Body Language Communication Skills 1

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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.

Communication is not just about words; it goes beyond verbal expressions. One significant aspect that plays a crucial role in our daily interactions is our body language. Often termed as nonverbal communication, body language can convey messages, emotions, and intentions without uttering a single word.

You can make people feel happy or sad, frustrated or relaxed just through your body language, which makes it very important for us to keep these expressions in check.

In this blog, we will explore the meaning of body language, its importance in communication skills, various types of body language, and some improvement tips. Let’s first understand what is body language.

Meaning Of Body Language

Your body language is the unspoken part of a conversation that we all instinctively understand and employ daily. The subtle nuances of a smile, the confident stance of a speaker, and the reassuring nod of agreement are the foundational pillars of nonverbal communication.

Your body language and the other forms of non-verbal communication cues can help you shape the dynamics of your relationships, both personal and professional.

Body language is a secret code our bodies use to communicate without words. Imagine a game of Dumb Charades or Act It Out where you use your body language; you will realise how much can be done with just a few gestures and expressions.

Your body language and quick expressions show your true feelings, even when you’re not saying anything. Your verbal communication, together with these non-verbal expressions, makes a conversation complete. But is body language that important? Is it possible to have a conversation without using your body language?

Continue reading because, in the next section, we’ll learn the science behind body language that makes it so important.

Importance Of Body Language

According to the study conducted on the importance of body language by Albert Mehrabian and Morton Wiener, 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken – often called the 55/38/7 formula.

This formula was developed to stress the application of body language to communication and to explain to the audience when there is an inconsistency between verbal and non-verbal communication; it is the non-verbal communication or the body language that does most of the speaking. There are five main role of body language played in communication.

Let’s dive in!

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1. Repetition

Body language repeats what we speak verbally and helps us put emphasis on the spoken words. In situations where you don’t want to repeat yourself, your body language does that for you.

For instance, when you don’t want a child to do something, you say no for the first time, and then a simple nodding of your head or wagging your finger from left to right repeats the message.

2. Contradiction

We often say, ‘Our eyes speak the truth’. When your words do not align with your body language, it is a contradiction.

For example, when you do not want to tell the truth to someone, and you try to lie to them, your body language can contradict you, like avoiding eye contact or clenching your fist.

3. Substitution

Sometimes we are unable to speak what we want to due to sadness or nervousness. In such situations, your body language can substitute your verbal words.

For instance, when you are very tired but don’t say anything, your facial expression and body posture can paint a vivid picture even if you have not said a word.

4. Complementing

Body language can complement your verbal communication by making it easier for the audience to understand the message.

For instance, let’s say you are explaining to your audience the benefits of your product, and you say, “There are 3 benefits”. If you count them with your fingers while speaking the words, you draw the immediate attention of body language for the audience.

5. Accenting

Accenting means making your communication more assertive and impactful. Like when you underline a statement to put emphasis on it and body language puts emphasis on verbal communication by accenting it.

For instance, when your boss appreciates you with words, a pat on your back accents the spoken words.

Types of Body Language

We observe five recognised types of body language in communication in our daily lives.

In this section, we will learn about these five body languages, what expressions can be considered positive and negative and certain tips you can incorporate to improve these non-verbal communication skills.

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1. Facial Expressions

The face of a person is like a dynamic canvas that paints a vivid picture of our emotions. Just as words convey meaning, our facial expressions reveal a wealth of information about our feelings.

Understanding how to use body language is like having a key to decipher their mood, sincerity, and reactions.

Positive Facial Expressions

  • Smiles: A sincere smile, as a body language, lights up the face, crinkling the eyes and lifting the corners of the mouth. You can smile when greeting clients or colleagues, when rewarded, or when you receive a compliment; you can smile to be just polite and acknowledge when a person shares an idea. While smiling, it has to be kept in mind that smiling too much can seem insincere, while not smiling may be considered cold by the other person. It’s essential to strike a balance by considering individual preferences and using a genuine smile.

  • Eye Brightening: When we’re excited, our pupils often widen, and the sparkle intensifies. It’s like our eyes are shining with energy. Similarly, a side gaze signifies the body language of curiosity and gives the other person the impression that you’re interested in a topic or any new project. Looking down at the floor or your feet signifies sadness and can signal emotional distress.

  • Raised Eyebrows: A subtle lift of the eyebrows signals interest or surprise. For example, saying, “I’m intrigued by what you’re saying,” or “That caught me off guard!” Though these are the positive attributes of a raised eyebrow, it can also indicate scepticism or shock. For a better understanding, a person has to read the entire context in which the body language is used.

  • Relaxed Forehead: A smooth forehead without furrows or wrinkles indicates a sense of ease and contentment. This body language is a symbol of a moment of peace and is used to communicate a positive emotion.

