Body language: a powerful communication tool


Consider this: someone approaches you with advice on a new strategy. Instead of expressing your true opinion, you simply nod in agreement. But, the tension around your eyes, the tone of your voice and many other non-verbal gestures indicate your non- interest, making the other person uncomfortable and leaving them feeling unsure of your advice. Most of us will pause and observe before continuing a conversation; and I, for one, will cut a conversation short should I be receiving a negative body language from you.

Communication in the workplace is critical. Not only do you need to pay attention to what you say verbally, but it’s also important to consider the messages you’re sending to others through your body language.

Managers who understand the basic rules of body language have a unique ability to influence employee engagement by their ability to use non-verbal messages to know their employee’s true feelings.

By being knowledgeable about body language and what the signs mean, a manager can begin to observe and respond to employee’s behaviour in informed ways. Not only can awareness make it easier for managers to get a better read on their employees, it can also help managers be more aware of how they are coming across to their employees.

Our bodies always tell the truth no matter what we say.

Body language is a powerful form of non-verbal communication that most of us express and interpret without thinking twice. But understanding body language and learning how to better present yourself can improve your daily interactions. While body language covers a wide range of human expression, the most crucial aspects are postureeye contact and personal space.

We speak more through our bodies than our words. The posture we assume, expression on our face, hand gestures and our eye movement convey far more than we would like to expose.

A subtle smile in a meeting can indicate willingness to engage in a dialogue, while a stern look can instantly kill the conversation. Constantly checking the phone or looking at the watch can signal disengagement, while focusing on the other person signals interest.

Rolling our eyes expresses distrust or disgust in another person’s idea or behaviour, while our eyes light up when we are genuinely curious about others. Keeping head down while walking in the hallway shows lack of presence, while acknowledging people passing by through a simple nod creates warmth. A firm handshake in an interview can exude confidence and power while a limp handshake can reveal nervousness and weakness.

These non-verbal cues form a part of our body language that speaks even when we are silent, revealing how we are thinking and feeling in the moment.

Maya Angelou said: “People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel”. 

Intelligence and brilliance are not enough to be successful at work. Our self-presentation skills far supersede our verbal communication.

The way you carry yourself is a source of personal power—the kind of power that is the key to presence. It’s the key that allows you to unlock yourself—your abilities, your creativity, your courage, and even your generosity. It doesn’t give you skills or talents you don’t have; it helps you to share the ones you do have. It doesn’t make you smarter or better informed; it makes you more resilient and open. It doesn’t change who you are; it allows you to be who you are.

The idea is not to be inauthentic through your body language, but to be aware of its implications. 

Being aware of the role our body language plays in forming this impression can help us twist the outcome of an interview or conversation in our favour.

For someone in a leadership position, body language is extremely important since people in an organisation mimic not only the way leaders talk, but also pick on their non-verbal cues.

leader with a positive body language appears approachable, open to feedback and shows willingness to change while a leader with a negative body language appears inaccessible, closed to feedback and arrogant to adapt to and change with the future demands.

Our non-verbal expressions govern how others think and feel about us, but do our non-verbal govern how we think and feel about ourselves?

Absolutely! Mastering the art of non-verbal communication not only leads to better communication with others, but it benefits us too. Presenting our best self forward by adopting a positive body language enables us to be the creator of our future as opposed to being a victim of other’s perceptions. It leads to more opportunities for growth with higher chances of success.

What happens when what we say is not in alignment with what we believe? Our body will expose us. We can lie through our words, but our body will reveal the truth. The non-verbal cues that we send through our body speak stronger than words. These are certain body languages we need to be mindful of:

1. Mind is not attuned to the body

Our body language expresses our mental state whether we like it or not. Our facial expressions, voice, posture, and all the other components of body language reflect our mental and emotional condition every second. Because we don’t control this flow consciously, whatever is in our head will show up in our body language; whatever our mind believes, our body will project.

Our mind cannot distinguish imagination from reality.

We can bring out the desired body language by catching ourselves in those moments of negative mental states – disagreement, insecurity, angst, frustration, anxiety, criticism and self-doubt, and choosing to get into a positive one.

  • When you need to project confidence, seek inspiration.
  • When you feel angst due to a disagreement, ask yourself: “What can I learn from the other person?” and “how are my biases causing me to be closed-minded”?
  • When self-doubt consumes you, tell yourself: I need to let go of my fears to create a better version of myself”.
  • When you exaggerate a negative outcome, ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?” and “is it really that bad or am I making up stories”?

Adopting a positive frame of reference and moving from a problem to a solution mindset can help us shift gears from a negative internal state to a positive one.

  1. Make a commitment to be present

Being present—paying attention to what’s going on, rather than being caught up in your thoughts—can yield immense rewards. When you exhibit presence, those around you feel listened to, respected, and valued.

When we are not engaged in a conversation, consumed in our own thoughts and pretend to listen, it clearly shows up in the non-verbal signals we send to the other person. Fidgeting with our phone or laptop show signs of distraction; looking here and there instead of making eye contact signal we are not interested in what they have to say, and may even shift too many times in our position out of discomfort. Without our awareness, our body language will convey disrespect and distrust to the other person.

you must therefore commit to a conversation, even the brief ones, or walk away. If you’re too distracted, admit that to both yourself and the other person. Be present or be gone. It’s more polite to walk away from the conversation that doesn’t interest you than pretend to be present.

You may occasionally drift away, but by choosing to be mentally present, you can bring your mind back to the conversation.

3. We ignore context 

When we talk to someone, their perception of us is based on the context of the meeting, their expectations and their own personal and cultural filters. When engaged in a difficult conversation, without empathising with how the other person might be feeling in the moment, we may appear cold, unemotional and downright rude. By adopting kindness and warmth in our body language, we can convey the right message without necessarily making them feel bad.

When someone is passed up for a promotion, rewarded, or grieving a personal loss, showing an attitude of indifference without understanding the value it holds in their life can make them resent you. Body language that shows presence and concern by giving them an opportunity to express their feelings can build better relationships.

Every situation is unique. We need to project the right body language for each person by taking their context and personal filters into account. Connect with the other person by taking their values, mental state and sense of self into account.

4. Telling a conflicting story

We may believe that we are highly approachable, but others may find us unapproachable. We may also think that we are open-minded while others may find us biased. We may assume that we provide a psychologically safe environment to our people, but employees may be terrified to make mistakes.

When our body language doesn’t match our words, people pick up on our non-verbal signals – the sign of contempt on our face when someone makes a mistake, pacing back and forth when conveying bad news, showing nervousness by fidgeting when asking for feedback, rolling eyes when we disagree, making hand gestures that signal blame, and so on.

So, while you may communicate one thing with your words, your body may speak the opposite. And when people get confusing signals, they tend to go with what they observe and not what they hear.

Bring your body language in sync with the message you wish to convey. People find it easy to trust a person when their body language reflects their words.

When asking for feedback, look the person in the eye and don’t be distracted. When someone makes a mistake, show curiosity in your face to enable them to learn from their mistakes rather than laughing. When telling people to feel comfortable to approach you, make the open arm hand gestures. When communicating bad news, be intense but show confidence in your ability to make things right by looking at people with passion and hope.

People spend a lot of time perfecting their speech without verifying what their speech is conveying through their body. When it comes to making the right impression, don’t just speak through your words, make your body language count too.

Tell the right story, bring your body in sync with the message you wish to convey.

The author is a risk assessment and cost reduction strategist, accountant, relationship coach, writer

Tel. No: 0244998789

Email: [email protected]

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