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Body Langauge

  • A great deal of information is obtained about someone before that individual even speaks a word. How people stand, the position of their arms and even hands, the direction of their eyes, and their overall aura of confidence are some examples of factors that influence people’s perceptions of others. Displaying appropriate and engaging body language yourself, and accurately assessing and interpreting other’s body language are two key components that are necessary to achieve effective communication. Without the ability to portray positive body language ourselves and the ability to understand the body language of others we are risk of sending / receiving incorrect messages.

    When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.

    — Ralph Waldo Emerson
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  • Professor Peaches’ Tips

    Is the Message Your Body Conveys the Message You are Intending?

    Body language is a powerful tool when used effectively, but can have serious ramifications when not utilized as intended. Oftentimes people may think they are coming across a specific way while at the exact same time others view their body language in a very different manner. The following are some examples of multiple ways in which different people may interpret the same body language presentation. To help ensure that our message is communicated as intended, we must focus not only on the words we speak but also on what our body language is saying.

    The situation: The speaker has poor eye contact when talking.

    Possible interpretations: The listener may be thinking that the speaker:

          •     Does not want to speak with me
          •     Has a better place to be
          •     Is bored
          •     Thinks he/she is better than me
          •     Feels anxious
          •     Has low self-confidence
          •     Does not like me
          •     Is not focused on the situation
          •     Has poor communication skills

    Poor eye contact can be both distracting and also off-putting to listeners. Instead of listening to a speaker, people may be trying to guess why the speaker is not engaging them with their eyes. They may also take offense to the perception that they are being ignored or slighted by the speaker. Neither of these is positive for a speaker and his / her message! As speakers we must make every effort to use eye contact to connect with our audiences.

    The situation: Two people are sitting and talking. One of the people is constantly tapping her foot against the floor during the conversation.

    Possible interpretations: The person not tapping their leg may be thinking the other individual:

         •    Wants to leave
         •    Is anxious
         •    Feels stressed
         •    Isn’t focused on the conversation
         •    Has a lot of energy and would rather be up and moving around
         •    Has a distracting habit of shaking their leg
         •    Feels uncomfortable

    A lot of people have specific things they do when interacting with others. Oftentimes, people do not even know they are doing these things, let alone realize the impact these behaviors have on others. Whether it is tapping your foot, fidgeting with your hands or making certain facial expressions the result is the same; it implies to your audience that something is not right. Being aware of what we are doing when speaking is very important, as it also helps us to avoid any misconceptions from others.

    The situation: Two people are meeting for the first time. One individual is standing with his hands on his hips during the conversation.

    Possible interpretations: The person not standing with his hands on his hips may be thinking the other individual:

         •    Feels confident
         •    Is conceited
         •    Feels superior
         •    Is comfortable
         •    Normally stands this way

    The pose that one chooses when interacting with others sends volumes of information to the other person(s). Sometimes this information can be completely inaccurate and unintended on the part of the speaker. However, on the other hand, due to the biological roots of poses – it is our own specific nature that drives the poses we adopt – they are actually an uncannily accurate indicator of a speaker’s inner character. Whether you are an alpha type or a more reserved and inward type your natural pose communicates this effectively to your audience. It is important to be aware of this and make sure that you have active control over the poses you adopt. If you are naturally an alpha type it would be helpful to make sure that you do not come across in a way that intimidates your audience. Conversely, if you are the reserved type adopting poses that convey confidence and authority and avoid ones such as hunched shoulders, downward tilted head, and closed arms across the body, which typically serve to communicate insecurity.

    The situation: One person in a conversation keeps a neutral facial expression throughout the entire conversation

    Possible interpretations: The other person may be thinking the individual with the neutral facial expression:

         •    Is unhappy
         •    Is a very serious person
         •    Feels bored
         •    Is really focused and interested
         •    Does not like me
         •    Doesn’t want to be here

    Have you ever tried talking with a wall? The concept of that is ridiculous, right? Well when we use blank faces when communicating with others we create a very similar feeling for the people we are interacting with. They have no idea what we are thinking or how we feel. It can make things confusing, awkward, and even frustrating. Sometimes we might not even be aware that we have a blank expression on our faces. Conveying expression through our facial expressions is important for achieving successful communication.

    The situation: Someone is standing in the corner of a room and has his arms crossed at his chest and eyes looking at the ground.

    Possible interpretations: Other people may be thinking that individual:

         •    Feels shy
         •    Is deep in thought
         •    May be afraid
         •    Does not want to be approached
         •    Is quiet

    We all have a lot of things going on in our lives. However, it is helpful to try and bring ourselves into the moment, even when we have other pressing things on our minds. People are unaware what is happening in other people’s lives, they only know what they can see, and opinions are formulated based on this. Yes, this is grossly unfair, however, unfortunately it is the reality of how we function. We need to be aware of how we are portraying ourselves, and make well-judged decisions about what we do.