Breaking Down Body Language
Body language is the communication of personal feelings, emotions, attitudes, and thoughts through complex mixture of body movements, gestures, postures, and tone of voice, either consciously or involuntarily, more often subconsciously, and accompanied with spoken language, or in isolation.
In simple words, body language is the way in which we express ourselves through the different parts of our body. It can be compared to the verbal language we speak, where we express our ideas and needs through words. Body language is wordless communication—it is nonverbal and expresses itself through the movements and gestures of our head, face, eyes, hands, legs, and so on.
It is language in the sense that just as verbal language is universally guided by grammar and syntax, so does body language guided by universal or common body movements, signs, and gestures that are understood by everybody across the world. For example, pressing the upward-pointing index finger to your tightly shut lips to order people to be quiet, for silence.
In other words, body language is the way you unconsciously communicate your private thoughts and emotions through your body movements—the manner in which you fold your arms, cross your legs, sit, stand, walk, use your hips, eyes, and even in the subtle way you move your lips. Certain gestures like touching the nose, rubbing the eye, clearing the throat, pausing while speaking, even the clothes and scent you wear are all body language and they speak louder than words.
Our bodies communicate constantly about how we feel about ourselves and others around us. Body language is indispensable to all people—sportsmen, entertainers, models, employers and employees, friends and family members, and every other persons. It is part and parcel of everyday life. Therefore, it would be good to become conscious of our own body language as well as those of others. However, developing the skill to understand body language is not an overnight thing. It is similar to learning a foreign language as it requires time and effort to achieve mastery.
How To Interprete Body Language
As the sender, your body language is indicative of your feelings when you communicate with a receiver. Your body language may reinforce your verbal message. It can also contradict it and reveal your true thoughts when you are not being truthful.
Thus, our body language is an outward reflection of the emotions we feel. This is vital in the workplace. You know by their body language if clients are really happy with your services or are merely being polite when they say they are happy. Again, you use body language to know if your manager was satisfied with your project work or was not impressed at all.
Decoding is your ability to read others bodily gestures or messages. Our bodies speak volumes, even without our mouths open. Mostly, without our being conscious of it, the different parts of our body, like the hands, legs, eyes, lips, and the likes, transmit messages through the movements they make. Thus, they reveal our thoughts and emotions.
Again, our facial features, actions, attire, and other nonverbal cues give receivers an impression often more powerful than words alone can create. With such nonverbal cues receivers may judge us to be more or less likable, assertive, or powerful based on observation of our body language. A striking example is when two people meet for the first time. Their initial reaction is to size up each other by observing appearance, attire, facial expression, handshake, and posture. Looking closely at a person’s body message can help us answer questions such as the following:
Thus, whether or not we want to approach or avoid another person, and whether we assess people to be confident or anxious, powerful or powerless, is often influenced by the body language we receive.
Adapted from: Interpersonal Communication: Building Connections Together, a book by Teri Kwal Gamble, Michael W. Gamble
It is worthy to note that body language has different meanings in different cultures. How we decode or interpret body language depends on the situation, the culture, gender of the person we are communicating with, and the relationship we have with the person. The meanings of most bodily gesturesOpens in new window differ from culture to culture. Thus, it is important not to draw a wrong conclusion based on a cultural misunderstanding.