Humans are communicative creatures. We constantly communicate with each other. Even the shyest and most withdrawn person communicates, not necessarily with words, but with body language. It’s all around us! That’s why it’s so important that we learn about body language and how to read it.
Why is it important to understand body language
Did you know 60 to 80% of all our communication is non-verbal? And the average person doesn’t understand body language. This means that the average person misses out on 60 to 80% of what is being said. Does that surprise you?
It shouldn’t, especially when you consider the many misunderstandings that may lead to violence and harm are a result of either a misinterpretation of body language or a reliance only on words.
Body language goes beyond words. It always tells the truth. If we are skilled in observing body language, we will be able to listen, not only to the person’s words but their movements will tell us how they really feel.
In a world that has all the modern conveniences to communicate, such as the telephone, email,— there is no substitute for face to face communication. This is where we are able to observe body language as well as listen to the information we are being given in the form of words.
By understanding body language, a parent can truly understand what their teenage child really is saying. A employee can understand what his boss is really saying. A Police Officer can understand how best to diffuse a situation peacefully. A teacher can understand when she is reaching her student. Understanding body language is a key to effective communication
How to observe body language
Do you have a dog or cat? If you do, you can learn something about body language from your pet. Yes, this is how your pet understands you. It’s true, a pet will understand some verbal communication in the form of commands. But for the most part, our pets watch our body language. They can read us like a book.
We can do the same thing. However, it’s very important to put the person we are observing at ease. What I mean by that is, we don’t want to make it obvious that we are observing their body language. If we do, they will become self-conscious and this will affect the accuracy of our observations. Unlike our dog or cat, we can’t get away with staring at the person we are talking with an intense fixed gaze.
Instead, when we observe the person, we need to notice his or her movements while looking at them naturally. In most places in the world it is important to keep our eyes in their eye area to a comfortable degree. This means we will notice the other movements peripherally. Our conversations should be natural. However, we need to be awake and alert to the movements of their forehead, eyebrows, eyes, eyelids, nose mouth, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, torso, hips, legs and feet.
This obviously means we need to be alert. As I mentioned before, most people are asleep when it comes to body language. Even some lawyers and law enforcement officers found they weren’t as awake as they needed to be when it comes to interpreting body language. Unfortunately, on the other hand, most con artists are very awake in this area. This is why you need to not only know how to observe but use body language effectively.
How to use body language to communicate
We all use body language when we communicate. So, whether you like it or not, you’re going to say much more when you speak than your words. The trick is to say what you want to convey, both with your words and with your body.
People will read you even when they don’t know much about body language. They will subconsciously react, not to what you are saying with your words, but what you are conveying to them in body language. They will not be able to explain it right away, but they will have a gut feeling about you. A gut feeling can be either good or bad.
Here is an example:
Suppose you’re speaking in front of an audience and you are conveying facts that you want them to believe. This may seem like a small thing, but the direction you hold your palm when you gesture, will make a tremendous difference in their confidence in what you’re saying.
While emphasizing your words, If you are gesturing, palms inward or down and Knuckles out or up, you show forcefulness and Confidence in the directions you are giving.
On the other hand (no pun intended). If you gesture palms up, you are giving an appeasing approach. Both are excellent gestures, but they evoke opposite subconscious reactions from the listeners.
The palms up, Knuckles down gesture may be more effective when we are asking for something. For example, we may be asking our boss for time off from work. This would not be a good time to use the Knuckles up palms down approach as we would be appeasing an authority.
What we may unknowingly communicate
Sometimes we may not realize the impression we may give simply in the way we stand. Often professionals in business have the habit of walking with their hands clasped behind their backs. Lawyers often do this, so do many in the education field.
But here’s the problem with this. It gives the appearance of being unapproachable. It tells those around you that you do not want to come into contact with them. They may not consciously know this. But on a subconscious level, that is what you are saying.
So, if you need to reach people with what you have to say, keep your arms in front where everyone can see them. They need to see your hands. This increases trust.
So if you are using a lectern, don’t hold onto it. Keep your hands free to be seen by your audience and keep arms visible.
So we see why body language is so important. No matter what our profession or status in life we need to communicate effectively. We need to know how to read others without making them uncomfortable. We can do that by staying alert to their movements by using our peripheral vision. We also need to be alert to our own body language to make sure that the message we are giving out is the message we want to convey.
Without a doubt, understanding body language is a key to communication.