Do you know your body can communicate your feelings and attitudes to others without a spoken word? How you sit, stand, and conduct yourself physically is your body language. You may be sending messages of which you’re unaware.
Dr. Albert Mehrabian, the author of “Silent Messages”, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements (e.g., clearing of the throat, non-word noises, etc.), and 55% through nonverbal elements (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.).
Reading body language cues is not an exact science. However, the following may help you become aware of the messages others are receiving from you and explain their reactions to what you thought you said.
Sitting with your arms crossed. When you sit with crossed arms, you’re covering your heart and your midsection. This posture sends the message that you’re closed and not about to reveal anything about yourself. Sitting with crossed arms also portrays you’re on your guard, or uninterested in what’s being said. It can also indicate you’re uncomfortable or even ashamed of your physical appearance.
Head cast down. It may indicate you want to hide your emotions or that you’re timid. With your head cast downward, you’re not making eye contact, which is important to any good communication exchange. If you’re shy, you may find you avoid making eye contact or looking directly at a person.
Drooping shoulders. Drooping shoulders show you’re tired or bored with what is being communicated. Saggy shoulders could also indicate you’re feeling sad or defeated.
Sitting forward in the chair with head lifted and looking at the communicator. This can indicate you’re listening with rapt attention to what is being said. You’re showing great interest when posed this way.
Reaching out to shake hands firmly with a person you just met. When you reach out first, it can be interpreted to mean you’re eager and glad to meet the person. A firm handshake exudes confidence and shows others you know who you are and the talents you hold.
Hands on hips. Normally, this can mean you’re tired of waiting on someone or something or feel impatient.
Breaking eye contact and looking around. When someone is talking to you and you demonstrate this behavior, it can indicate your dismissal of the person’s communication. You’re conveying you’re not interested in what they have to say or that you don’t believe the individual has anything important to say. This behavior can also indicate you’re hiding emotions or even feel shy.
Mirroring. You are subtly mimicking another person’s gestures, which means you’re highly interested in the person. For example, if you place your hand under your chin while talking, the person you’re talking to may unconsciously do the same because they’re interested in you. When someone mirrors your behavior, they’re showing they want to genuinely connect with you and absorb everything you’re saying.
Jiggling feet. Upon talking to someone, if you begin to tap or move your lower leg or foot around, it could reveal you’re nervous, anxious, or even impatient.
Walking with shoulders back and head held high. When you walk while standing straight with your head up, you’re walking with purpose. You know what you’re going after and you’re going for it. Striding this way demonstrates you have a sense of self-assurance.
Make an effort to pay attention to how you’re moving and posing your body when around others. If you need to make adjustments to convey more positive attitudes to others, use the previous information as a starting point.
As I stated previously, reading body language is not an exact science. Interpretation is subject to social mores, cultural norms, and personal bias. In the United States, we are operating in an increasingly multicultural environment. Consider the framework and context.
For instance, in some cultures, it is not socially accepted to look directly into someone’s eyes. Doing so can result in dire consequences.
Don’t assume you fully understand the message conveyed by body language, especially if you feel you’re receiving mixed signals. Default to the basic method. State your understanding, ask for clarification and confirm without judgment.
A basic understanding of the importance of body language will clarify your communications with others and ensure your body is saying what you intended to say.
For more information on improving interpersonal communication, contact me.