Body Language and Communication

Posted by: Jo Banks

Date: 12-05-2014

Our body language tells other people everything they need to know about us (whether we mean it to or not), learning to read others' body language is a useful key skill...

Learning to read others successfully can significantly increase our influencing skills. We aren’t always conscious of what our body language is telling the world about us, because even when we try to conceal our true feelings, they do have a way of slipping out without us realising.  The technical term for that is body language ‘leakage.'

Our body language is predominantly driven by our subconscious.  Therefore, unless we concentrate consciously on our physiology, i.e., our body/face/how we say things - our intonation/tone, etc. - we have little control over the signals we give off.  Even when we do try to conceal our real feelings, there will always be a certain amount of leakage.

We know instinctively if someone is lying if someone is unhappy or happy without them even having to say anything. It’s an evolutionary, inbuilt mechanism that we have for protecting ourselves. Often what we say and what we do are not congruent and that’s where mistrust can surface. We may not even be consciously aware of why we don't trust someone or don't like what they're saying but it will usually be down to incongruence between words and physiology.

An excellent example of this is when we see politicians giving a speech. Generally, they are trained/coached to within an inch of their lives on how to avoid giving away incongruent messages due to mismatches, i.e., what comes out of their mouths’ doesn’t match what they are doing with their bodies. However, we cannot sustain trying to consciously control our body language for any length of time and that’s where, if you study body language, it becomes quite easy to tell what’s really going on with that person based on their ‘leakage.'

It’s an interesting fact that only a small percentage (7% in fact) of a message that we give out is down to the actual words we use. 7%, that’s tiny! The rest is made up of what we do with our bodies and the way in which we say something (the paralinguistics). Here’s a chart which explains it clearly:

Communication Pie Chart

When I’m delivering workshops on communication, this is always one of the most surprising facts for delegates. We generally think that our words are the most important thing. However, we can say exactly the same thing in a number of different ways and each one has a different meaning. For example:

Placement Of Emphasis

Similarly, what we do with our bodies says so much about what we really mean.  We can take any of the above statements, place the same stresses on the words and use the same paralinguistics, but they would say something completely different based on what we did with our bodies at the same time. For example, moving forward and into someone’s personal space could be seen intimidating, whereas leaning back with our hands behind our head could mean that we think we are in control.

It’s the nuances in our physiology that tell us everything we need to know about whether someone is congruent or not and if you can get into the habit of really trying to read and understand body language, it will massively contribute to your influencing skills and your overall emotional intelligence. You’ll be able to ‘read’ what the other person is thinking which will allow you to adjust your response in order to get the result you require. That’s not being manipulative (as some of my clients tell me when I first start to delve into this subject with them) it's smart!

Unfortunately, we do tend to overrule our innate ability to read people and go with their words rather than what we observe, however, if we did start to tune into that knowledge, it really would make dealing with people a lot easier. We usually get ‘gut feelings’ about someone/what they are saying and whether we consider it to be true or false, sadly we often override those feelings and take more notice of what someone is saying. However, our gut feelings are very rarely wrong; they are an inbuilt, evolutionary defence mechanism to keep us out of danger.

So the next time you are trying to decide what to do based on something someone has told you, or the next time you have to make any kind of decision, go with your gut feeling – it won’t let you down!

Influencing others is such a critical skill, not only in business but in our everyday lives. If you would like to know more about how you can increase your influencing skills, please contact us for a free, no obligation conversation on how we can help you.


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