Wednesday, June 11, 2014

“What are you really saying?”

Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words. Just think about how you can look at a magazine advertisement or watch a foreign movie and still know how that subject is feeling. The perfect example would be watching a mime perform on the street. When he's not trapped in a box or walking against the wind, don't we generally know what's happening? There are many different types of nonverbal communication that make up what we commonly refer to as “body language.” Together, the following nonverbal signals and cues communicate your interest and investment in others. What is their face showing? Is it masklike and unexpressive, or emotionally present and filled with interest? The human face can be extremely expressive, able to express countless emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures. (Sometimes it can change the meaning of the words we are actually saying.) Since the visual sense is dominant for most people, eye contact is an especially important type of nonverbal communication. The way you look at someone can communicate many things, including interest, affection, hostility, or attraction. Eye contact is also important in maintaining the flow of conversation and for gauging the other person’s response. Is eye contact being made? If so, is it overly intense or just right? When you don't look someone in the eyes, it can signal deception or a lack of respect. Consider how your perceptions of people are affected by the way they sit, walk, stand up, or hold their head. The way you move and carry yourself communicates a wealth of information to the world. This type of nonverbal communication includes your posture, bearing, stance, and subtle movements. Gestures are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. We wave, point, beckon, and use our hands when we’re arguing or speaking animatedly—expressing ourselves with gestures often without thinking. However, the meaning of gestures can be very different across cultures and regions, so it’s important to be careful to avoid misinterpretation. We communicate a great deal through touch. Think about the messages given by the following: a weak handshake, a timid tap on the shoulder, a warm bear hug, a reassuring slap on the back, a patronizing pat on the head, or a controlling grip on your arm. Is there any physical contact? Is it appropriate to the situation? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words. Things they pay attention to include your timing and pace, how loud you speak, your tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding, such as “ahh” and “uh-huh.” Think about how someone's tone of voice, for example, can indicate sarcasm, anger, affection, or confidence. Does their voice project warmth, confidence, and interest, or is it strained and blocked? Don’t be caught doing some of these! Frowning or Scowling: Scowls and frowns, often unintentional and unconscious, communicate unhappiness and disagreement. Looking Down: In everyday interactions, it can make you look uncomfortable or self-conscious. Glancing At The Clock: Glancing at the clock or at your watch or even looking past a person who you're speaking with will communicate disinterest or arrogance. Slouching: Bad posture signals to others that you lack confidence and have poor self -esteem or low energy levels. Folding Arms: This stance creates a sense of being closed off and may signal to others that you are disinterested in them or don't buy into their message. Weak Handshake: A handshake that isn't firm will signal a lack of authority. One that is too firm could make you seem overly aggressive. Fidgeting And Touching Hair: Fidgeting and playing with hair or clothes can reveal an excess of energy, which signals discomfort or anxiety. Can I fix it? (Sure it's not terminal!) Here are some tips to help you keep your body language positive: Eye contact: Keep your head up and look the person who you are having a conversation with in the eyes both when they are talking to you and when you are talking to them. There is no need to stare them down and remember to blink and look away occasionally. Good eye contact lets others know that you are interested in the conversation. Posture: Be relaxed whether you are sitting or standing. Keep your back straight but not stiff and let your shoulders relax. It reinforces the idea you’re comfortable in your surroundings. Arms: Crossing your arms is the visual clue that you are turned-off by what is going on around you. Practice hanging your arms comfortably at your side or bringing your hands together in your lap to show others that you are open to what they are communicating. Hands: Talking with your hands is an easy way to incorporate gestures into your conversation but be careful not to make it a dance party. Emphasizing words with your hands can lead you to appear more credible and assured. Handshake: The handshake is one of the most important nonverbal communication cues because it can set the mood for the entire conversation. A firm handshake will give you instant credibility while a weak handshake will make you appear fragile. Take care not to crush the other person’s hand though. Giving someone a death grip will signal to them that you are a bully or overcompensating for something. Body language is a crucial part of first impressions. Often, simply being aware of your it can result in immediate improvements. Remember, what you communicate through your body language and nonverbal signals affects how others see you, how well they like and respect you, and whether or not they trust you. I encourage you to evaluate your own non-verbal communication and those of others a bit more. Start with something simple like shaking hands. I'd suggest that you practice with friends and family. Try shaking hands firmly and establishing good eye contact to ensure you aren’t doing anything that could damage a good first impression. Once you master these skills, you just might impress yourself!