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Comprehensive Guide to Body Language

Guide on Non-Verbal Communication

 

A Comprehensive Guide to Body Language

 

“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.”

Dale Carnegie

You’ve just heard someone saying, “That’s great”

What do you think that person means? You are most likely to say that it depends. What does it depend on? It depends on how they say it. Try it yourself. Say the sentence aloud while implying that you are pleased. Now say it with sarcasm. Now say the same sentence with surprise. Try it again while sounding frustrated.

What’s happening here? The sentence consists of only three words; nevertheless, you are able to express totally different meanings just by changing the tone, pitch and what part of the sentence you have stressed on. So far, you have only expressed it verbally, though you have managed to produce different meanings. Imagine how many more meanings you can get if you were able to include hand gestures and other non-verbal signals.

The idea that we communicate not just through words but our entire body is called body language. Body language consists of non-verbal communications including gestures, body posture, facial expressions, eye movements, touch, voice and physical space.

 

Why Body Language Matters

Everybody communicates through body language. When it comes to learning about body language, it is not only about learning how to communicate through your body; it is also about being conscious of other people’s non-verbal signals as a way to improve communication skills. Some people are also interested to learn body language in order to build rapport where one does not readily exist. Some are also interested to use body language to deceive or spot deception.

In addition, by being conscious of your own body language, you can quickly correct your posture and gestures to avoid misunderstandings. As a simple example, we are all aware of the meaning of yawning which is usually associated with boredom. Since you know this association, when listening to someone you would avoid or disguise your own yawn to avoid offending the person.

With more extensive knowledge of body language you can control your appearance with precision, much like a politician. This will allow you to carefully plan how you want others to react to you and feel about you, ultimately increasing your personal impact and presence.

The main use of learning body language is to understand people’s true emotions, intentions and their general attitude towards you which ultimately helps to improve your communication with them; whether you want to extend it (because they are interesting) or you want to reduce it (because they are deceptive).

 

What are the Advantages of Knowing Body Language

As a result, body language matters strongly in business, corporate management and in personal life. Better knowledge of body language provides the following benefits:

  • Allows people to develop a deeper understanding of others which in turn allows them to strengthen their relationships.
  • Allows managers to better understand their staff and their needs even if employees are reluctant in sharing their views verbally either because they are apprehensive about sharing what they think or because they don’t think it is appropriate.
  • Team members can read each other’s body language to understand what everyone is going through, who is under pressure and who needs support.
  • Body language can significantly help in negotiations as you can understand the other party’s thoughts on your position without relying only on what they say.
  • Allows you to avoid being deceived by experienced salespeople who want to manipulate you into buying their products.
  • Knowledge of body language can help you to persuade others better. Through their gestures and non-verbal signals you can better understand what they like or dislike. This would allow you to customise your ideas or offer something to match their needs.
  • Body language increases your confidence and self-esteem as you become more aware of how others feel, how you are seen by them and how to control your interpersonal communication more effectively
  • It can improve your presentation skills and public speaking as you understand the power of non-verbal signals and appear confident, convincing and entertaining.
  • By showing a different signal than the one you should be showing based on your current feelings, you could hide your emotions. This can be beneficial to you in negotiations or when persuading others, but it is also helpful in building relationships. For example, it allows you to hide signals that you would be showing as a result of culture shock. In time, when you get used to a new culture you can relax and learn to accept it.
  • Knowing how to deceive helps you to know when you have been deceived by others. As there are many people who eagerly want to deceive us, learning about deceptive body language tactics becomes critical. Whether we want to use this skill on others is a personal and moral matter, highly depending on circumstances.
  • Body language increases your self-awareness which can ultimately help you improve your emotional intelligence.
  • Body language helps you to empathise with others. Empathy is about understanding how others feel. The ability to show empathy helps in establishing rapport and is a significant factor in building and maintaining strong relationships. People would not hang around for long if they think you don’t care about them.

 

How Non-Verbal Communication is Used

You can express non-verbal cues in three different ways:

  • Reinforcing. With this technique you reinforce your verbal message with a non-verbal one. Examples are:
    • You say, “No”, and show the palms of your hands at the same time.
    • You say, “I am not happy with this”, and bang on the table with your fist.
    • You say, “What have you done?”, in an intimidating tone while looking through the top of your glasses.
    • Your boss says, “You have done really well!”, and follows this by patting you on the back gently, thereby increasing the impact of the message.

