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Body Language Explained: Positive Non-Verbal Communication

Updated on January 1, 2020
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Michael is an avid content writer and researcher on various topical subjects, including personal development and wellbeing.

Understanding Body Language

It has been stated that around 80% of all communication is non-verbal. Therefore, developing the skills to both master and read body language is essential in knowing how to communicate effectively with others.

This is also because the communication you are receiving verbally may be quite different from the real situation. Learning about body language will help you discern what is unvoiced, and that according to studies, accounts for most of the communication that takes place between humans.

As with all other arts and skills, your ability to read body language will increase as you keep probing to understand what others are not saying. The more you train your mind to pick up the subtle signals, the better at it you will become.

Don't allow any initial failures to discourage you. Keep working at it and eventually, you will be able to master the craft. You can actually begin right now by studying the signals discussed in this and subsequent articles, then seeing if you can identify them in real life.

You start this exercise by paying closer attention to the manner in which people interact - whether it is in the mall where you go to do shopping, in your daily walk or commute, in your place of work, in meetings you attend and so on. In other words, wherever there are people, there are opportunities for you to practice these skills.

The following are some of the signs of positive non-verbal communication. To learn more about negative forms of body language please check out this article.

1. Greeting Body Language

While it may be obvious that waving at someone or shaking their hand is a form of greeting, there are other less obvious signs. Sometimes, people can greet each other subtly as an expression of bonding or oneness.

Several gangs, for example, have their own secret hand gestures to express their unity. School children who belong to clubs or organizations may also have secret ways of greeting one another.

Due to the variations that exist between cultures, what may be considered an acceptable form of greeting in one, may actually be seen as an insult in another.

Due to the variations that exist between cultures, what may be considered an acceptable form of greeting in one, may actually be seen as an insult in another.

(a) Handshakes

A handshake can tell a lot about a person. This is dependent on the person themselves as well as several other factors. Gripping the hand firmly conveys confidence, whereas holding someone's hand lightly is an expression of timidity.

This is also where other factors beyond the person can come into play. For example, elderly women may have a light grip despite their confidence level, due to age. Alternatively, a person may simply use a light grip in order for the other not to squeeze their hand to tightly.

Greeting takes on different forms. A person may shake the other's hand while holding their elbow with the other hand. Another form of greeting is covering the other's hand with both of his in a double grip. This communicates dominance. It can also express the sincerity of gratitude in a situation where someone is really thankful.

Shaking someone's hand while holding the palm down is another sign of dominance, whereas shaking with the palm up expresses submission. Shaking hands with the palms sideways is an indication of equality. When a handshake is extended by a person and they go on without letting the other break off, this is an expression of dominance.

Further, it is not uncommon for those in positions of authority to pose for photos while standing next to each other with their arms extended across their front to greet the other person's hand. The dominant person chooses to stand on the left and shake using the right hand, to ensure the photo is captured with the back of their hand visible.

The mood that a person is in while greeting can be read through their facial expressions

(b) Other Forms of Greeting

A salute is a much more formal type of greeting. In the military, salutes are used to express respect to those occupying higher ranks. Boy Scouts also have their own honour salute also, which involves raising the hand and holding it to the heart when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Bowing is a way of conveying honour, thanks or appreciation, for example, at the conclusion of a performance. In Japan, failure to bow as a form of greeting is a show of disrespect.

Tipping the hat, giving someone a high five or lightly bumping the front of clenched fists are other types of informal greeting. Hugging is acceptable in certain cultures and frowned upon in others. Certain societies find it normal to greet each other with a cheek-to-cheek kiss irrespective of gender, for example in France and Spain.

The mood that a person is in while greeting can be read through their facial expressions. A tense face with clenched jaws may indicate that the individual is angry and upset, while a frown will convey something is not quite right.

A blank face is an indication that the person does not care concerning your presence, whereas a bright, smiling face shows the individual is happy to see you.

If someone approaches while squeezing their eyebrows together, it is likely that they are trying to recall your name or other details about you before they engage. You can help them out of the predicament by taking the initiative and moving up to them first, reminding them of who you are and giving them an amicable handshake.

2. Attentive Body Language

Yawning or nodding off during a conversation are obvious signs of inattentiveness. In contrast, leaning into the speaker while respecting their personal space is a sign of attentiveness.

If one's gaze is not fixed but keeps shifting often in the course of a conversation, or they stare rather than blink normally, their attention is not fully on the situation at hand.

When a listener concentrates on what is being said, their frown line will often indent, meaning they are paying attention to your statements. You may also notice slight natural movements of the head - either nodding in affirmation with what you are saying or shaking it in disagreement.

Another common sign of attentiveness is when the individual unconsciously begins to mimic your body language.

When one communicates with open hands and arms, it is an indication that they have nothing to hide from the other party.

3. Open Body Language

This is a body language that expresses ease. When one communicates with open hands and arms, it is an indication that they have nothing to hide from the other party. They are comfortable in the presence of someone who they consider to be a colleague.

However, when a person comes into open body language suddenly, it may not always indicate comfort or ease.

A case in point is if you are communicating with an individual who is expressing closed body language (for example, bent over or curled up) and then without warning, they suddenly prop up or get on their feet. It is possible that something you said, triggered a major shift in their mood.

If a shift like this happens, the body language is not open at all, but rather an indication of a different type of body language - either aggressive or defensive. The way to handle the situation is to start with what you said, or what happened to cause that sudden mood shift. More details on how to identify negative body language signs are covered in this article.

4. Relaxed Body Language

This is similar to open body language in some aspects. When relaxed, an individual's breathing is slowed to less than normal speed and there is no evidence of tense muscles anywhere in their bodies.

Skin colour or tone is normal. Hands, arms and feet are loose and free without any twitching or fidgeting. You may see a relaxed mouth or even a slight smile, but overall, their facial expression is without tension.

There are no fluctuations in their tone or pitch when they speak. Their voice is steady and does not oscillate from high to low or vice versa.

The expression of the eyes mimics the mouth. For example, if the mouth is smiling slightly, you will also see a reflection of a smile in their eyes. The eyebrows are without tension and remain at their natural level without any exaggerated frown lines.

The body immediately faces the direction of anticipated action and adopts a position of heightened expectancy.

5. Prepared Body Language

This body language expresses readiness or preparedness for a result or outcome. The best way to describe this is by using visual images that we all can relate to.

So imagine a baseball player out in the field, poised for the ball that is about to be thrown their way, or a group of soccer players converging at a goal post moments before a corner kick.

The body immediately faces the direction of anticipated action and adopts a position of heightened expectancy. Their poise expresses ready body language.

Alternatively, imagine a candidate waiting by the phone to receive results of their job interview, or relatives in a hospital waiting for the results of an operation. They will unconsciously exhibit prepared body language.

The individual's eyes are directed toward the source of action. The body tenses and there may be signs of fidgeting hands. They may unconsciously start twisting items like clothing in their fingers as the anticipation heightens.

You can also find this body language in children, immediately they are informed of an upcoming visit to their favourite venue or an exciting trip. Students about to walk on the graduation platform and grooms awaiting their brides at the front of the aisle will all tend to exhibit ready body language.

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