Research has shown that 50% to as much as 100% of your message is communicated through your body language. However, only a few people are consciously aware of how to interpret this information effectively in their lives.
Body Language – technically known as kinesics (pronounced ‘kineesicks’) – is a significant aspect of modern communications and relationships.
Body language is the unconscious and conscious transmission and interpretation of feelings, attitudes, and moods, through:
- Body posture, movement, physical state, position and relationship to other bodies, objects and surroundings,
- Facial expression and eye movement (and this transmission and interpretation can be quite different to the spoken words).
Positive/Receptive Body Language
- Consistent eye contact / friendly but steady gaze
- Upright posture / Shoulders back / Back straight
- Shoulders and hips parallel
- Relaxed, controlled body movements
- Expressive face
- Uncrossed arms and legs
- Open hand gestures / No excessive or distracting hand
- Nodding or tilted head
- Head held high
Negative/Unreceptive Body Language
- Looking down / Avoiding eye contact / Shifting eye contact / Staring
- Yawning / Frowning / Squinting / Furrowed brow
- Slouched or hunched posture
- Nervous, jerky body movements or fidgeting or foot/finger
- Nodding or blinking excessively
- Lack of facial expression
- Crossed arms and legs
- Rigid posture and movement
- Hands clenched
- Shaking head
Evaluating nonverbal signals
Eye contact Is eye contact being made? If so, is it overly intense or just right?
Facial Expression What is their face showing? Is it mask like and unexpressive, or emotionally present and filled with interest?
Tone of Voice Does their voice project warmth, confidence, and interest, or is it strained and blocked?
Posture and Gesture Are their bodies relaxed or stiff and immobile? Are shoulders tense and raised, or slightly sloped?
Touch Is there any physical contact? Is it appropriate to the situation? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?
Intensity Do they seem flat, cool, and disinterested, or over-the-top and melodramatic?
Timing and Pace Is there an easy flow of information back and forth? Do nonverbal responses come too quickly or too slowly?
Sounds Do you hear sounds that indicate caring or concern?
As you continue to pay attention to the nonverbal cues and signals you send and receive, your ability to communicate will improve.
Don’t cross your arms or legs You have probably already heard you shouldn’t cross your arms as it might make you seem defensive or guarded. This goes for your legs too. Keep your arms and legs open.
Have eye contact, but don’t stare If there are several people you are talking to, give them all some eye contact to create a better connection and see if they are listening. Keeping too much eye contact might creep people out. Giving no eye contact might make you seem insecure. If you are not used to keeping eye contact it might feel a little hard or scary in the beginning but keep working on it and you’ll get used to it.
Mirror the Other Person
To build rapport, show that you care. To do this, start by physically mirroring the other person. Match the way they talk by copying their tone of voice and speed of talking. Mirror the sitting position, arm placement, general posture, gestures, facial expression and the mood. This will make them feel more comfortable with you. You can then complement the non-verbal mirroring with verbal mirroring by empathizing. This is effectively repeating and reflecting on what they say. All these verbal and non-verbal signals will indicate that you are trustworthy and likable. People are then more likely to open up to you.
Standing Too Close This just makes people feel uncomfortable. Most people consider the 4 square feet of space immediately surrounding their body to be personal space. Cross this invisible boundary with good friends and intimate mates only.
Rubbing the neck consciously or unconsciously is the clear sign that the person is not feeling comfortable. It is the most common negative signal that people send to calm themselves during tense situations.
Someone who touches or rubs their nose is showing that they have doubts or are not being entirely truthful. If they rub their eye, they don’t believe what you’re saying. Of course, take both of these with a grain of salt during allergy season!
Constantly time checking during a conversation or inspecting fingernails is also an indicator of boredom. Foot and finger tapping is another indicator of feeling stress in the environment.
Looking Down While in the Presence of Others usually indicates disinterest. Sometimes it’s even interpreted as a casual sign of arrogance. Always look straight ahead and make eye contact when you see someone you know.
Some body language is specific to a culture or ethnic group.
Awareness of possible cultural body language differences is especially important in today’s increasingly mixed societies. It is important to remember that what is considered negative and positive body language varies from culture to culture. In some countries, making eye contact with an employer is considered rude. In others standing very close to the person you are talking to is common. In yet others, close to the person will make a listener feel uncomfortable.
Use the following body language guidelines on listening to increase your personal impact:
- Ignore distractions. Control your body language to maintain your current posture rather than showing immediate interest in a new distraction. When you ignore distractions, you are sending a strong signal to others that in this environment you are most interested in them and them alone.
- Lean forward. Leaning forward suggests that your full attention is on the other person and you are determined to hear everything they say.
- Tilt your head sideways. A tilted head suggests curiosity. Showing curiosity means that you are interested.
- Nod. While someone explains something, nod to visually show you are following them. If you remain still, before long the speaker is likely to pause and ask if what they are saying is clear, naturally getting suspicious whether you are daydreaming or are actually listening to them.
- Produce interest noises. Accompanied with your nods, express your understanding by interest noises such as, “Uh-ha”, “Mmm”, “I see”, “Wow”, “Yes”, “Right” etc.
- Adopt a patient body posture. It is crucial to show patience when someone is talking. Glancing at your watch, shifting weight from one leg to another, moving constantly or leaning against a wall suggests that you are getting bored or tired and want the conversation finish. Instead, be patient and focus on showing interest. Avoid repetitive gestures such as swinging feet or drumming fingers, which are classic signs of boredom.
What other body language insights have you come across as a PA? I’d love your insights on this fascinating topic!