How Body Language Affects Communication

In recent years, as text messages and emails have become more the norm, a lot of us have gotten into trouble with our communication. This is because our meanings don’t always translate well over electronic means and when you can’t see the twinkle in someone’s eye or the stance they are taking, you might completely misunderstand what they are saying.

Few of us realize just how important body language is to the way in which we communicate, but if you have ever received an email from someone and found it offensive, only to find out later that they were joking, then you know how important it is to hear the tone of a person’s voice or the way they are looking at you.

What Is Body Language?

Body language is just one form of non-verbal communication. It is generally believed to be the way in which we hold our frame, our hands, the way we face when we talk, and whether or not we make eye contact. Body language has been highly studied, particularly in criminal psychology, where it is believed that you can tell if a person is telling the truth or not simply by looking at their arms, their mouth, or the direction their eyes look when they make a statement.

However, for most of us, body language is something that we should just be more aware of on an everyday basis, both in the way that other people are communicating with us, as well as what kinds of messages you are sending out to others.

What Does Your Body Language Say About You?

When it comes to body language, there are very definite rules for men and women. If you are a woman, then your mom probably told you to cross your legs when you were sitting in a skirt, so that you didn’t “send the wrong message”. On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable for men to take up much more physical space when they are sitting, and that sends a message of power to other men.

In the workplace, it is especially important to pay attention to your body language because you don’t want to be giving out signals that are either inappropriate or unintentional. For instance, if you lean over a person too closely, they might believe that you are invading their space or that you are making a pass at them. On the other hand, if you are very “stand-offish” and move away from touch, then people may not trust you or might even find you snobby or rude.

In the article, Body Language Understanding Non-Verbal Communication, there are some excellent tips on portraying confident body language…

“As you observe others, you can identify some common signs and signals that give away whether they are feeling confident or not. Typical things to look for in confident people include:

  • Posture – standing tall with shoulders back.
  • Eye contact – solid with a “smiling” face.
  • Gestures with hands and arms – purposeful and deliberate.
  • Speech – slow and clear.
  • Tone of voice – moderate to low.

As well as deciphering other people’s the body language, you can use this knowledge to convey feelings that you’re not actually experiencing.” Read more at… Body Language Understanding Non-Verbal Communication.

I just found another article that makes a great point about “nonverbal communication can’t be faked”, in the article Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language

“You may be familiar with advice on how to sit a certain way, steeple your fingers, or shake hands just so in order to appear confident or assert dominance. But the truth is that such tricks aren’t likely to work (unless you truly feel confident and in charge). That’s because you can’t control all of the signals you’re constantly sending off about what you’re really thinking and feeling. And the harder you try, the more unnatural your signals are likely to come across.” More reading at … Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language.

What Can You Read in the Body Language of Others?

Again, there are certain rules for men and women, especially in the workplace and it is important that you learn how to interpret them so that you don’t make mistakes with others. For example, it is perfectly normal for a man to touch a woman on the arm or the shoulder, but not the lower back (this is considered to be a somewhat sexual touch). A woman, however, can touch a man in that region without sending a sexual message, but if she stands too close to him, face to face, then he can definitely interpret that as sexual.

There’s a really good slideshow at Slideshare called, How Body Language Affects The Communication Process, and it contains a really good tip for learning how to read body language…

“The ability to work out what’s happening with a person is simple but not easy. You can be a great reader with some practicing. Turn down the sound of T.V. & try to understand what’s happening by watching the pictures only. From time to time turn on the sound to check whether you are following up with what’s going on or not. This simple exercise will activate your ability to read non-verbal gesture while understanding; just as deaf people do.”

What Should You Look For?

Humans have a strange way of interacting with each other and we often interpret body language in a sexual manner when none was intended, and vice versa. Therefore, before you interpret anyone’s body language, you should pay close attention to their general use of personal space (some people just like to get closer than others), and the way in which they make eye contact with others. Once you see how they act with others, you will be better able to interpret their behavior with you.

It is important that you also watch their hands, their arms, and their feet. If a person crosses their arms in front of you, they may see you as a threat, while if they are gesticulating (using their hands or arms to make a point), then they usually feel comfortable around you.

Taking the time to learn the ways in which both men and women use their body to communicate can benefit you not only in the workplace, but also in your personal relationships and your day to day life.