Complementing body language

Reinforcing Body Language

  • Contradicting. You can also contradict what you say with your body language. You might do this intentionally or unconsciously. Examples are:
    • You say, “Ok, I’ll go get some food!”, while rolling your eyes just after you say it, indicating that you are not really happy about doing this task even though verbally you’ve agreed to do it.
    • You say, “Carry on, I am listening”, while your eyes go back to the computer monitor in front of you indicating that you might be more interested in something else.

Contradicting body language

Contradicting Body Language

  • Complementing. With this technique, your gestures and body language add more information to what you are saying. Inability to complement a verbal message with non-verbal signals can lead to misunderstanding. It is also critical to read someone else’s body language to make sure you fully understand what they mean. Examples are:
    • You hear, “Oh, shut up!”, followed by a casual body posture and breaking of eye contact. The other person is telling you to stop teasing her. If the complementing tone and facial expression is different or missing you could be interpreting this as an aggressive remark forcing you to stop talking.
    • A mother starts to tell a story about tooth fairy to a child while winking at an older sibling indicating that the story is not true, but she is telling this to the child as a cultural custom. The wink adds value to the communication without the need to verbalise it as it is not possible to do this in front of the younger child.
    • You add a smiley to a text message to simulate body language in the digital world and ensure that the receiving person understands that you were joking.

Complementing body language

Complementing Body Language

 

Developing Your Emotional Intelligence

Whether you are aware of them or not, emotions are constantly involved in your interactions with other people. They also play an important role in your decisions in everyday life and work. Emotional awareness allows you to know how you are feeling and why. This in turn allows you to express yourself more effectively as you understand how others see you.

Countless studies show that strong emotional intelligence can lead to strong performance and better success in life. Emotional intelligence allows you to empathise with others and you can do this with good knowledge of body language and non-verbal signals. It can help you to respond to people more appropriately rather than just reacting to them.

For example, suppose your colleague is very angry at you. You have a choice to react, become defensive and potentially shout back. This can only exacerbate the situation and will do little for your relationship in future. You may win the battle, but you will certainly lose the war as your relationship can be affected and you may both feel that you will never want to work with each other again.

Instead, by not reacting to anger and adopting the body language of a person who is sympathetic and comforting, you are more likely to defuse a difficult emotional situation. An angry person has something to be angry about and all he is seeking is the recognition that he has been mistreated. Once acknowledged, he will immediately cool down. Sometime later, when he is less emotional, you can discuss the issue more logically. The key here is to show a number of specific non-verbal signals at the right time. A sympathetic expression, a non-confrontational posture, a non-defensive stance and a friendly demeanour that suggests the relationship is more important than the dispute can easily defuse the situation, calm the nerves and prepare the scene for a more rational and civilised encounter. Such is the power of body language, which is why it deserves time and attention and it is a skill that can benefit you throughout your entire life.

Emotional intelligence body language

 

What You Will Find in This Guide

This page is your starting point in the guide in exploring body language and non-verbal signals. Body language is an extensive field and is constantly researched. There is a lot to learn and as a skill, you should practice regularly until you master the art. Learning body language requires self-analysis, attention to detail and awareness of the latest research and studies in this field.

Below you will find an index to a comprehensive body language guide. The guide is divided into a number of core articles on various aspects of body language such as improving first impressions, giving better public presentations or body language across various cultures. As for gestures and their interpretations, these are provided in a series of sub-articles that focus on specific behaviours or emotions. This will introduce you to gestures and non-verbal signals associated with a particular act such as deception or dominance, helping you to interpret gestures correctly.

You can use this guide for self-learning, or use the content to train others on the subject.

If you are a trainer, you can also benefit from body language training materials and related products listed on the right for your training. More details on each product can be found on corresponding pages. 

 

Index of Guides to Non-Verbal Communication

 

Comprehensive Guide to Body Language

How to Read People Using Their Body Languagee

Beware of Body Language Myths

Influence your Emotional State Using Body Language

Body Language Across Different Cultures

Reading Body Language Non Verbal Communication

Body Language of Dominance

Body Language of Defensive Attitude

Body Language of Intentions

Body Language of Lying

Body Language of Seduction

Body Language of Good First Impressions

How to Improve Personal Impact

Personal Space Territory and Physical Contact

Public Speaking and Body Language

 


 

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Body Language Training

Use ready made training materials to deliver training courses on body language:

Body Language Training Materials Part 1

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Body Language Training Articles

Powerful Body Language Strategies

Powerful Body Language Strategies


When conducting meetings and interacting with other people, your body language can become a critical part of your communication and may even come to define your success or failure. There are a numb...

Reading Body Language: Sitting Positions

Reading Body Language: Sitting Positions


  Humans are predictable. Magicians have taken advantage of this predictability for generations. Knowing how to read people helps you significantly in your negotiations, persuasions and overall ...


