How to use body language to improve your communication

According to researchers, it's possible to 'read' bodies. We all have mannerisms that we're not even aware of, and they can send out messages to other people. Gestures, posture, head and eye movement, facial expressions, voice qualities - all provide important cues. Body language speaks volumes. Understanding the body language of other people - and being aware of your own nonverbal cues - can make you a better communicator...

1. Face the facts.

Effective communication depends more on how we send and receive rather than what. Although words are important, we are told that they convey only about 7 per cent of the meaning of the messages we communicate. The rate and inflection of our speech accounts for about 38 per cent of the exchange; our gestures and body signals, often unconsciously account for about 55 per cent. These nonverbal messages serve either to reinforce or contradict the message we want to send, for that reason, they deserve our attention.

2. Be aware of posture.

Posture can indicate boredom, interest, or even fear. If seated, sit up straight and don’t cross your legs. Crossed legs and arms could be interpreted as being closed to others’ ideas; both feet should be flat on the floor. Slouching can indicate low self-esteem. If standing, try not to shift body weight from one foot to the other. When listening, lean forward slightly. Though leaning back may be a sign that you’re relaxed, it also may be interpreted as disrespectful - that you are not giving the speaker your full attention. Leaning back with your hands behind your head can convey contemplation or scepticism.

3. Keep control of hand and arm movements.

Pay attention to your arms and hands. Arms folded across the chest can suggest that you are feeling defensive rather than receptive. Clasping your hands in your lap gives the impression that you are in control and making critical evaluations. Don’t fidget, or finger your jewellery, hair, or clothing while someone else is speaking. Such actions can convey impatience, boredom, or discomfort with the subject being discussed. Never point at your listener. Pointing may indicate hostility and aggressiveness. And keep your hands off your hips or risk being seen as arrogant. If you finger your watch, squirm in your chair, or turn to face the exit, you're conveying a wish to terminate the discussion.

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