By JoJo Tabares
Body language is a part of communication that very few actually study yet it makes up most of what we use to communicate and is generally much more accurate a judge of meaning than are the words we use. I’m going to share some reasons why body language is so important and then give you a very short quiz to take to see how well you understand its meaning.
They say actions speak louder than words and sometimes we can communicate things even without the aid of a single word. We can shrug our shoulders and, without a word, we’ve just said, “I don’t know.” We can raise our eyebrows, and we’ve just said, “Excuse me? Did I hear you right?” We can turn our hands over palms up in front of us to say, “I don’t know what else to say. That’s all I’ve got.” And we can point to our nose to indicate that the other person’s “got it right!”
Some of the things we say with our bodies can help us reinforce why we are saying it. Simply saying “I don’t know” has got nothing on adding the following gestures. We can turn our hands over face up in front of us as we raise our eyebrows and invert our smile while we stick our bottom lip slightly out and look to the side. Now we’ve also made someone laugh and perhaps taken a bit of the pressure off ourselves or the other person who was a bit nervous about not knowing whatever it was we didn’t know.
Further, paying attention to someone’s body language can help us discern when someone is not telling us the whole truth and nothin’ but the truth. (An important communication skill with your kids, right?) Here are a few signs that someone might be lying. Often a person who is not telling the truth or all of the truth will not want to make eye contact for fear the eyes are the windows to their lying souls. However, there are also other signs of lying. A person who isn’t telling the whole truth may clear their throat, stammer or change their pitch as if to try and sway your attention away from their lie or in order to stall so they may have time to think up a valid answer or plausible explanation. Additionally, foot tapping or bouncing, blushing, putting their hand to their face, turning away or raising their shoulders may all be indicators that they are uncomfortable with the conversation because they are not telling the truth. These are just a few things that are important for everyday communication.
Another important function of body language is to express our feelings about what we are discussing. Body language can help us determine how someone feels about what they are saying. For example, a person may tell her boss that she would be happy to take the account but her body language might indicate that she is actually not at all happy about it. This can be an important tidbit that can help a manager, and others in a leadership position, determine who is the best person to handle this assignment. If her heart isn’t in it, she may do an adequate job when another employee might turn this small job into a lifelong client.
Body language may be the determining factor in a job interview. If the applicant’s body language conveys that he is at ease with the subject matter and conveys confidence, he has a higher probability of getting the job, especially in this tough job market. We talked earlier about the fact that some body language is interpreted as being uncomfortable and out of control. These are some of the same traits that make a job applicant appear less than confident and comfortable as well.
In a friendship, one’s body language can indicate that someone is paying attention or doesn’t really care about what the other person is saying. Leaning forward into the conversation indicates that this person is interested in hearing what the other person is saying. Leaning back would indicate that he was disinterested or felt superior. Leaning forward and standing close while talking may indicate that someone is aggressively trying to persuade the other person or trying to dominate the conversation. Listening to someone while not making eye contact indicates that you are not paying attention, but are waiting for your chance to speak. This gives your friend the feeling that you don’t care about them and what they have to say and may cause them not to listen carefully to you when it is your turn to speak in the conversation.
Some body language is more obvious to discern, but other kinds of body language are not so easy. Let’s see you try your hand. I’ll give you a few questions to see how well you read body language.
1. What does it mean when someone puts their palm to their chest?
2. What does it mean when someone rubs their nose?
3. What message is being sent when someone looks over their glasses at someone?
4. What does it convey when a person looks up and to the right before they speak?
a) They are trying to recall something
b) They are lying
c) They are trying to make something up
1. c) Sincerity
2. b) Dislike
3. b) Scrutiny
4. a) They are trying to recall some facts (mostly for those who are right-handed)
How’d you do?
Studies show that 70% of our communication is achieved nonverbally and that it is far more accurate than are the words we use. Therefore, it is imperative that we learn to use and discern body language more effectively to become an effective communicator. By understanding body language more effectively, we can decrease our chances of being misunderstood, causing conflicts and increase our chances of being able to spot a liar, maintain our friendships, hire and be hired. For many more reasons body language and communication skills, in general, will help each of us immeasurably in our professional and personal life.
JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication, but it is her humorous approach to communication skills which has made her a highly sought-after Christian speaker and writer. Her articles appear in homeschool publications, such as Homeschool Enrichment Magazine and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which also endorses her Say What You Mean curricula. You can also find JoJo on websites such as Crosswalk.com and Dr.Laura.com. For more information on communication FUNdamentals and Christian-based communication skills for the whole family, please visit http://www.ArtofEloquence.com