Understanding the Importance of Body Language

Body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, and eye contact are forms of non-verbal communication people can use to read others. Sometimes these actions can speak louder than words. Understanding your body language and how others view different postures, expressions, and more can be a powerful tool, both personally and professionally. Plus, it can help provide clarity into what someone else is thinking. These key tips will allow you to be more aware of your non-verbal communication skills and enhance your work, social, and dating relationships.

Body Language:

The way you carry yourself, such as walking, sitting, and standing, can say a lot about your mood and emotions. Open palms signal honesty, openness, and a non-threatening attitude. For example, when someone takes an oath, they raise their right hand, showing an open palm. Hidden palms mean someone is uncomfortable, deceptive, or feels out of place. Especially when someone is lying or has done something wrong, they may hide their palms behind their backs or in their pockets. When someone is protective or trying to create a barrier, they will cross their arms. However, this movement can have a few different meanings. Sometimes people will cross their arms when they are cold or are being intimidated by a figure of authority. If a person’s fists are clenched with crossed arms, it indicates stubbornness or a lack of empathy. People will cross their arms in different ways, such as at the elbows, at the wrists, or crossing the hands, to hide themselves.

When it comes to standing, if your feet are positioned far apart, it signifies power and dominance. Crossing your legs can have a few meanings, from simply being comfortable to indicating an open or defensive posture. You can tell the difference between the two by how much a person’s leg muscles are tensed – the more tensed, the more defensive. Hands on your hips mean you are eager and ready for action.

Facial Expressions and Hand Gestures:

Facial expressions are mainly universal throughout the world, while different hand gestures mean different things from country to country. A false smile can be detected if a person is only smiling with their lips. A tilt to the head shows a person is engaged and interested in the conversation, presentation, etc. However, over tilting can mean sympathy towards another one. Someone can be seen as thinking or pondering if they are resting their hand on their cheek or they can be seen as trying to make a decision if they are rubbing their chin.

Hand gestures can be a little tricky to understand, especially when you are traveling in other countries. For example, in America, we use the thumbs up sign to mean something good and positive. However, in Thailand, Latin America, and Arabic countries, it is very offensive. Same with the peace sign (a “V” with our fingers). Here the gesture says peace or goodwill, but in Great Britain and Australia, it is the equivalent of being defiant to authority. Lastly, the OK symbol shows satisfaction and agreement in the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and Canada. But, in Brazil, if the sign is turned upside down, it signifies a rude gesture.

Eye Contact:

Growing up, most people were told to always look people in the eyes when they are speaking with them. This rule still applies today. Not looking someone in the eye shows a lack of confidence, and apprehensiveness. A widening of the eyes indicates an interest in something or someone. Also, movement of the eyes can have different meanings. For example, a person looks up and down when they are remembering images and telling the truth. They look right and down when they are questioning their feelings for something, and if they look directly right, it can be when they are creating a story and making things up.

Things to Avoid:

  1. Posture sometimes speaks louder than words. Don’t slouch with your shoulders drooped and neck limp. Instead, stand straight with shoulders firm with confidence, but not rigid. Also, keep your head high and legs strong.
  2. Rubbing or clasping your hands together shows you are nervous and gives off the impression you don’t know what you are talking about. Try to keep your arms by your side in an open manner and use small hand gestures and movements.
  3. Pacing back and forth and moving from spot to spot in a room can be very distracting, especially when speaking in front of a crowd. Don’t stay in one place, but take slow, confident steps to move about the room in a confident way. You will then portray you know your presentation material and what you are talking about.