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Body language is communication using body movements or gestures, including facial expressions. 55% of how we communicate is made up of body language, 38% is through how we use our voice and only 7% is via the words we actually say. By developing your awareness of the signs and signals of body language, you can more easily understand other people and more effectively communicate with them.
Body language includes body movements and gestures, posture, muscle tension, eye contact, skin colouring, breathing rate and perspiration. It will vary between individuals and between different cultures and nationalities. It is therefore important to verify what you are seeing in a person's body language by asking them relevant questions and getting to know the person. Here are some tips on body language:
Eye contact. Maintaining good eye contact shows respect and interest. Too much eye contact and the other person will feel self conscious, too little and you will look disinterested.
Posture. Getting your posture right will make you feel good and create the right impression. Slouching can make you feel nervous and uncomfortable. Leaning slightly towards someone can make you look friendly and interested. Keeping you head level will make you feel confident and self assured. Tilting your head to one side will make you look friendly and receptive.
Arms. Having your arms crossed can make you look defensive or nervous, having them open can make you look friendly and receptive.
Legs. Your legs will move around a lot if you are nervous, bored or lying. Try and keep them still to look friendly and assured. Having them crossed can make you appear defensive.
Distance. Getting too close to someone can make you appear pushy or in their face. Being too far away can appear stand offish or remote.
You can identify how a person is feeling or what they are doing from their body language, here are some examples:
A confident person. A confident person usually stands tall with their shoulders back, they maintain solid eye contact with a smiling face and they make purposeful and deliberate gestures with their hands and arms.
A defensive person. A defensive person will have minimal facial expressions, hand and arm gestures that are small and close to their body, their arms may be crossed, their body may be turned away and they will maintain little eye contact.
A disinterested person. A disinterested person may have their head down, have a glazed look or they may be gazing elsewhere, they may be fiddling about, writing or doodling and they may be sitting slumped in their chair.
A person who is lying. A person who is lying will maintain little eye contact and they may have rapid eye movements, they may have their hands in front of their mouth when speaking, their body may be turned away, their breathing rate may increase and their complexion may redden.
A person who is thinking or decision making. A person who is thinking or reflecting or making a decision may look away and only return to make eye contact afterwards, they may be stroking their chin or have their hand on their cheek and they may have their head tilted to one side.
A nervous person. A person who is nervous may be moving round a lot, they may be maintaining little eye contact, they may have their hands grasped together, they may be shaking, their complexion may redden and they may be perspiring a lot.
It is important to think about your own body language and the impression you are portraying as well as interpreting and understanding the body language of others. Understanding more about body language will help you to improve your communication skills and your relationships with others.
Author: Liz Makin
Published: March 2008
Makin It Happen has a range of personal development online courses to purchase, created by Liz Makin, including communication, resilience, time management, stress management and coaching. Liz Makin also provides personalised business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services to business owners, directors, managers and professionals.
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