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How To Use Body Language Skills
We will explore the subtle yet powerful skill of using your body language. We will do this by thinking about
- What we mean by body language.
- Why body language skills matter.
- Body language and active listening.
- Body language and making a presentation.
- Congruency: When body language matches words.
So how is body language defined? Here are some dictionary definitions:
Conveying information through conscious or unconscious use of bodily gestures.
The conscious or unconscious movements and postures by which attitude and feelings are communicated.
Body Language skills
Body language matters. Before you open your mouth to say anything, your body has already spoken volumes. In fact, if you’re not careful, before you say anything your body language may already have sent out the wrong message!
Various researchers suggest that upwards of 50% of our communication is by our body language. Using appropriate body language helps you to respond to the other person in a non-threatening and supportive manner.
Remember that body language is a natural part of communication; we all do it, and can all do it better.
Our body language is important and can have a significant impact in a variety of settings. Think about how body language matters when:
- Arriving at an interview and meeting those who are about to interview you for the first time.
- Standing up at a business meeting to present your ideas or to report on a task.
- Trying to build a relationship with a potential new customer for your business.
Think about the well-known saying:
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
As far as body language is concerned you are often making that first impression loud and clear before you have even spoken.
What do we mean by body language?
When we refer to body language in the workplace we normally mean the messages we convey by:
- Voice tone
- Eye contact / movement
- Facial expression
- Posture and body movement
Here are some things to think about in relation to each of these elements of body language:
- Voice tone: Is it measured? How do we convey interest? Is it too rushed? Do we vary pace and volume? Are we conveying confidence and assurance? Do we want to share a passion and enthusiasm for the topic?
- Eye contact/movement: Do we engage with those with whom we are talking? Are we avoiding eye contact? Are we ensuring we share eye contact if there are several people present?
- Facial expression: Think about what your facial expression might be giving away. Is it appropriate to the message you are conveying verbally?
- Gestures: Are you conscious of your hand movements? Using appropriate hand gestures to place emphasis can be very powerful.
- Posture and body movement: Your posture will also convey meaning. If you are presenting, does it seem that you are rooted to the spot, perhaps in fear and trepidation? Equally, smaller, repetitive movements can be distracting. Adopting a relaxed but appropriate stance means people will focus on the message, not the movement.
Why Body language skills matter
We would not expect to be proficient in another language without plenty of practice. Yet developing our body language skills is something we rarely consciously practice. However it’s definitely worth improving those skills because:
- “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” (Peter Drucker)
- We need to learn to speak body language: “I speak two languages, Body and English.” (Mae West)
- Over 50% of what you communicate is by your body language.
- Being aware and responding to other people’s body language helps you to perform better.
- Managing your own body language can significantly enhance your communication skills.
- It can also influence how we feel. Adopting a good, positive body posture can help you both look and feel positive and confident.
- Important aspects of a manager’s job (presenting, active listening, running meetings, coaching, appraisals, etc.) can be improved with better body language skills.
- It helps you build rapport with others.
Many of the tips in this article can be applied more widely to improve your interpersonal communication skills through body language. But we’ll focus next on perhaps the two most critical areas where body language matters:
Body language and active listening
When you are actively listening, your body language is critical. You convey that you are listening by your own body language. For example:
- Take an open stance, or seated position (cross legs and crossed arms tend to indicate a closed uncompromising position).
- Maintain an open and relaxed disposition.
- Keep eye contact.
- Nod to signify engagement, agreement or recognition of points being made.
However there is another reason why learning how to use and interpret body language matters. Just as important as your own body language is the need to watch the body language of the person you are listening to.
- What does their voice tone and eye contact suggest?
- What signals do they convey from their hand gestures, and body posture?
here is much you can gather from what people don’t say!
Body Language and making a presentation
When making a presentation your body language is equally important:
- Body language can convey important messages in support of your presentation.
- Body language can relax you and help you to feel confident in what might be a stressful situation.
Firstly you can use body language to great effect when you present. Think about how your gestures and movements can help to make a point. For example:
- Moving forward or leaning forward can reinforce an important point you are making.
- Hand-gestures and eye movement could emphasize points or support a question that you raise.
The second point is an important one: body language is a two-way street. If you can improve your body language externally it can improve how you feel internally: your emotions. The opposite also plays its part.
Poor body language could re-enforce nervousness or lack of confidence.Some tips for getting your body language right for a presentation:
- Relax before the presentation. Do some breathing exercises – as you breathe in then out, feel your muscles relaxing.
- Think about how your body language matches what you say (eye contact, hand gestures, body movement, posture).
- Smile confidently.
- Be natural and relax. Find an open, relaxed stance which you are comfortable with.
- Divide the room in to three parts, left, middle and right. Practice spending equal time moving your head (naturally) towards each section of the room. As you do so maintain eye contact with the audience.
- Remember to keep breathing throughout the presentation. Of course we do this naturally but nerves can make us take shallow breaths. Take deep breaths before speaking which will make you sound and feel confident and authoritative.
Congruency: when body language matches words
One important aspect of body language is to be aware of congruence. Do the words being said match the body language being expressed?
Incongruence is when we send mixed messages. For example: “Yeah I’m listening” is an incongruent message if it’s said whilst sitting with our arms crossed, with a bored voice tone, or as we look away from the person we are supposedly listening to.
You are far more likely to succeed if you’re messages are congruent – when your body language matches your words.
Body language skills a summary
Finally, here is a useful checklist to use when thinking about your own body language. Because so much of what we convey with our body language is subjective, we don’t really think about it.
But if you are serious about developing your interpersonal skills, there is a real need to purposefully think about your own body language.
The following table provides some pointers to help you think explicitly about the messages you are conveying with your body language. Give them some thought then perhaps enlist the help of someone you trust to provide feedback on what they observe about your body language.