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Effective Body Language is Critical for Good Communication Skills

Posted on May 24, 2011 by Leslie Dickson

expressive body language

Updated: November 26th, 2018

Did you watch the Tiger Woods apology press conference?  Did his posture and eye contact tell you more than his words did?  How about looking at photos of the Health Care Summit in February 2010?  At any given click of the camera, you could see which politicians were winning and which were losing by a captured facial expression and a frozen hand gesture.  I challenge you to watch your favorite news panel or talk show tonight with the sound turned down.  Chances are, you’ll be able to provide your own narration and “keep score” simply based on what you see.

Body Language in Communication

Body language is a powerful communication skill. There’s an old saying that your action speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying. In fact, studies show that, in a personal interaction, 55 percent of what the other people take in and process is visual. That is, they’re responding to your physical actions. Only 7 percent is based on what you say.  So if your facial expressions, hand gestures and posture say something different from your words, guess what people will remember?

I’m not suggesting you learn to hide all your feelings — the appropriate sharing of emotions can be a powerful leadership tool.  However, sometimes anxiety, anger or distractedness can interfere with keeping your body and words in sync.  Here are a few suggestions to help you be sure you’re conveying your intended message:

  • Remember to keep your body open, not slumped and huddled or cross-armed and hunched.  That says you’re energetic, confident and ready to engage — not frightened or defensive.  Remember to breathe deeply — that will help.
  • Watch your hands.  A case of nerves can lead to flighty fingers.  And you’d be surprised how often anger shows up as clenched fists. Relax your hands in your lap or on the table.
  • Make eye contact.  Whether you’re speaking or listening, eye contact lets people know you’re focused on them and that you care about this interaction.   Remember to smile or acknowledge the speaker in other ways.  Here’s a tip for meetings. Be wary of shifting too much of your focus to note-taking. It looks like you’re disinterested, uncomfortable or avoiding the situation.

How to Improve Body Language for Communication Purposes

Here’s one more idea. Learn to pay attention to the body language of others.  It will give you new insight into your team and how it works together.  If you see gestures that are out of sync with words or a lack of eye contact, something is likely amiss.  Is it fear? Disapproval? Confusion?  When you understand the truths behind the words, the result is better communication. That’s the first step to creating more effective teams and more successful outcomes.

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