstrates nervousness and anxiety.
To exemplify one’s speech and to denote the well-being of a person, Finger gestures are also used. While pointing with one’s index finger could be acceptable in one culture, it could be considered aggressive behaviour in the others;
Pointing with a single finger is considered to be rude and accusatory in several European, Latin American and African nations. It is particularly rude in China, Japan, Indonesia and in few parts of India.
Instead, Indians use thumbs up to indicate. Similarly, in countries such as the United States, South Africa, France, Lebanon, and Germany, the thumbs-up gesture could indicate “OK” or “good.”
The thumb gesture, however, is considered offensive in other countries such as Italy, Greece, Iran, and Iraq, however, this is an insulting gesture. While the sign in France, represents “zero” or “worthless”, in Venezuela, Brazil, and Turkey the gesture is actually offensive, especially to LGBT+ people
The V sign, when the palm is facing toward the person giving the sign, has long been an insulting gesture in the United Kingdom, and later in Ireland, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan and New Zealand. It is frequently used to signify defiance (especially to authority), contempt, or derision.
Curling your index finger toward you with your palm face upward is a common gesture meant to beckon someone to come towards you. However, in China, Japan, Singapore, and other parts of East Asia, the gesture has a very negative connotation. In the Philippines, you can even be arrested for using it.
Crossed fingers in Vietnam is considered a very vulgar gesture.
Breathing and Handshakes
Handshakes are the most common greeting gestures used worldover, during meetings, greeting, congratulating, expressing camaraderie, or concluding an agreement. Through the grip of hand and eye contact, they convey the levels of confidence and/or emotion.
Several handshake styles have been classified by studies, such as the finger squeeze, the bone crusher (shaking hands too strongly), the limp fish (shaking hands too weakly), and so on.
Handshakes are more popular in the United States and can be used by both men and women.
In Muslim cultures, however, men are not permitted to shake hands or touch women in any way, and vice versa.
Similarly, in Hindu cultures, Hindu men are not permitted to shake hands. Likewise, in Hindu cultures, Hindu men may never shake hands with women. Instead, they greet women by placing their hands as if praying.
A firm, the friendly handshake has long been recommended in the business world as a way to make a good first impression. The greeting is thought to have originated in ancient times as a way to demonstrate lack of weapons to confirm you don’t pose a threat to a stranger.
Breathing-related body language and breathing patterns can be indicative of a person’s mood and state of mind; as a result, the relationship between body language and breathing is frequently considered in contexts such as business meetings and presentations.
Certain vocal tones are associated with certain types of body language. For example, if someone’s tone of voice conveys the impression that they are happy, their body language will usually convey the same impression.
One reason for this is that a person’s breathing pattern changes when their mood changes. This influences their body language as well as their intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which has a direct impact on and is discernible in their tone of voice.
Deeper breathing, which uses the diaphragm and abdomen more, is interpreted as conveying a relaxed and confident impression, with an increase in their IAP; whilst shallow, excessively rapid breathing, is interpreted as conveying a more nervous or anxious impression, with a decreased IAP, and thinner and weaker voices.
Some business consultants, such as those who promote neuro-linguistic programming, advocate mirroring a person’s breathing pattern to convey a sense of mutual understanding.
Other body movements and tips to improve your body language
Different physical movements
Covering one’s mouth implies suppression of emotion and possibly uncertainty. This could also indicate that they are deliberating and are unsure of what to say next. What you communicate through your body language and nonverbal signals influences how others perceive you, how much they like and respect you, and how much they trust you.
Unfortunately, many people unknowingly send confusing or negative nonverbal signals. When this occurs, both the connection and the trust are harmed.
How to improve your body language
Most of us use a lot of body language unconsciously.
Here are a few things to do or to avoid:
- Avoid yawning in the meeting room or tapping your fingers on the table during a discussion. It will be perceived as your disinterest or stress.
- Alter your body language in order to alter the attitude you convey; this may in turn influence the rapport you build to have with another person.
- Improve your posture to convey your interest and focus.
- Changing any negative nonverbal cues will boost your self-esteem and confidence.
- A positive response from a friend, an employee, a coworker, or a leader, is likely to motivate you.
- The handshake is another important nonverbal business transaction. Handshakes are used by politicians and business leaders to seal deals. A firm handshake conveys confidence, whereas a limp handshake conveys disinterest.
- While shaking hands, it is also important to smile and maintain eye contact. This demonstrates your bravery and self-assurance.
Handshakes, holding hands, back-slapping, high fives, brushing up against someone, and patting someone are all forms of haptics!
Touching can be used to soothe, amuse during play, flirt, express power, and maintain bonds between people, such as between a baby and his or her mother. Touching can convey distinct emotions while also demonstrating the intensity of those emotions. Depending on the length and type of touching performed, touch can signal anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy in the absence of other cues. Many other factors, such as the length of the touch and the location on the body where the touching occurs, contribute to the meaning of touching.
Avoiding eye contact typically conveys a lack of confidence, certainty, or honesty. In the Latino culture, however, direct or prolonged eye contact indicates that you are challenging the person with whom you are conversing or that you have a romantic interest in the person. In addition, prolonged eye contact may be interpreted as a sign of anger or aggression in many Asian cultures.
Be aware of your body language in communication, but don’t overthink it. If you have a habit of rubbing your eyes or cracking your knuckles, become aware of it and consciously replace it with a positive body movement.
Multibhashi can help you learn everything there is to know about the importance of body language. The course also teaches you how to decode, comprehend, and apply nonverbal cues for brand building. Sign up for the course to learn everything there is to know about body language in communication and how to improve your presence at work.
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