Nowadays, knowing how to read the body language is more important than people think. Here’s why: most experts agree that communication is body language. In fact, they say that 70% to 90% of all communication is non-verbal. This basically means that the way we talk is conveyed more in body language than in verbal language.
How we behave, move, watch others, change our facial expressions, among many other things, express how we feel about a situation.
If body language is truly an important factor in how we communicate with others, why don’t people go through the trouble of learning it above everything else?
When you go on a bad date, your body language will convey your dissatisfaction. To put it another way, our body language projects how we truly feel vs how we say we feel.
What is the body language?
When we talk about body language, we refer to non-verbal communication. If you’re not using your words, you’re using your body to communicate.
Talking is a kind of verbal communication, while a smirk can be a kind of non-verbal communication that suggests sarcasm or mild annoyance.
These little things that slip by unnoticed are what we call body language and are vital to conveying authentic emotions, as they’re usually sincere.
When you run away from an argument or an uncomfortable situation, your body will show emotions in different ways, be it shyness, frustration, or nervousness.
These signals speak volumes and are important for communication in personal and business interactions.
Is body language important?
Since non-verbal communication makes up for more than half of communication, then communication is body language. The latter is vital for success in anything you want to do.
Can you imagine a teacher conducting himself like a rapper in the classroom? Students might think it’s cool, but it’ll often lead to disrespect from them, colleagues, and parents alike.
Can you imagine doctors condescending patients and treating them as inferiors? I’m sure they probably exist somewhere, but such doctors will cause more bad than good.
“Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed… [and] how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor,” says Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book, Blink: the power of thinking without thinking. Gladwell also says that the risk of being sued for malpractice has very little to do with how many mistakes doctors make. His analysis of medical malpractice lawsuits showed some highly skilled doctors were sued often, while other doctors who make lots of mistakes were never sued.
Here’s another relevant example for today’s time: if you’re getting interviewed, how you dress and present yourself says a lot about you, doesn’t it? And so does your punctuality. Being dressed properly for an interview, for example, shows professionalism.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a surge in remote jobs, hence the rise of remote interviews. People who apply for these jobs need to dress and look the part, despite having to do interviews from their homes.
Interviewers will judge you for how you present yourself in front of them, and thus will rely on non-verbal cues to see if you’re a good fit. Your skills and resume are the key ingredients for landing a job, of course, but if your body language — how you dress, talk, behave, etc — reflects poorly on you, the odds will surely be against you.
In a nutshell, communication by body language is important, and you should never underestimate it.
How to read the body language
Is it easy to read a person’s body language? It depends.
Reading one’s body language requires practice and a keen eye. Pay attention to details. These often slip by because we think little of them. They’re important to determine how someone is feeling at the moment.
Dale Carnegie, in his book How to win friends and influence people, has one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read about personal development and body language.
For example, he talks about smiling in front of people. He says that practicing smiling with your entire face, not just your mouth, implies transparency and confidence. In addition, remembering people’s names symbolizes a genuine interest in them. And giving others the chance to speak and express themselves is also a positive, non-verbal cue for communication.
In marketing, there is a term called “Customer-Centric Marketing.” Where the customer is the center of all the messaging. The same principle applies to speaking: your audience is the center of everything.
9 most common cues to know how to read the body language
1. Eye contact:
One of the first things you look at when you meet a person is their eyes. They are telling and can show a lot if you pay attention. They can express happiness, annoyance, sadness, boredom, or tiredness. For instance, looking people in the eyes when they’re making a speech or presentation shows interest and involvement. On the flip side, staring can be perceived as impolite or aggressive.
Standing tall and confident with shoulders back will make you look commanding. The way you move your hands, talk, and walk correlates directly with confidence. That’s why you see professional public speakers walk around the stage, pause after every sentence, and look their audience in the eye. A good posture means authority.
3. Vocal tone:
In an uncomfortable situation, like an interview or a public speaking event, our body temperature rises and our voices change. We become nervous and flustered. Likewise, when talking to other people in casual conversations, we change our vocal tones depending on who we’re with. If you’re talking to your best friend who you’ve known for years, our tone of voice will convey ease and comfort. If, however, there is a stranger around, our vocal tones may change. Vocal tones show signs of shyness, confidence, anxiety, stress, anger, etc.
An uncomfortable situation — like the ones mentioned earlier — causes people to fidget. Some people show vivid signs of anxiety, like sweaty or shaky hands; others can disguise their nervousness level thanks to years of experience.
5. Facial expressions:
This type of body language tells a lot about how you feel, and there are many sides to it. They convey social information between humans. There is a facial expression for fear, anger, sadness, annoyance, boredom, stress, etc. For example, a smirk or grin might mean sarcasm or displeasure; an eye roll shows annoyance.
When you’re getting angry, your breathing changes, especially when facing a fight-or-flight situation. Your body gets ready to react, thus increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
Pay attention to how people move when you’re around them. Do they get close to you? If so, that’s a sign of good rapport. They’re comfortable with you. If they’re keeping their distance when you’re moving closer, that shows discomfort. Maybe they’re not as comfortable as you are. Keeping space between one person and another shows a lack of trust.
When other people mimic what you’re doing, that’s a good sign of rapport. Unconsciously, they’re trying to build trust by mirroring your behavior. For example, when someone orders the same thing you ordered at a restaurant, this could be a way for them to show they’re enjoying their time with you.
Hand signals and position of arms:
Putting hands on the head shows deception. Putting hands in your pockets shows disinterest. How you position your arms and hands speaks volumes. Another good example is when people cross their arms when talking to others. This is often a defensive gesture.
Communication by body language, as you can see, is important for our day-to-day interactions. Learning how to read the body language will give you a leg up over everybody else.
We learn to communicate. We learn to interact with our colleagues, friends, and family. However, we don’t learn the communication that runs through our body language.
“Your body communicates as well as your mouth. Don’t contradict yourself.” — Allen Rudock.