Understanding body language shouldn’t be a difficult task. While it is like a spoken language, with vocabulary that you “listen for” and also “speak” to others, body language is definitely easier to learn! Begin with small sets of gestures and as they become familiar, move on to understanding other gestures. In time they will all come together as you become aware of the non-verbal communication constantly going on around you.
As with many of the things people learn, it is best to understand some general things about body language before learning the particular gestures. So presented here are the two basic groups of body language: the open/closed and forward/back groups.
The open/closed grouping of body language is the most obvious. In general, if an audience is open to a message it means that they’re receptive; if an audience is closed off to a message, it means that they’re rejecting something of the message. The open gestures include open hands, facing forward, and keeping their feet on the ground. Main arteries, the chest, and groin being open are also indicative of the open group. Instinctually humans cover these parts of the body if they need to be defensive, thus not covering them means they feel secure. The closed gestures include folded arms, crossed legs, and not facing forward. Conversely, also, the covering of main arteries/chest/groin signals rejection to the message. Keep in mind that an “audience” may be a single person or an entire conference. In the latter case it is more difficult to adjust your message as you’re going along, but it is still helpful to understand their body language.
The forward/back grouping of body language indicates whether the audience is actively or passively reacting to your message. A forward posture consists of facing the other person directly, leaning their bodies forward, and essentially not leaning back. A backward posture consists of a few more things; leaning back, looking up at the ceiling, and cleaning glasses are all indicative things of a backward posture.
- The open/forward position is the responsive mode: they are actively listening and accepting of the message.
- The open/back position is the reflective mode: they are interested and receptive but not actively accepting. Perhaps present further facts and allow them more time to think.
- The closed/back position is the fugitive mode: they are unreceptive, uninterested, or just bored. This would be the time to make the message more interesting, spark their curiosity!
- And finally, the closed/forward position is the combative mode: they are actively resisting the message. They’re closed to your message but actively reacting to it; this tends to indicate that they’re disregarding your message. Usually in this mode a person is just repeating their own rebuttals mentally so that they can present them after.
Understanding these four basic modes of body language can broaden your receptiveness of body language as a whole. After learning how to use these two basic groups of body language, fitting in the particular gestures associated with certain non-verbal “vocabulary” will become an easier task. They provide the proper context for interpreting a person’s non-verbal communication.
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