The media, HR professionals, law enforcement agents, and of course qualitative market research moderators use non-verbal communication to discover the underlying feelings of human beings. Understanding body language is complex and often undervalued in mainstream communication.
Learning to use nonverbal communication takes some time and practice, but the benefits are astonishingly worth the effort! Remember: the culture of an environment requires consideration (a kiss on the cheek in the US may be interpreted as affection, whereas the same gesture is considered a greeting in France).
According to The Definitive Book of Body Language [Pease], 55% of language is nonverbal, 38% is intonation, and only 7% is verbal!
Five body features we need to focus on first when interpreting body language:
· Facial Expressions
· Hand Gestures
· Posture & Proximity
· Eye Contact
· Other Nonverbal Cues
A peek into reading body language can begin to arm us with communicative insights. One must exercise caution in misinterpreting body language for life-altering issues.
Face: Reading another’s facial expressions can be tricky! A smile can indicate approval, content state, joy, or spite. A person’s face can indicate friendliness and confidence with slightly raised brows and a smile, or confusion if brows are raised prominently along with attention to other body parts (posture is stand-off, eyes may be pointed up and lips are pursed). Pursed lips can also indicate distrust or disapproval, lip biting can be a sign of anxiousness, and covering one’s mouth can disguise a smirk, yawn, or smile.
Hand Gestures: Fluid hand gestures are an important aspect of effective communication. A fist indicates intensity (celebration, waved in the air, or pounded into the other hand), wide-open arms can be interpreted as welcoming, and wide open hands can be a sign of inclusion. Crossed arms may indicate disagreement, confrontation, or maybe indicates a person may be experiencing a change in body temperature.
Posture & Proximity: If the person is directly facing you within close proximity: they are comfortable with or interested in the engagement. If the person is angled to the side, cross legged, looking down: they are withdrawn or uncomfortable. Openness in posture is important to note, as is mirroring. Mirroring often occurs in couples, or family members, who often “mirror” a partner’s reactions to a situation. Digging into individual opinions may yield differences.
With COVID protocols just disappearing one would be wise to interpret proximity accordingly.
Eye Contact: “The eyes are the window to the soul.” The anonymous author had insight into communication! Eye movement is an accurate indicator of conversational measurement. The eyes can gaze, wink, move, blink, squint, drift, open, close, and indicators of fulfillment. If a person looks directly into your eyes during a conversation, it can indicate interest and attention, whereas prolonged contact may feel threatening. A person with sporadic eye contact—frequently looking in another direction—may be distracted, uncomfortable, or concealing true feelings. Rapid blinking can indicate discomfort, and blinking less frequently may be a sign of self-control.
Other Nonverbal Cues: The head reveals plenty in communication! Tilted down, a head can indicate submissiveness, tilted up can indicate confidence, and tilted to one side can be interpreted as sympathy. A nod can be interpreted as agreement or impatience dependent on the speed: slow can mean alignment and fast can mean enough already. A nod can be used in place of a handshake and a nonverbal cue to keep speaking. Hooding (hands laced behind the head, elbows out) can be a sign of confidence and feeling authoritative, whereas, playing with one’s hair can be confusing (sign of a relaxed state, flirting, or a pacifier for discomfort).
Just a peak into non-verbal language inspires one to look at another’s communication in a new way!
“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson