“Of all the things you wear,
your expression is the most important.”
― Janet Lane
Excellent communication is the cradle of all successful relationships – professional, personal or otherwise. It is paramount to recognise communication as not being done only with words (verbal) but also with facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture and tone of voice. Your understanding of and use of nonverbal communication is an important tool that helps you connect with others, express your point and build excellent relationships. We are social beings and as such we have been wired to communicate. In doing so, we have been designed to use various forms of communication channels- spoken, written and nonverbal by which we make communication clearer.
Nonverbal communication is a crucial part of communication; it is that which give credence to the spoken words. Studies across the globe indicate that, 60-93% of our communication is through body language. Over time it has been observed that verbal communication is just not enough. A mother took her children to see her old time friend for instance, after they have arrived at the house the boys were offered chocolate bars in a reflex action they stare at their mother, she only blinks her eyes and looks away. The boys turn down the offer, “Saying we will pass”. In this scenario no words will suffice, yet a whole lot of communication has taken place.
Body language is a language without spoken words and is therefore called nonverbal communication. We use body language all the time, for instance looking someone in the eyes means something different than not looking someone in the eyes. Typically body language happens insentiently. Yet the body language we use depends largely on the quality of our communication. Therefore it would be good to be aware of our own and others’ body language. We can learn to use our body language for a specific purpose. As well as learn to understand and interpret body language of others. Bear in mind too that body language infers different meaning and can be interpreted in a million ways.
How we interpret body language depends on the situation, the culture, the relationship we have with the person as well as the gender of the other. For instance, in this part of the world- Nigeria- if in a conversation a younger person looks an older person in the eyes the young person is considered rude and disrespectful. This means that it is not a one cap fit all – there is no one signal that has the same meaning all over the world. If you do not take cognizance of this fact you may get yourself in some serious trouble!
Body language experts have noted that, “Body language is also interlinked with spoken language and a whole pattern of behaviour from a person. Various body language signs can complement each other to make a particular meaning crystal clear or strengthen the meaning of what we intend to communicate”. Research also has indicated that some groups have designed specific body language which can be very unambiguous in its meaning and is used to communicate where the use of words may otherwise be dangerous or difficult. Examples of such groups are gay people, people in servitude, prisoners, etc. with clear history of prejudice against them.
Below are three types of body language to watch out for during communication, they are obviously not limited to these three you can read up more about body language to find other ones.
- MIND YOUR EYE CONTACT
Too much eye contact is considered to be rude, hostile and disdainful; and in a business context, it may also be thought of as a deliberate attempt to dominate, coerce, demean, or make “the other” feel at a disadvantage. Unless you have the intent of doing one of these things, it’s better to avoid too much eye contact during communication. You must also be aware that too little eye contact can make you appear insincere, unprepared and uneasy. At all times learn to strike a balance.
- MIND YOUR BODY POSTURE
Suppose you are a sales manager meeting with the CTO of a bank, right after you are seated before him/her you have your arms crossed, this body posture is 100% defensive in the business world. Though you haven’t said anything but your body posture is already speaking volumes. You are in meeting with a prospective client, why you are busy reeling out your well prepared pitch somewhere along the line you fail to notice that your prospect crosses his arms, interlocks his ankles and he turns his body away from you. In the end you walk away without a deal whereas you thought you did a great job. Learning to recognize such body language can really help you during sales meetings. You must understand that, if your body posture is right, they will be persuaded that you are worth listening to.
- HAND AND FINGER GESTURES
Experts say how you hold and move your hands and fingers are particularly insightful in reading people. You might think it doesn’t matter how you handle certain objects, the importance sometimes is beyond comprehension. Research indicates that handling and placement of objects i.e pens, papers, cutlery etc do play a big role in reading body language. How you handle your cutlery in a social gathering could indicate confidence or lack of social grooming.
Finally, have you ever thought of buying a specific type of car? Perhaps, you were considering buying the latest Toyata Camry model. Suddenly you see them everywhere! They’re parked next door, they drive by your office and a friend suddenly starts talking about it. Has the car suddenly been sold hundreds of times since you made up your mind? No, probably not. It’s your brain that’s been told to look out for them, which is now pointing out every single occurrence of the car. The same thing happens with body language. There’s so much going on in normal conversations that we’re not aware of. In 20 minutes, people can send over 500 nonverbal signals. Be alive to your body language, doing so will enable you come across more professionally and connect better and improve personal confidence.