It is impossible not to communicate in our day to day dealings with one another. When we think about communication we mainly think about the conversation, presentation or public speaking.
We got it all wrong. Did you know that verbal expression takes only 7% of communication? Think about it - even when you do not talk, you constantly project your inside state to the outside world. It could be through a smile, frown brows or arms crossed over your chest, etc.
Non-verbal communication consists of:
Body language (facial expression, gestures and posture)
Space setup (what distance you keep between yourself and others)
Albert Mehrabian’s model of communication shows us the following communication elements:
7% verbal communication
38% voice intonation
55% body language
The above breakdown helps us to understand how important body language really is. Additionally, if our body language is not consistent with our verbal communication this can be picked up very fast. If you say to your friend that you feel ok but your body is tensed and your body language is tensed, most likely they will know that you are not honest.
When we realise our inconsistency in communication, we have a chance to work on that and deliver more powerful messages. It also helps with stress management as you are more aware of your body response.
The way we communicate through body language is something we learnt. Gesticulation is often acquired through generations, some are typical in certain regions or cultures, some are quite universal.
There is also variation in gestures. A gesture in one culture can mean something totally different in another. ‘Nodding’, for example, means ‘Yes’ in most countries but in Bulgaria, it means ‘No’.
Body language not only helps in displaying our feelings or mood but also helps to illustrate what we are saying and regulate (monitor) the situation or something that other person is saying.
Our facia expression ‘says’ a lot. If one is able to cover one’s mouth, others would still be able to read the emotions through the eyes, movement of the brows, chin or forehead.
Be adventurous! Try one day to use different facial expressions. Tell a joke with a poker face. See what kind of reaction you get from other people.
Arms and hands - we can describe a lot though our hands. For example - holding our hand together behind our back means that we are reserved. The same gesture but with hands behind our head means we feel relaxed and expresses one’s superiority. A shrug (raising your shoulders) means ‘I don’t know’.
Legs and feet - when you sit without crossing your legs and your legs are not close together it means that you are open. Crossing legs may communicate resistance. When both people do not cross their legs in a conversation, they are most likely to reach an agreement. The direction of legs and feet can suggest their biggest focus (check if the other person's feet are not directed towards the exit).
Posture and breathing
When we see someone who’s arms are dropped we think that person is tired or sad or doesn’t want to be noticed. We can notice that some tall people often have curled up posture to not intimidate others. A straight back and firm posture suggest one’s high self-esteem. By bending/leaning towards the person you are talking to, you express your interest. By leaning back you are showing you are not interested or even bored.
The way we breathe in conversations can also play a big part in communication. Breathing quickly can show our excitement, being frightened, irritation, joy or anxiety. It is important to know that taking a few deep and long breaths can help us calm down and relax.
Proxemics deal with the amount of space that people feel necessary to set between themselves and others. How far you are to the person you have your conversation with, organising your furniture, your reaction when someone is getting into your territory - these are all elements of communication.
Proxemics was first defined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall. He has described 4 different zones:
1) intimate space (Close phase – less than one inch (one to two cm) Far phase – 6 to 18 inches (15 to 46 cm)
2) personal space (Close phase – 1.5 to 2.5 feet (46 to 76 cm) Far phase – 2.5 to 4 feet (76 to 122 cm)
3) social space (Close phase – 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 m) Far phase – 7 to 12 feet (2.1 to 3.7 m)
4) public space (Close phase – 12 to 25 feet (3.7 to 7.6 m) Far phase – 25 feet (7.6 m) or more)
Above is a diagram to show 4 zones of a personal space
Depending on many different factors like culture, gender, relationship to the other person, etc., spacial zones are often ignored so others do not feel ‘human’. For example, patients’ medical situation is often described by doctors and nurses as though the patients are invisible.
Similar to the intimate zone, a territory is a space that you recognize as your own. It could be your house, your office, your chair, etc. That space is sacred to you as it makes you feel relaxed while you spend time there. Your instinct requires you to protect it.
I hope you have found the information helpful. I encourage you to play around with as many elements of the body language so you can to become a master of it.