Body language is the use of non-verbal signs as a mode of communication. It’s more about how the speaker supports his/her words with the help of body language. If the speaker is saying ‘No’ but nods his head ‘Yes’ it may contradict what he is saying. The speaker needs to connect with the audience by focusing on both his speech as well as his body language.
The concept of communication
Human beings are unable to reside in an environment without communication. Communication starts right from the time of birth. A common example is when a baby cries it is communicating that it needs attention or is hungry.
A message becomes communication when it is recognized, can be understood and replied to. It’s not necessary communication should always be by words, it can be through other means as well.
Peter Drucker says, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said”.
What is body language?
Body language is what we call the movement of the body which says so much about oneself without actually saying much, this is how one would simply describe body language. Less use of words and more use of gestures, expression, and approach which means use of nonverbal cues.
Body language is one way of non-verbal communication which is observed in nearly all aspects of our day to day life. We can regard a person through body language and know so much more about that person without actually talking to them.
A lot of people in the corporate world judge the fresher’s by the way of their body movement, how they sit, behave and very little importance is given to actual vocal words when compared to nonverbal cues.
There is a very famous saying, “Actions speak louder than words”. This is true in the literal sense when you think about it.
The link between body language and communication
Communication mainly takes place in 2 major forms and that is verbal and non-verbal. While it may seem that verbal communication may be the most used form of communication, we are wrong. It may be the focus of major subjects but non-verbal communication is the most used form of communication.
We humans are social beings and apart from using words we also use our body to express the unsaid. Body language is one important factor in non-verbal communication. Research estimates suggest that body language accounts for 65, 70, even 90 percent of human communication. Taking 70 percent as our average, voice accounts for 20 percent and words for 10 percent.
Words + tone of voice + body language all sums up to make a complete package through which the receiver is able to perceive the message of the sender. The research conclusions may vary a little, but it is quite evident that body language has a very vital role to play in communication. We need body language as a pillar or foundation to support our words.
Let’s take a very common example of our famous ‘Mr. Bean’. The character of Mr. Bean is relatable to the matter of non-verbal communication. All of us understand the humour of Mr. Bean even though there aren’t words or verbal communication. This indicates that we have an idea of what is going on in the show with the help of body language or other non-verbal ways. Not much is said and yet we can comprehend the outline of the episode.
Positive and negative body language
Understanding body language is not a piece of cake. It takes effort and research to reach a stage where you are able to understand a little bit about the subject. People showcase both positive and negative body language according to the situations and timing.
For example, if a person crosses their arms we may interpret it as negative body language but it may also be a sign of feeling cold. One more such example is that when a person stands close to you and leans in to have a conversation you may take it as positive body language.
There are so many mistakes that we can detect in body language. This article right here may give you detailed information about the most common body language mistakes one can make.
The element of familiarity should also be considered. The more familiar you are with a person the easier it is to read their body language. People usually study body language not because they want to gain information about the person but because they want to know about their feelings and emotions.
Significance of body language in communication
Well looking at this, the first thing that comes to our mind is that what role does body language play in communication? We may wonder that isn’t body language different from what we speak? The answer to this is, ‘NO’. Body language and words go hand in hand. What we say must be supported by how we behave.
Our body language must not contradict our words which may give a clear indication of the false pretense. For instance let us take an example of an interview, when you go to give an interview, the interrogator will observe the way you sit and move. She/he may not only consider your way of speaking but may also look at your behaviour like; hand movements and posture.
Hand movements like clasping your palms may suggest nervousness or confined behaviour.
While gestures like open palms signify openness and honesty.
Types of body language
1. Facial expression
When communicating, the most common thing people notice is your facial expressions. Have you observed that we humans unconsciously have a habit of looking at the person’s face even before listening to what the person has to say?
There are 6 common facial expressions that are constant and they are :
Facial expressions can be used in so many different fields, Check out this article wherein you can know more about facial expressions in speech making.
For instance, if the person is tight-lipped or Pursed lipped it may convey hostility. The listener may interpret it as distaste or unfriendliness. She/he may not want to continue the conversation looking at you.
Biting the lip may convey the message of anxious behaviour while a smile may convey a welcoming behaviour. Among these smiling is one of the most preferred mouth expressions as it may make you seem approachable and friendly. Smiling also breaks the ice in the conversation and works as a tool of confidence.
Occulesics is basically the use of eye behaviour as a means of communication. The most relatable example that I can give is that one look your Mom must give you when you do something wrong. That look from which you understand all the unsaid words and bashing she wants to give you.
