It is often said that in face-to-face and even body-to-body communications, the words we speak actually account for less than 10% of the message that we convey, while body language accounts for more than half of our message. Here’s how to start using body language to improve your day-to-day communications and improve your quality of life.
- Be natural. Even if you were to succeed in controlling your body language “by the book,” you would look fake. While there are certain aspects of body language that can be improved upon to create a more effective message, you still need to act like yourself and not be robotic.
- Is he saying hello, goodbye, or stop? Identify your body language patterns. Make a conscious effort to think about what your body is doing in different interactions with different people. A mirror can be useful to examine facial expressions and posture, but mainly you just want to pay attention to what your body does when you’re angry, nervous, or happy.
- Determine whether your body language is in sync with your message. Your body language is effective if it communicates the message you want it to communicate. Does your posture communicate confidence, or does it make you seem unsure of yourself even though your words express confidence? If your non-verbal signals match your words, you’ll not only communicate more clearly, you’ll also be perceived as being more charismatic.
- Look at the big picture. You don’t have to have every little nuance “correct” as long as the overall effect of the cluster is in sync with your message.
- Emphasize a point. Have more than one gesture. This will help you better get your message across. If you want to make sure you’re not misunderstood, repeat both gestures when you speak the idea aloud. If the listener doesn’t pick up on one gesture, he or she will likely be familiar with the other. You don’t have to use a body language gesture (or two) for every word, but it’s a good idea to have a toolbox of gestures you can use to reinforce very important, yet easily misinterpreted concepts.
- Direct the most positive gestures toward the listener. This lets you more clearly indicate that you are offering a favorable outcome to the listener. Direct the most negative gestures away from yourself and the listener. This way you clearly indicate that you wish that no obstacle stands in the way of your intended message.
- Use hand gestures carefully. Be conscious of what your hands are saying as you speak. Some hand gestures can be very effective in highlighting your points (open gestures), while others can be distracting or even offensive to some listeners, and can lead to the conversation or listening being closed down (closed gestures). It also helps to watch other people’s hand gestures to see how they come across to you.
- Keep a check on other body language signals. Watch for wandering eyes, hands picking at fluff on your clothing and constant sniffling. These small gestures add up and are all guaranteed to dampen the effectiveness of your message.
- Recognize people. Sure, you don’t necessarily know the people in your audience or that new friend in your group, but they’re nodding along with you and looking knowingly at you all the same. This means that they are connecting with you. So reward them with your acknowledgment.
- Use facial expressions consciously. Aim to reflect passion and generate empathy with the listener by using soft, gentle, and aware facial expressions. Avoid negative facial expressions, such as frowns or raised eyebrows. What is or isn’t negative is dependent on the context, including cultural context, so be guided by your situation.
- Be alert for unexpected behavior that suggests you’re cross-culturally colliding, such as a clenched fist, a slouched posture, or even silence. If you don’t know the culture, ask questions about communication challenges before you start to speak with people in their cultural context.
- Communicate eye to eye. Eye contact establishes rapport, helps to convince that you’re trustworthy, and displays interest. During a conversation or presentation, it is important to look into the other person’s eyes if possible and maintain contact for a reasonable amount of time (but don’t overdo it; just as much as feels natural, about 2-4 seconds at a time).
- Remember to take in all of your audience. If you’re addressing a boardroom, look every member of the board in the eye. Neglecting any single person can easily be taken as a sign of offense and could lose you business, admission, success, or whatever it is you are endeavoring to achieve.
- If you’re addressing an audience, pause and make eye contact with a member of audience for up to 2 seconds before breaking away and resuming your talk. This helps to make individual members of the audience feel personally valued.
- Be aware that eye contact is culturally ordained. In some cultures it is considered to be unsettling or inappropriate. Ask or research in advance.
- Touching one’s face signals anxiety. Improve your posture. If you’re constantly hunched over or touching your face, you’ll never look confident, approachable or at ease. Improving your posture and working to eliminate nervous tics can be difficult and will take time, but you’ll quickly improve your overall non-verbal communication.
- Hand gesture commonly used in Argentina to roughly convey “What the heck are you thinking?” Identify cultural norms. If you have recently entered a new culture, you may need to adjust your body language. Cultural norms regarding body language (i.e. how far away you should stand from someone, how much eye contact you should make, and what gestures are considered taboo), vary considerably and if you don’t speak the same body language as the locals, you’re liable to be misunderstood a great deal. This can even sometimes be met with very serious implications.
- Concentrate on difficult situations. It’s most important to make sure your body language is clear in interactions with people you don’t know very well. These situations (first dates or job interviews, for example) may merit some special attention. Get in front of a mirror and practice these interactions. Speak aloud as you normally would and carefully watch what your body is doing. You could also videotape yourself for several minutes and then watch the video to identify how you might present yourself better.
- Say what you mean. For most people, body language that effectively reinforces the speaker’s intent comes naturally when they mean what they say. The problem, of course, is that we don’t always say what we mean. If you’re trying to lie convincingly, for example, you’ll probably have to alter your body language to prevent it from arousing suspicion. It’s often easier to just say what you feel.
- Observe your own expressions Use your body language to help you understand how you feel. If you’re not quite sure how you feel about something or someone, pay attention to what your body is saying. Other people will be able to read your body language to help uncover what you’re feeling, so you should be able to read your body language better than anyone else can. Using body language effectively means not only communicating with others, but also learning more about yourself.
- One way to work on developing your own system is to study sign language and then occasionally use similar symbols when speaking.
- It is sometimes useful to observe the body language that is appropriate for a given setting or among certain people, and then match your gestures to those of people around you. If you’re not familiar with the culture or the people with whom you are speaking,it may be the only way to get your message across or avoid an embarrassing gaffe.
- Use the most positive (or, if warranted, negative) gestures and facial expressions first and last. While it is true that we make our most memorable impressions within the first 5 to 10 seconds, we also make a crucial impression within the last 5 to 10 seconds as well.
- Once in a while, use the opposite gesture of your intended meaning. This is not meant to confuse the listener, but rather to see how well they pay attention to your gestures.
- If you know you are using a sign that may easily be misinterpreted, state so as quickly as possible and state your intended meaning, right away. For example, if you cross your arms for warmth, you may want to say, “I’m cold, are you?” That way the person won’t think that you’re just being unreceptive.
- Be honest and non-judgmental. Speech and gestures are co-expressive. If you say what you mean, your body language will follow.
- Do not try to read too much into a stranger’s body language. It makes them uncomfortable and may give the semblance of you judging them.
- Not everyone uses the same gestures to convey the same meaning. For example, in the US feet spread apart typically conveys the message that you are standing your ground. In Japan to convey the feet would typically be together, with the hands directly at the sides to convey this meaning.
- People’s usage of body language can and usually does change over time.
- Understand that people are liable to misinterpret your body language. Always try to be clear and try to reinforce your meaning.
- Do not assume that you have correctly identified the meaning of another person’s body language without verification. For example, many people believe that if a person’s arms are crossed it means that they are distancing themselves. Perhaps they are simply cold!
- Faking a gesture or facial feature to convey a meaning is the same as lying and can be interpreted this way. When people say that someone seems phony, they’re usually referring to mannerisms that seem faked.
- Understanding Body Language Shouldn’t Be A Difficult Task! (bodylanguagecards.wordpress.com)
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