Communication is not only what we say but how we say it, including body language. Someone’s words may say one thing, but their body may say something different. You may send messages with your movements and expressions without knowing it. Becoming more aware of body language can help you send the message you really want to convey and help you interpret what others are communicating to you.
There are many types of nonverbal communication, according to an article from Lifehack.
If you place your hand on your cheek or stroke your chin, you may be deep in thought. Nail biting or fidgeting with hair conveys nervousness or insecurity.
There are different kinds of smiles which can communicate happiness, nostalgia, annoyance or sadness. A lowered head could mean the person is hiding something or is just shy. A raised eyebrow can convey that someone is judgmental.
Arms crossed over the chest may show defensiveness. Crossed ankles while standing could be a sign of nervousness.
Eye contact, or the lack thereof, may say a lot. Someone looking upward and to the right may be a sign of dishonesty while looking upward to the left may be an indication the person is remembering something. This can be the opposite for those who are left-handed.
As you become aware of nonverbal communication by yourself and others you should start improving your interactions. There are many things you can do to communicate better without saying a word.
- Be aware of your gestures, even the small ones.
- Think about how your body language may come across to others. Do you appear friendly? Disinterested? Hostile? Approachable?
- Be aware of inconsistencies between the words used and the nonverbal messages being sent. Are you saying things in a way that contradict your words? Are you smiling, gritting your teeth, sighing?
- Stress can be confused with dishonesty or anger. The person just may be having a bad day.
- Pay attention to the reactions of others. It can give you feedback to help you adjust your verbal and nonverbal communications. If the other person has their hands clasped in front of them, he or she may feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Is that how you want them to feel? If not, conveying more open body language on your part may put them at ease.
A wild card when considering nonverbal communication is the fact that culture can play a very big role in physical messages being sent and interpreted. What you think is friendly and welcoming may be seen as offensive or hostile by someone from a different culture, so be aware of the other person’s background, if known. According to the Vermont Department of Health,
- Using a finger or hand to communicate “come here please” is also used to get the attention of dogs in some cultures and is very offensive. Pointing with one finger is considered to be rude in some cultures. For example, in many Asian cultures, they typically use their entire hand to point to something.
- In Western culture, eye contact is seen as being attentive and honest. In many other cultures, including Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American, eye contact can be interpreted as disrespectful or rude.
- The lack of eye contact may not mean that someone is not paying attention. Women may avoid eye contact with men because it can be seen as a sign of sexual interest.
- Someone from the Middle East may feel insulted if you’re sitting in a way that shows the person the bottom of your shoes.
You can’t successfully negotiate the conclusion of a matter or engage in mediation without clear communications from both parties. Being more aware of all the messages you’re sending and receiving both verbally and nonverbally can help you better communicate and increase the likelihood of successful negotiations.