Non verbal communication: the importance of body language
In this article I will talk about non-verbal communication and therefore body language.
When we think of communication, we think about words. However, as explained in my previous post, the biggest part of your message is not what you say with your words, but what you say with your body and expressions.
What do you think somebody you interact with notice first?
Do you think they wait to hear what you have to say before making an opinion about you?
No. It takes no more than a few seconds to forge an opinion of somebody, the famous first impression.
The problem is that it is not just first, it is long lasting.
People change their first impression reluctantly and with difficulty.
In most cases, that impression is formed even before you say a word.
So, how can you make the first best impression and communicate effectively non verbally? In this post, we will see a few things you need to think about.
1 – Being remote does not remove the importance of body language
A lot more of us are interacting almost exclusively remotely these days.
Face-to-face interactions have decreased.
It would be easy to think that because we are behind a screen, our body language does not matter; that people see so little of us.
This is incorrect. We convey as many messages with our body.
In a sense we may even convey more and truer messages because we do not feel this proximity of other people that would otherwise refrain us from behaving a certain way.
We may think that people may not notice we are fidgeting, or we are distracted and unfocused on the interaction. This is not the case.
2 – People see you first: appearance and body posture
The first impression people have of somebody else is a visual one.
To make sure you don’t allow people to get a negative impression, ensure you know what they expect in terms of visual cues.
- Pay attention to what you wear, your clothes and also accessories or jewellery. Everything you wear makes a statement about you so make sure you make the right one.
- Your posture will also say a lot about you and your message. Again, even if you are interacting remotely. How are you standing or sitting? Holding your back straight, sitting or standing, will make you appear more confident. Leaning slightly forward, without putting your face right on the camera, shows interest. In contrast, lining back on your chair, or putting your hands in your pockets can show lack of interest, respect and involvement.
Of course, as mentioned at the beginning of the section, all this will depend on the expectations of your audience.
If a casual approach is expected, then be casual. If you are not sure, begin by being more cautious, formal and then you can always switch to a more casual behaviour.
3 – Gestures
How we move is also an important part of our communication.
I know that when I am standing and talking, it is hard for me to stay at the same place.
Ensure that your body is fully grounded, whether you are sitting or standing.
This will make you feel more confident again.
It is usually better to have an open position: avoid crossing your arms or legs.
It is about not just the movement of the whole body but the gestures we make. How much we move and use our hands varies a lot from person to person, culture to culture.
Be aware of how you use your hands. I would suggest to be especially careful when using gestures that have a meaning to you.
The meaning of gestures, particularly hand gestures, is very cultural and you may send a totally inappropriate signal to somebody for whom your gesture has a completely different meaning.
In short, refrain using hand signals.
Think of the kind of gestures you use. If you are not sure, ask people you know or video yourself and reflect on the signals your body position and gestures give.
4 – Facial expressions
The last aspect I want to discuss is how facial expressions contribute to our communication. Our facial expressions are like a window into our feelings.
First of all, do you use facial expressions or do you tend to “keep a straight face”?
It is very hard not to show facial expressions.
Except if you come from a culture in which you have been taught and practised from a young age to restrain your facial expressions, you will show some, mostly involuntarily.
Even in cultures in which it is deemed unprofessional to show feelings at work, your facial expressions will.
It means that you need to be aware of what level of facial expressions you show and then use them effectively.
There are some rules that apply “almost” always. For instance, a smile is usually interpreted as a positive sign. So, the first thing you should do is smile.
Smile before you switch your camera on for an online meeting. Smile before you enter in a room.
Remember that first impression, in the first few seconds? You’ll make a more positive impression (if this is your aim) with a smile.
Then a second, very important rule, is to use facial expressions that will not mislead people.
Of course this can be unintentional. If we go back to a smile, in some cultures, a smile can be used to “hide” embarrassment, or even to express disagreement.
Have you ever had a smile while thinking “This is the most stupid idea.” or “You really want me to do this?”.
My advice here is to be authentic and honest with what your face says.
And finally, a note that if your face and your words express different things, people will believe your facial expression!
To conclude, when you communicate, be aware of your body language and of the messages other people’s body language convey to you.
Focus less on the content of the communication and more on the non verbal signals.