What You Need to Know About Body Language to Communicate Effectively

Posted by David Grossman on Wed,Nov 03, 2010

body language leaderBody language is something that some of us register and process without even being aware of it, and something that others consistently miss--unaware of the valuable clues to emotions and feelings that body language provides.  But no matter where you are on the spectrum of awareness, an enhanced understanding of body language can positively impact your business and interpersonal success.

The basic fact is this: all nonverbal communication has meaning, and body language can be a rich source of information for any leader.  Sometimes it's a cue that you aren't connecting, as body language contradicts what’s being said; other times, it signals when a message is getting through.  In most cases, being sensitive to body language can help us support others and build stronger relationships.  

Here are the truisms:

  1. Your body language communicates all the emotions you feel.
  2. What your body communicates to me is more accurate than what you say, and it speaks before you do. People can often tell what you’re thinking or feeling before you speak.  And your actions can speak so loudly they drown out your words.
  3. Employees search a leader’s actions for meaning and then act accordingly.
  4. Understanding body language can help leaders know when their message resonates and also when more clarification is needed.
  5. Different cultures, ages and genders can assign different meaning to body language, so it is important to consider the types of people involved. 

The signals you send

To gain greater awareness of how your body language could be interpreted, videotape and review a rehearsal session for your next big presentation. Evaluate how well your body reinforces your words and consider the signals you may be sending:   

  • Self-confidence – Standing or sitting tall, with shoulders back and head up; making eye contact and smiling; clasping hands behind your back or placing them on your hips.
  • Defensiveness – Crossed, folded arms; crossed legs with ankles locked; fidgeting.
  • Disagreement or negative response – Head shaking, head down in response to a speaker, crossed arms, clenched fists, interwoven clenched fingers, pinching of the bridge of the nose, sitting with legs crossed in a figure-4 position.
  • Insecurity – Standing in “scissor” pose with ankles crossed, sitting with legs intertwined, slouching posture, limited eye contact, keeping head down, gripping your own upper arms.
  • Interest – Strong eye contact, holding head forward and upright, leaning upper body forward, slow head nodding, leg pointing in the direction of the speaker, sounds of affirmation.
  • Nervousness/Tension – Touching your face, biting your lip, grinding teeth, chewing gum, arm-across-body moves including reaching across for a drink or to adjust clothing, holding an object in front of the body.
  • Thoughtfulness/evaluation – “Steepling” hands with fingers and thumbs on opposite hands touching, hands stroking chin, pinching or rubbing nose while listening, chin resting on hand with arm on elbow, head tilted to one side.

Are your gestures and body language sending the right message? What can you do to reinforce your point or avoid unconscious movements that may work against you?


- David Grossman


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