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Negative Facial Expressions

  • Frowns: A downturned mouth and furrowed eyebrows indicate displeasure, discomfort, or disagreement. It’s like a visual cue that something isn’t quite right.

  • Eye Rolls: Rolling the eyes conveys impatience, irritation, or a dismissive attitude. It’s like saying, “I’ve heard enough”.

  • Tightened Jaw: Clenching the jaw or grinding teeth suggests stress or tension. It’s like a physical manifestation of inner pain.

  • Narrowed Eyes: Narrowing the eyes, often called ‘beady eyes’, can signal distrust or scepticism. For example, saying, “I’m not sure I believe you.”

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This body language is extremely significant if you think in the context of a business meeting or an important negotiation. So, what can you do to improve your facial expressions?

Actionable Steps To Improve

  • Begin by becoming more aware of your facial expressions. Pay attention to how your face naturally reacts to different emotions and situations.

  • Use a mirror to practise different facial expressions. Experiment with conveying happiness, surprise, sadness, and other emotions.

  • Simple exercises like raising and lowering eyebrows or forming exaggerated smiles can help enhance expressiveness.

2. Body Posture

How we carry ourselves and our body posture is a silent but powerful tool to communicate our thoughts and feelings.

It’s like a visual script that narrates our level of confidence, interest, or disinterest without uttering a single word. Understanding the messages conveyed by posture is akin to unlocking the secrets behind the demeanour of a person.

Positive Body Postures

  • Upright Stance: Standing tall with an upright posture or sitting up straight with an open posture conveys confidence and assertiveness. It sends a message that a serious and significant message is being delivered. For instance, standing power poses – stand up straight, tilt your chin upward, and put your hands on your sides or even sitting power poses like the ‘Victory pose’ – raising your hands or fists above your head in a “V” shape.

  • Open Arms: Arms held by the sides or open in a welcoming gesture signify the body language of approachability. It’s like creating an invisible invitation for communication, like inviting someone for a hug.

  • Relaxed Shoulders: Shoulders down and relaxed suggest a sense of ease and comfort. It signals that you are in your happy place and feel secure.

  • Mirroring: Mirroring, formally called Gauchais Reaction, is a non-verbal technique where a person copies the body language, vocal qualities, or attitude of another person. This happens subconsciously and helps you build a connection and rapport.

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Negative Body Postures

  • Slouched Shoulders: Slouching or rounded shoulders can indicate a lack of confidence and reservation of thoughts. It’s like the body expressing uncertainty or self-doubt.

  • Crossed Arms: Crossing arms across the chest can signal defensiveness or discomfort. Since we feel uncomfortable, we create a barrier around us with our arms, saying, “I need some space.”

  • Turned Away: Turning the body away from someone may indicate disinterest or disengagement in the conversation. It’s like physically expressing a desire to distance oneself.

  • Tightly Clenched Hands: Clenching fists or tightly holding onto an object can indicate anxiety or tension. It’s like the body physically holding onto stress, unwilling to let go.

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It is natural to exhibit negative body postures when upset, dissatisfied or tired. However, in professional situations, you do not get the privilege of choosing to have a slouched shoulder or depict negative body language.

Let’s see how to improve your body postures to exude a positive image.

Actionable Steps To Improve

  • Notice how you sit, stand, and move. Identify any habits or tendencies that contribute to poor posture.

  • Set up your workspace ergonomically. Adjust the height of your chair, desk, and computer monitor to promote a neutral spine position.

  • Engage in exercises and activities like yoga or Pilates that focus on flexibility, balance, and core strength.

Bonus Tip: Body language expert Amy Cuddy recommends striking a “power pose” for two minutes, in private, before any important meeting or negotiation. It tricks your body’s hormone levels so you feel more confident and less stressed.

3. Hand Gestures

Gestures are like the dancers in the silent dance performance, moving alongside our verbal words to enhance, emphasise, and sometimes even substitute for what we’re saying. Like a well-coordinated dance, the right gestures can add flair and meaning to our verbal expressions.

However, just as in any performance, it’s essential to strike the right balance to avoid distractions.

Positive Hand Gestures

  • Illustrative Movements: Using hand movements to illustrate or emphasise points can make ideas clear. Some common hand gestures formed through illustrative movements are:

    a) ‘The pinch gesture’, where you pinch your thumb and forefinger together to indicate something small or precise. You can use it when you want to draw someone’s attention to minute details.

    b) ‘The counting gesture’, where you use your fingers to count down the key points while you explain. It complements your spoken words and helps the audience follow the structure of your message.

    c) ‘The expansive gesture’ where we open both hands and create space to show the size, scope or importance of something. You can depict the extent of growth or inclusivity using this body language.

     

  • Thumbs Up: Offering a thumbs-up can convey approval or agreement. It’s like a silent way of saying, “Great job!” or “I agree with you.” However, exercising discretion while using this body language is essential because a thumbs-up may be considered offensive in some cultures.

