Body Language

Ever noticed how children convey meaning even when they have not learned how to speak? Their body language and facial expressions tell us their feelings; they convey urgency with noises at different levels of tone. As they grow older and the word formation starts, a large part of the communication is still animated. Now notice how adults convey meaning in any language. Anger comes with agitated hand movements and rigid facial features; joy is expressed with a smile while sadness brings about slumped physicality and a sad or remote expression.


Communication is largely physical and tonal. Ever tried conveying your gratefulness with a frown and your arms crossed? Do it and check whether the recipient of the communication heard your words or noticed your stance. Did the person feel good with your comment? Did the person see you or hear you or both? If we put a weight to the aspect of communication, we may conclude that it is 55% physical, 38% tonality and 7% words. This means that 93% of the weight is applied to the visual cues that a person who communicates is exuding. You may safely draw the conclusion that the recipient of your gratefulness does not perceive you as being grateful. Instead, your effort has probably led the person to make a mental note to avoid dealing with you in the future.


So, what went wrong? You were trying to convey thanks but something was amiss. This is a common mistake. People feel that the substance of what they say is more important than the form and fail to see that the brain sees first, listens after that and thinks later. Imagine the head of the company sitting in front of the shareholders in a mode of diffidence. The company chief may be intellectually superior and a great manager but the diffident aspect will lead to loss of faith among the shareholders. The same goes with poorly prepared speakers. If the presidential candidate went to town being unsure of what to say and used only rhetoric with complete conviction, success would be more likely than a substance filled communiqué that was badly delivered with no positive or confident body language.


There can be no debate about the place of body language in any communication effort. Imagine what happens to a person who has severe stage fright and is suddenly asked to go up to the stage and speak. If you observe the person carefully, you will notice the fumbling walk, rigid stance and dilated eyes. The brow will be moist though the room is cool and the rapid rate of breathing is a tell-tale sign about the state of mind.


An interview candidate enters the room with an air of assuredness. The rate of breathing is even and the candidate charms the panel with the interest generated, subject knowledge and most importantly, posture adopted during the interview. Relaxed body posture without being informal, sensitivity displayed by nodding gestures when a person is speaking and the torso inclined slightly forward as the candidate mentally stays attuned to the panel.


Contrast this with a candidate who appears at the door seeming very unsure of what to do next. The candidate’s hands are clammy when shaking hands and the rate of breathing is unnatural. The candidate sits and turns the body slightly away from the panel, in fact, towards the door of the room. The fists are clenched and the legs are tightly placed. The candidate alternates between crossing the arms across the chest and holding the sides of the chair.


If you were on the recruitment panel, who would you warm up to? Seasoned recruiters allow the candidate some time to warm up to the interview when there are obvious signs of discomfort. When the candidate is unable to thaw out of the tension of facing the panel, the interview will remain unsuccessful.


When you are trying to gauge people’s reactions, make it a point to notice the colour on the face. Anger leads to reddening of the neck and face while sadness or shock makes the colour drain and embarrassment makes the face look flushed. When a person enters the room is the body posture comfortable or rigid? What does this say about the person? Extremely quick movements tell of a nervous disposition while extremely slow movements speak of physical inability. Rapid breathing and dilated eyes denote excitability or tension. In addition, the limbs reflect the truth about the facial expressions. If a person is smiling but has the torso or feet pointing away from the person they are smiling at, there is dissonance in the mind. It is possible the smile is an automatic display of welcome though the individual is not interested in the interaction or there is a desire to give other onlookers a feeling that the smile is nonchalant by turning the body in another direction. A smiling face with crossed arms or an unsmiling face with a relaxed posture can leave one confused about the state of mind. Watch the various postures on display around you. Someone has rested the face on the palm and is watching the proceedings without comment while another person is listening intently.


Body language is often given secondary importance because it is difficult to be continuously aware of the posture one has adopted and match it to the situation. Besides, a conscious effort to mould body language looks unnatural. Consider the quiet spectator in a meeting who sits with hands in a steeple form to give the impression of deep thought when the reality is that the person is not concentrating at all! People soon sense the absence of interest and move on leaving the ‘thinker’ alone. A person may be unsure as typified by loosely crossed arms or tense, watch out for arms straight by the side while the face has a smile of welcome. Some people can appear mildly flirtatious as they keep playing with their hair or draw attention to the groin. A person will scratch the head to let on confusion or a desire to appear innocent while another may puff out the chest to appear dominating.


Most of us hope that we appear normal when we are in new surroundings and try to mould ourselves to suit this requirement. Attention goes into the words being used and presentation being made in terms of clothing and appearance but little attention is spared for what we are saying through our postures. The one way to avoid dissonance is by being at peace with the environment and helping others with welcoming gestures. Being tuned in to the body language of a person allows you to gauge the interest that your views are garnering. This is especially important to a person trying to make an impact at a social gathering or a business meeting. Are the ones who are to take a decision accepting the words that you are speaking? Are you being viewed as a credible speaker? Alterations in your tone and posture will bring changes in the way the audience sees you. Be aware of your audience and be subtle in changing your tone to convey what you want to. Avoid the dissonance that comes with fear and insecurity by allowing your body and mind to feel as one in your effort to convey meaning and carry the people who matter along your train of thinking. Effusive gesturing like loud tone, overt hand shaking, or noisy laughter should be considered with caution as it could mean that the person is trying to make an impression by appearing friendly while not really accepting or understanding what you have tried to convey. True acceptance normally comes in a more subdued appearance with politeness and an intonation of friendliness and formality.


At BreakState we help you to be conscious of the people that respond to you, greet you and otherwise acknowledge your presence and the import of your words. We show you the cues to watch out for – like incongruent posturing which tells of indecisiveness. We show you to see how utter rejection is being covered up by a smile that lulls you into believing that your views have been accepted.


We will take your hand and ease your way into identifying consonance or dissonance in a person who you have placed your trust in, for your career or business and help you work out whether it is a good sign for you or not.