Long before man spoke in quips, phrases and complete sentences, they were using non-verbal communication via gestures, facial expression and grunts as a means of communicating with each other. We’ve come a long way from the days of grunts and gestures as a means to communicate, although they do have their place. However, we still sometimes fail to see what others are conveying through their non-verbal gestures, such as Body Language.
Do you know how to read body language? Acquiring this skill can help you to be a better communicator by offering you cues that will let you know what someone is feeling, with no speech involved. Reading body language is an art form. One that is used in the courtroom to read jurors and witnesses, and by psychologists, business people, sales people and others, daily, to determine what they need to know about the people with whom they are dealing and communicating.
Defining Body Language
The body language definition pertains to the process of communicating nonverbally using conscious or unconscious movements, gestures, expressions and mannerisms. The difference between what is spoken and what is being said by ones bodily expressions can be completely opposite of each other. Learning these nonverbal communication signals can help you better understand what others are saying, or perhaps not saying.
There is good body language and negative body language. Sometimes it can advance communication, and at other times, it can be used to stifle a conversation. By using body language in communication, you can better understand yourself and others.
What is Body Language?
Have you ever watched someone tell you something, all the while shaking his or her head no? You begin to wonder if they are telling the truth, because their words say one thing, and their body indicates something else. This is an example of body language. As is the raised eyebrow, that denotes disbelief.
A shift of the eye, a raised hand, a body shift, a turn of the head are many of the body signals that we give off, and they speak volumes, without the utterance of a word. Learning to read the body language of others helps with communication but so does the way in which each of us controls our own body language. Presenting positive body language makes you more approachable to others and people will more than likely open up to you because of it.
Body Language Signs
No matter the words that one speaks, body language can give away their thoughts. You will find that you are familiar with one or several of the below answering what body language is.
- The Head Shake – We have all seen this. The headshake can say no, directly contradicting positive output, or a headshake can indicate disbelief or disdain. Such a small gesture, the headshake can add a lot of weight to a conversation.
- Crossed Arms – Often perceived as an aggressive stance, crossed arms are an unconscious defensive move by others. It shows a closed nature and someone who is reluctant to communicate.
- Touching – Touching someone, if not done in a violent, aggressive manner, indicates an openness and familiarity. It shows that the individuals are comfortable with each other and communication should flow easily.
- Clearing the Throat – We all need to clear our throat from time to time, however in a social situation clearing of the throat can indicate nervousness or anxiety when in a social situation. It may also be a show of disapproval or irritation.
- Out-thrust of the Chest – This is usually a sign of aggression and it is a sign of dominance in the animal kingdom. Men use this move when they are trying to intimidate, but also when they are trying to gain the attention of woman. Not just the body language of men, women are no less guilty of using this type of body language, too. They too, will thrust out their chests to show their attributes or as a means of aggression. Both genders use this gesture for both intimidation and attraction; it just depends on the intent of the one staging the display.
- Hands Behind the Back – Taught in the military as a sign of respect, and used by well-trained wait staff and others in service positions, the display of hands behind ones back is rather ambiguous in its meaning. It can also be seen as a sign of power.
- Hands on the Hips – When you see this display, you know someone is about to get it. It is a sign that someone’s patience has run thin, and is an aggressive display of body language.
- Constantly Moving Hands – Hands that are never still, and drum, tap or are constantly being rung, show restlessness, impatience, and even anger in some instances. It can also indicate a lack of interest in what you are saying and you may need to take a new direction in order to break through the barrier.
- Restless Legs and Feet – Same as with the hands, when someone crosses and uncrosses their leg, bounces their foot or shifts back and forth from one foot to the other displays, anxiety and impatience. Getting past these blocks will open the doors to communication.
- Surprised Facial Expression – One of the more obvious forms of body language, the widened eyes, and mouth agape look on the face of someone that is surprised can be good or bad. Surprise or shock can affect different individuals in different ways.
- Proximity – Are they in your personal space? Get inside of your comfort zone can be an act of intimidation or it can mean that someone just wants to be closer. However, not everyone is comfortable when his or her personal space is invaded.
- Downcast Eyes – Looking directly into someone else’s eyes is a display of openness and honesty. When someone has downcast eyes, they are trying to hide their feelings but can also indicate shame or shyness.
- Raised Chin – The raised chin can be seen as a sign of aggression or arrogance and can be off putting before one ever opens their mouth.
- Cocking the Head to one Side – Some see this move as a sign of submission, but it is really a sign of interest. Women will often use this gesture to show interest in men, while in some cultures it can be a sign of aggression.
- Fisted Hands – Indicate frustration or anger and can precede the occurrence of a fight. There is nothing subtle or mysterious about the intent when this body language is displayed.
Body Language and Culture
Do you know that body language is cultural? What may seem normal and acceptable where you live may not be the same to someone from China, India, or England. In Middle Eastern countries, direct eye contact is considered a sign of honesty and trust, but in Latin America, Asia and Africa direct, lengthy eye contact can be seen as aggression.
Many of us don’t like others to get in our personal space, but the Chinese will get into each other’s personal space and also known constantly touch each other. This can make you uncomfortable if you are unaware that it is a cultural issue. The touching issue can get sticky, as it is not readily acceptable by many, although it is encouraged by those from Latin America.
Making yourself aware of the body language of those from other cultures can keep you from making mistakes that they may find offensive, as well as to help you understand body language differences that might have otherwise offended you.
How is Your Body Language?
Being aware of the body language of others can help us in our daily communication with our families, friends and co-workers. However, being aware of your own body language is important, too. How you behave yourself can convey confidence to others that can lead them to be more at ease. Others will more readily communicate with you if you are calm, cool, collected and show no signs of nervousness.