  • Open-Palm Gestures: Hand gestures with open palms can signal sincerity and openness. It’s like physically demonstrating that there’s nothing to hide. Open palms can help your audience feel more comfortable.

  • Steeple Gestures: The steeple gesture is created by pressing the tips of your fingers together while keeping your palms apart. This is used when discussing critical concepts or conclusions with confidence and authority.

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Negative Hand Gestures

  • Excessive Pointing: Excessive pointing, especially if directed at someone, can be perceived as aggressive or rude. It’s like a gesture that demands attention but might appear confrontational. Also, crossing arms while pointing can be defensive and may be considered accusatory. It’s like a combination that suggests disagreement or resistance.

  • Watching Time Frequently: Looking at your watch from time to time during a meeting or conversation gives an impression of a lack of interest. You may feel you have another urgent or immediate commitment, but the other person will feel you do not value this conversation.

  • Finger Wagging: Wagging a finger can signal disapproval or a warning. It’s like a non-verbal way of scolding someone or saying “no” that implies a boundary or objection.

  • Overly Animated Movements: While animated gestures can engage, excessive and irregular movements might distract from the message. It will draw focus from the message to the body language, which is not the objective.

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Hand gesture is a tricky body language. You need to use gestures to complement your speech while ensuring you don’t overuse them. Moreover, you need to be aware of the meaning of different gestures in different parts of the world to make sure you convey the meaning that you want to convey. One of the most notable anecdotes of this was in the 1950s when Richard Nixon visited Brazil and flashed the “Ok sign” to a waiting crowd upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro, who responded with boos!

Actionable Steps To Improve

  • Consider the context of your communication. A casual conversation might involve more relaxed gestures, while a formal presentation might benefit from more deliberate movements.

  • Connect your hand gestures with the words you’re saying. If you’re describing something big, use a gesture that conveys size.

  • Enrol in training programs where you can receive professional guidance on non-verbal communication.

4. Eye Contact

Eye contact is a non-verbal communication that involves looking directly into someone’s eyes during a conversation or interaction. It is a powerful and fundamental aspect of human communication, conveying various social and emotional signals.

Exactly like verbal words, eye contact speaks volumes about attentiveness, sincerity, and the nature of the interaction. The meaning of eye contact can vary based on cultural norms, individual personalities, and the context of the situation.

Positive Eye Contact

  • Attentiveness and Focus: Maintaining direct eye contact during a conversation signals active listening and attentiveness. It’s a way of showing that you are fully engaged in what you’re saying or listening to and that you are paying undivided attention.

  • Sincerity and Trustworthiness: Sustained eye contact fosters a sense of sincerity and trust. It’s like a silent agreement that what is being communicated is genuine and honest.

  • Connection and Empathy: Eye contact helps establish a connection between individuals. It’s like a visual acknowledgement that goes beyond words, creating a shared moment of understanding.

  • Confidence and Assertiveness: Confident individuals often maintain steady eye contact. It’s like a non-verbal display of self-assurance and a willingness to engage.

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Negative Eye Contact

  • Avoidance or Discomfort: A lack of eye contact may be an indicator of discomfort, shyness, or a desire to avoid confrontation. It’s like the eyes are trying to shield the person from a potentially overwhelming situation.

  • Deception or Dishonesty: In some cases, avoiding eye contact can be associated with dishonesty or an attempt to conceal the truth. It’s like the eyes are avoiding scrutiny to maintain a façade.

  • Disinterest or Distrust: When someone avoids eye contact, it might signal disinterest or distrust. It’s like a visual cue that the person may not be fully invested in the conversation.

  • Social Anxiety: Individuals with social anxiety might find it challenging to maintain eye contact due to a fear of judgement or being overwhelmed. It’s like the eyes reflect an internal struggle with social interactions.

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Improving eye contact is a valuable skill that can enhance your communication and interpersonal interactions. Here are some actionable steps to help you improve your eye contact:

Actionable Steps To Improve

  • Follow the 50/70 rule – Aim to make eye contact 50% of the time when you speak and 70% of the time when you listen.

  • If direct eye contact feels overwhelming, try shifting your gaze from the left eye to the right eye and then towards the forehead or towards the nose and lips. This is known as the triangle technique and can create the illusion of eye contact without causing discomfort.

  • Take short breaks to avoid nervousness, and instead of focusing on the eyes of the listeners, aim just above their heads or at the rear wall.

5. Vocal Tone

Vocal tone refers to the quality, pitch, and modulation of one’s voice when speaking. It encompasses the way in which words are delivered, including the pitch variations from high to low or low to high, rhythm, and overall sound of the voice.

Our tone of voice and vocal pitch adds emotion, nuance, and depth to our communication, influencing how our messages are received.