Body Language Training Exercises

Body Language Exercise: Guess the Initial Mood

Body Language Exercise: Guess the Initial Mood


This exercise helps illustrate an important point on body language. As soon as we see a person, we read their body language quickly to establish their mood and we can be fairly good at this. The probl...

Presentation Skills Exercise: Tell a Story

Presentation Skills Exercise: Tell a Story


Good presentation skills and public speaking require multitude of skills; creativity, storytelling, creative slide design, engaging attitude, emotional content, effective non-verbal gestures and so ...

Non-Verbal Awareness Exercise: Use Your Senses

Non-Verbal Awareness Exercise: Use Your Senses


The purpose of this activity is to help delegates examine their non-verbal and non-visual senses and build their confidence in sensing and reading others. It demonstrates the power of people's conscio...

Team Building Exercises: Silent Design

Team Building Exercises: Silent Design


The aim of this exercise is to emphasise the importance of non verbal communication when working in a team.

Body Language Exercise: How to Slow Down Your Fast Talking Habit

Body Language Exercise: How to Slow Down Your Fast Talking Habit


Some people are fast talkers. They like to talk with the same speed as they think. In the process fast talking people end up mumbling a lot, shortening sentences, rounding off parts and skipping wor...

Energiser: What am I Doing?

Energiser: What am I Doing?


This is a fun icebreaker/energiser for any group of people. This fun activity allows participants to become creative and generates a lot of laughter.

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect


Sometimes a little action can lead to a lot of change as the actions are amplified. This exercise helps delegates see this effect in a symbolic exercise on gestures on what is famously known as the “b...

Story Telling Exercise: Design a Story and Act It

Story Telling Exercise: Design a Story and Act It


This is an entertaining and creative exercise which can serve a variety of purposes. You can use it for subjects such as story making, storytelling, communication skills, acting and creative writing. ...

Communication Exercise: Job Pantomime

Communication Exercise: Job Pantomime


This fun exercise generates a lot of laugh and is very effective in putting participants in a good mood especially after a long training session. Although designed as a communication exercise, it ca...

Coaching Exercise: To Tell or Not to Tell

Coaching Exercise: To Tell or Not to Tell


This is an energizing exercise designed to show the difference between direct instructions and feedback. In other words, it shows that shaping seems to be a lot more effective than telling.This is a...

Communication Exercise: Mime it out!

Communication Exercise: Mime it out!


This is a fun activity which can be used to demonstrate the importance of non-verbal communication as well as a good energiser. This exercise is most suited to bigger groups of delegates but can be ...

Communication Exercise: Read Me

Communication Exercise: Read Me


This is an exercise in communication with the aim to increase awareness of body language and non-verbal communications.

Acting Exercise: Moving and Following

Acting Exercise: Moving and Following


This is a quick acting exercise which is usually used to get delegates familiarise themselves with space and movement. It encourages people in looking carefully and being constantly aware of their b...

Eye Contact

Eye Contact


This exercise helps the delegates to understand the importance of eye contact and appreciate its social implications. People can also compare themselves with others in making eye contact which is us...

Acting Exercise: Act Out The Roles

Acting Exercise: Act Out The Roles


In this exercise, participants learn how to act or roleplay certain roles. Acting is a very useful skill. It can greatly help people to place themselves in position of others and learn to think like t...

Team Building Exercise: Similar and Unique

Team Building Exercise: Similar and Unique


This is an exercise to help team members discover their common interests and skills as well recognising each person’s unique skills and experiences. The setup is quite simple and you can easily custom...

Motivational Exercise: Turning a Bad Experience to a Good One

Motivational Exercise: Turning a Bad Experience to a Good One


Use this exercise to motivate people and help them to view an experience differently. This exercise is fairly simple to execute and yet quite effective. The essence of the exercise is to show that e...

Pass the Orange Game

Pass the Orange Game


This a simple and entertaining exercise which can be used as an ice breaker as well to make team members feel more comfortable with each other through contact. It is rather physical and the casual int...

Acting Exercise: Act For Your Group Until You Win

Acting Exercise: Act For Your Group Until You Win


This exercise helps participants to practice acting in front of a small audience. The ideal acting is one that conveys information as quickly and efficiently as possible. People need to think of ideal...

Body Language Exercise: Observe People in Everyday Situations

Body Language Exercise: Observe People in Everyday Situations


Use this body language exercise at the beginning of a session before covering non-verbal communication. The aim is to find out how much delegates already know about this topic and effectively prepar...