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How to Understand Body Language

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Posted 06 December 2013 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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You may find the following will help with your Nonverbal Communication skills training.

How to understand body language

Your body language is your visual channel of communication.

It is the way you appear, what you look-like, as you are speaking.

Interestingly, your appearance, how you look, as you are speaking, may often count for more, in the mind of your listener, than does the content of your words. Meaning, that if you say that you are "feeling confident", but you look as if you are feeling weak, then most people will assume that it is your body language that is telling the truth, and that your words, are not.

Most people can control their spoken language more than they can control their body language. Meaning; their true feelings are often expressed by their facial expression and their body posture, rather more eloquently than by their words.

So, from these initial observations, we can already draw three interesting conclusions.

1. You may decide to become more aware of your own body language, and take control of some of the unconscious errors that you are making, every day. For example, some people point at others, whilst they are talking, and they don't even know they are doing it. So, they don't even recognise the fact that they are antagonising the mind of their listeners and, as a consequence, they are losing ground.

2. You may decide to pay more conscious attention to the body language of other people, and notice when there is a disconnect between what the person is saying, verbally, and what the person is communicating visually, by their body language. Psychologists call this contradiction between words and body language,"incongruence".

3. You may decide to strive to make all your own communications more congruent; meaning, try to make it so that;

  • Your spoken words, and
  • Your overt body language, and
  • Your voice tones,
  • all say the same thing.

Then you will have real power, as a communicator. You will become a true orator.

Question: What are the main subsets of your body language?

Your body language is made up of the following eight subsets:

1. Your body posture:

Do you stand up straight or not? And if not, to what degree do you slouch?

2. Your dress code:

What do you wear? And is it in conformance with the demands of the social context in which you find yourself? Or not. And if not, how "far out" are you? Do you appear to be weirdly dressed, according to the majority of your audience?

3. The degree and manner in which you touch other people:

Do you touch others, or not? And if you do touch people, where do you touch them, and in what way? What is the quality of your handshake?

4. Hand and arm gestures:

To what degree do you make arm and hand gestures, as you speak? If you do make gestures, then are there any gestures that are mistakes, and that are causing you to trigger negative emotional responses in the mind of your listeners?

5. Eye contact:

To what degree do you give eye contact? Too much eye contact will make you seem intrusive and a bit weird. Too little eye contact will make you seem evasive and or weak willed. What do you think is the right amount of eye contact?

6. Facial expression:

What are your habitual facial expressions? To what degree to you have a smiley face. Or a grumpy face? Or an angry expression? Or a worried look? Without coming across as a comedian, it is true that most people could do with a few more smiles.

7. Scent:

Scent has a profound effect on the consciousness. For both good or ill. If you smell fresh, clean and or scented, then you gain points. If you stink, if you have rotten cigarette breath, then you lose points. Be aware of odours. Be a force for good.

8. Proximity:

Proximity is the measure of how close or how far away you stand, or sit, from your listeners. Too far away will make you seem aloof, "distant" and cold. Too close, will make you seem invasive, threatening, or crass and insensitive. Or just plain weird.


According to your book of rules: How close, is "close enough"? How close, is "too close"?

All these elements of your body language are things to which you should give some serious thought

Once you have given each element some serious thought, make some decisions about how you want to come across, write them down on a piece of paper, in the form of between 4 and 7 instructions: For example, you might write, "I will work to improve my handshake so that it is firm, brief, and dry, not so lose, weak and damp".

Memorise the list you create, learn them, and apply them to yourself.

Thank you.

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