Positive Vocal Tones

  • Warm and Affectionate: A warm and affectionate tone conveys kindness and care. It’s like wrapping your words in a gentle embrace, making the listener feel valued and understood.

  • Enthusiastic and Energetic: An enthusiastic and energetic tone injects vitality into the message. It’s like a burst of positive energy that captivates attention and fosters engagement between the speaker and the listener.

  • Empathetic and Compassionate: An empathetic and compassionate tone signals understanding and support. It helps you create a sense of connection by displaying your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think from their perspective.

  • Confident and Assured: A confident and assured tone exudes self-assurance. It’s like a steady rhythm that instil trust and credibility in the spoken words. Words like “Yes, we can do it!” or “Of course, you will win!” exude confidence.

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Negative Vocal Tones

  • Harsh or Critical: A harsh or critical tone can convey displeasure or disapproval. It’s like a rough note that may be defensive to the listener.

  • Monotone or Flat: A monotone or flat tone lacks variation and emotion. It’s like a melody without highs and lows, potentially causing disinterest or boredom in the listener.

  • Sarcastic or Mocking: A sarcastic or mocking tone can undermine sincerity. A sarcastic comment or remark masks the true intent of the message, leaving the listener uncertain about the speaker’s genuine feelings.

  • Aggressive or Hostile: An aggressive or hostile tone can create an atmosphere of threat or intimidation. It can send an unwelcoming message to the listener, often giving a negative perception of your personality.

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Try to remember those boring school and college lectures where the teacher would explain the topic for an hour, just enough to put everyone to sleep. No one wants that to happen in a professional environment, right? So, let’s see how to improve your tone of voice to keep the listeners attentive.

Actionable Steps To Improve

  • Practise expressing different emotions through your voice, such as enthusiasm, empathy, or assertiveness.

  • Incorporate strategic pauses into your speech. Pauses can enhance clarity and emphasise key points.

  • By practising active listening, you can enhance your ability to modulate your voice based on the context.

Bonus Tip: Use the four Ps to modulate your vocal tone: power, pace, pause, and pitch. Power relates to the strength and assertiveness in your voice that helps captivate the audience. Thorough research contributes to assertive and confident speech. Pace, or speaking speed, conveys urgency and adds weight to the words. Strategic pauses allow for reflection and emphasise key points. Pitch, or voice modulation, influences the rhythm of your speech—raising it for excitement and lowering it for emotional connection with listeners.

Ways To Read Body Language In Communication

Peter Drucker observed, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said”. Now that you understand different positive body language and negative body language, the next important thing is how to read these signs.

Imagine yourself in a very important negotiation; you present your ideas and terms while the opposite party is already bored. He is slouching a bit, sometimes fidgeting with his pen, checking his watch from time to time – but you keep going. As a result, the negotiation fails, and the deal remains unclosed. Would you even realise what went wrong?

This is where the ability to read body language can help you a lot to communicate effectively. Dr Jeff Thompson suggests a process called the three C’s of non-verbal communication to decipher how to read these body language cues – Context, Clusters and Congruence.

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1. Context

Context means considering where the conversation is taking place, the surroundings around you, the relationship between people, and each person’s role in that conversation. For example, while talking to one of their employees personally about the feedback on their work, a manager may use different body language than what the person would use in a speech given to all team members together. This is understanding the context.

2. Clusters

When we talk about checking for non-verbal gestures in clusters, it means looking at several body language signals together to understand what someone might be feeling or thinking. For example, if you see someone crossing their arms – that might give you a clue that they are feeling resistant or defensive. If the same person is also shivering and their shoulders are up, the person might be cold or uncomfortable.

3. Congruence

When two things are consistent or in harmony with each other, they are in congruence. In the context of body language, congruence means the verbal words, vocal tones, and non-verbal signals should be congruent. This can be best used to understand an emotional situation. When you know someone is emotionally hurt, they appear sad, but they say they are fine; this is a signal to interpret more.

Conclusion: The Power and Impact of Body Language in Everyday Communication

The three C’s are an effective way to read body language and adjust your expressions and words accordingly. Once you know how to read body language, you will be able to identify that the opposite negotiator is bored and uninterested. Hence, you will change your expressions, let the person speak, and try to make the conversation engaging.

Applying the skill of body language in day-to-day life is a powerful tool for effective communication. By understanding and utilising non-verbal cues, individuals can enhance their interpersonal skills, build stronger connections, and navigate social situations with confidence.

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By Ashish Agarwal

Ashish is a content writer at Kapable. A dynamic lawyer, experienced educator and content writer, he blends his legal expertise with a flair for storytelling. He has a passion for writing compelling articles and strives to simplify complex concepts, making them accessible to diverse audiences. He is dedicated to writing on contemporary topics and topics related to soft skills development. His articles showcase a deep understanding of the topic and reflect his commitment to fostering intellectual curiosity.

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