What is body language?
Body language is another way of communicating that we use daily, whether consciously or unconsciously. We usually pair our speech with body movements, also called nonverbal cues, that reinforce what we are saying. These verbal cues can be facial expressions, body posture, certain gestures, eye movement, touch, and even the use of the space around us.
Non-verbal communication is primarily unconscious, and it is tightly linked to the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain that engages our “fight- or- flight” response. It is why we react when we are stimulated in any way. This is a general way to explain our reaction to the environment and the stimuli we receive from it. For instance: cold, heat, a sound, etc. We react differently to each of these stimuli. However, our body produces tiny signals that cause slight changes in our reactions, yet they could be challenging to notice. This is where body language comes into play, those minor reactions that we, unconsciously, do and tell to the good listeners, how we are truly feeling about a particular situation. For instance, it can be easy to notice small nonverbal cues in someone’s face when trying to hide an emotion. Another example of how these minor reactions have been studied is the french neurologist Benjamin Duchenne’s difference in the 1800s between a genuine smile and a fake smile. He noticed the differences in the wrinkles around the eyes and even how they were wrinkled when a natural smile happened versus a phony smile. Body language is an intriguing topic that can be useful to become a great listener and improve communication in any of our relationships.
How to use body language for your benefit?
It is essential to learn how to read body language to start using this information right away in your daily life. It can be easy to deescalate a situation using the right words and the most positive body language possible. You can also analyze problems and learn whether someone is interested in what you say. You could even prevent an argument from becoming a frustrating and tiring battle.
Let’s see some examples of body language for someone who is disengaged, unhappy, or simply bored:
- Arms folded
- Minimal or tense facial expression
- LIttle eye contact
- The body turned away from you
- Sitting slumped
- Gazing at the space
- Picking on clothes, pens, or phones.
When you start seeing these signs, it is essential to change your words to reengage your audience. Use an icebreaker, ask if they need a break, ask a question to engage them in the conversation, make your presentation more interactive at that moment ( you should always aim to make a presentation interactive).
Another occasion in which body language can be beneficial is during job interviews. Job interviews can be very nerve-racking, and it can be challenging to know what the interviewer is thinking. Learning to give the best possible impression both verbally and non-verbally can help you achieve tremendous confidence. Let’s look at somebody’s language techniques for job interviews and how you can use them to your advantage.
- Have an open posture: don’t slouch. Always try to sit upright and place your hands by your sides. Remember, we just covered how crossing your arms show you are unhappy and uninterested. Also, avoid placing your hands on your hips as this can feel dominating.
- Maintain good eye contact: Do not go on a staring contest! However, try to maintain as much eye contact as possible as you speak with them as it shows you are interested, and it reveals your honesty as well.
- Avoid touching your face: Touching your face could mean lying or being dishonest, so try to avoid it at all costs, mostly when answering questions.
- Relax your body: remember to breathe and stay calm.
- Use mirroring: This is a fantastic technique to build rapport with your interviewer. Mirroring means you subtly imitate their body language. You can even slightly change your body language until they reflect you. For instance, start by showing a modest smile, short, not too exaggerated. Then continue to smile a little more every time. At some point, when they smile, you got them to mirror you!! And they probably feel more secure and sure about you as a candidate.
Body language is a fantastic technique to learn and have in your toolbox to increase your positive and assertive communication. We covered general guidelines and some examples helpful in certain situations. However, body language is an extensive topic, and if you want to dive in deep, there are many books out there that can make you an expert at reading people. The incredible thing about body language is that there are so many places, instances, and situations you can practice in. Practice with your family, at the restaurant, the bar, or even at the park while “people watching.” It is incredible how much you can learn from a person through their body language. Also, be aware that certain generalizations about body language do not apply to everyone. Some of these nonverbal cues can differ depending on someone’s cultural background, so keep that in mind.