Updated: Mar 15, 2021
When we communicate, we exchange ideas. The two primary methods of sending and receiving communication are verbal and non-verbal.
1) Verbal, what we say or write. Oral is a subset of verbal.
2) Nonverbal, how we act, body language, and what our body says to others.
During my school years, there were several times I heard “Watch Your Tongue”, meaning pay attention to my words. I don’t recall hearing “Watch Your Body Language”.
Body language is the process of communicating through non-verbal gestures and movements. Let’s spend a little time on body language, also known as Kinesics, the power of the silent command.
Nonverbal communication is the expression, conscious or unconscious, of intentions, thoughts, and feelings by our physical behaviors. These behaviors include our facial expressions, eye movement, body posture and movements, and our closeness to the listener. Further, our voice’s pitch, speed, tone, and volume also convey meaning.
Here are some hints on reading body language.
Read the person's eyes and keep your eyes on the face(s) of your team members. Dilated pupils are an indicator the person is interested in what is happening. Slanted eye contact is a possible is an indicator that a person is lying. When a person looks up and to the right during a conversation, it usually means they're bored and have already tuned you out.
Look at the person's posture. Do the sender’s body movements show they are mentally and emotionally open to listen or are they resistant to your ideas? Hint: use their ideas to grab their attention.
Check out the person’s facial expressions including eye movement, position of lips, the title of the head, sitting or standing position (open is engaging; closed, disagreeable), voice volume and tone, arm or leg gestures (crossed closed; uncrossed open). Look at the mouth for smiles, or frowns.
These are possible, but not absolute, indicators of the way a person is thinking or feeling. With careful study of the individual’s movements under varying conditions, you should be able to fine tune your assessment of the person’s behavioral characteristics and determine whether they are congruent with their spoken words. The more effective you are in interpreting someone else’s body language the more likely you are to understand the other person’s intent. A person’s gestures telegraph true intentions. Being able to correctly interpret a person’s body language provides a greater understanding of the message being sent.
Likewise, when you have a conversation, focus on what your body language is saying. Does it reflect the words you’re expressing? If not, you are sending mixed signals. You are implanting cognitive dissonance in your listener. This is not a good tactic, if you are attempting to convince them to buy into your desired outcome. Take a moment and reflect on what your body language communicates to others. It can have either a positive or negative effect on your relationship with that individual. Choose positive.