The emotion of anger is expressed through eye contact. This is one type of body language in which communication happens through the eye. Eye contact makes the listener develop interest in what you are saying and regulates the flow of communication.
For instance, when you go shopping and try a dress/shirt and show it to your friend and he looks at you and nods, you take that as a yes. This shows the quality of approval with the contact of the eye. Occulesics is culture-bound. Which means it has different meanings in different cultures.
Like in the west looking into the eyes of the person is common. In countries like China and Indonesia one must lower their eyes while talking because direct eye contact is considered rude and ill mannered. While in Japan one must look at the person’s throat while communicating so as to not offend the listener.
Last not but the least quoting a very famous saying that goes like,” Learn to read eyes because lips often lie”.
Gestures are the most evident type of body language. A very important thing to note is that gestures may sometimes be universal and sometimes vary from region to region and culture to culture.
For example, the uplifted shoulders and upturned hands that indicate “I don’t know” is universal all over the world. But the encircled thumb and forefinger sign differs in many countries. It is depicted as capital in Japan, useless in France, an expletive in Arab cultures, OK in the United States, and indecency in Germany, Brazil, and Australia.
Posture is what we call the most important factor of body language. It is said to be the most detected type of body movement that one observes. With the help of posture we can come to know so much about the person in terms of his feeling, behaviour and characteristics like is he optimistic, open, shy etc.
There are 2 types of posture:
1.) Closed Posture and
For example, when you are in conversation with a person and the person is slouching you may get the idea that the person is unresponsive and bored as compared to when a person is sitting straight this depicts that he is attentive, interested and responsive.
Appearance also plays a minor part in body language. It mainly has to do with physical aspects of the body like; hair color, skin tone, and shape as well as grooming and dressing both clothing and jewelry and use of external appearances such as body piercings, brandings, and tattoos.
A person with piercings and tattoos is quick to be judged by others based on her/his appearance. One example is that when going for a job interview and a person has either a tattoo or piercing she/he may automatically be rejected or not considered as the first preference. Why is that? This is because they may seem rebellious to people because of their external appearance.
In western and North African regions, public speakers wear lengthy and sturdy cloaks and long sleeves in such a way that when their hand rises, additional cloth of the sleeves slips through the arm and expands their shoulder, which in turn makes them look tough, bigger and more elegant.
Lawyers must also follow a particular dress code when going to court or their workplace. All this shows that attire plays a very important role in appearance which in turn helps in body language while communicating.
Silence is also a mode used for communication. At times we are so overwhelmed by feelings and emotions that we are unable to speak and our silence then communicates to the other person in place of words.
A good speaker knows the importance of a pause which is a short period of silence. This helps the speaker produce a feeling of expectation in the audience.
Silence may also be witnessed as a means of anger. When a person is angry she/he may decide to show anger by giving the silent treatment.
Proxemics is the use of space in a communication situation. It is the distance or space between two people when they speak. Distance is generally described on a scale from intimate space to personal space or informal distance to social space or formal distance, and public space or distance.
Proxemics also deals with the potent use of space in social settings, such as homes and business, and the organization of space to encourage or hamper communication.
Touch may be used to convey a message as effectively as hand gestures and facial expressions. An amiable pat, a nudge, a tap on the shoulder all these are ways of communicating through touch.
For instance when your teacher pats your back in appreciation he is trying to motivate you to do good and better in the future. The patting of the back is one way of how touch works in communication.
Colours are used to convey direct messages. For instance, in an operation theatre, a red bulb is utilized to convey that the theatre is in use. Christians wear black clothes to show that a death has occurred in their family while in the Hindu religion white is considered as a colour for death.
Colours not only convey direct messages but also help identify things, colours are also used for psychological purposes. Light colours help soothe people while dark colours showcase aggression or anger.
In research in America, a classroom was painted in red colour and misbehaviour among the children had increased to a greater level as compared to a light calm soothing colour. Hence it is evident that colours tell us a great deal about people and their behaviour through the means of nonverbal cues.
Some last words
I read somewhere that ‘Body language and tone of voice- not words are our most powerful assessment’. Body language speaks volumes in the process of communication.
Not everything is said in words, some things need to be understood and that’s how studying body language comes into the picture. It is helpful and didactic. Why is it didactic, you may ask?
It’s because by studying body language we can observe other people closely, in our everyday life and know exactly what is happening. Communication becomes much easier and the perks of studying body language may help you get to know a lot of new people.