The case for body language

... how body language can improve your communication

The message

You've got a powerful vocabulary; a wide vocal range and you're a good listener. You're an all round, good communicator…or are you? You need that report from Andrew on your desk tomorrow morning. Do you send an email request marked 'urgent'? No. It'll be better to communicate your need face-to-face. When you do, you tell him very clearly that you must have the report by 10:00am tomorrow. You hear him assure you that you'll have it on time. That's a relief!

The whole message

The next day…It's five past ten in the morning. No sign of Andrew, or that report. Does this sound familiar? Why don't people do as you ask? The simple fact is that good use of words coupled with active listening doesn't always result in good communication. Evidence shows that body language constitutes 55% of a well communicated message…over half! The good news is that like any other language, you can learn it.

Nothing but the message

Just as the word 'down' can indicate a direction, a young bird's plumage or an area of open countryside, depending on its context, so body language should not be seen as just a list of 'words'. For instance if someone rubs their eye are they avoiding looking at you, are they tired, is their contact lens uncomfortable or is it just a habit? Body language consists of clusters of signals.

The verdict

What might eye rubbing mean if supported by the person sitting back with crossed ankles, slightly laboured breathing, fiddling with their fingers and the occasional touch of their face? Perhaps they're holding something back from you or even concealing the truth. Be careful in your summing up though. Just as with spoken language, different dialects exist and meanings can change with nationality. A circle made with the index finger and thumb might mean, "OK" in England, 'zero' in France and something very different elsewhere!

Meanings can also change with the situation. In the workplace, someone rolling up their sleeves may be suggesting that it's time to get serious. But in a social situation they may be demonstrating their attraction to you by showing you their wrists. Remember, weigh up all the evidence!

So, back to Andrew…try steady eye contact and read his facial expressions. Does he mean what he says?

Of course, you don't have to become fluent in body language to be able to use it. A conversational understanding will vastly improve your daily communications. Start by expanding your vocabulary. Learn a few more key 'words' and 'phrases' each day.

body language constitutes 55%
of a well communicated

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