March 03, 2017
"Actions speak louder than words" is an expression that we've heard time and time again and it still has value today, especially in the workplace. Studies show that only 7 percent of the communication is actually based on what we say, while 38 percent of our communication comes from our tone of voice. However, body language accounts for the other 55 percent of our communication.
Body language is a key element of both personal and professional life, and is often the aspect of communication focused on the least. It can make or break a first impression, change a conversation, or even be linked to declining profits. Whether you're slouched at your desk at work or looking around during a conversation with a friend, body language is a key indicator as to what an individual is thinking and feeling.
While it is important to focus on what we say and how we say, more people, especially those in client facing businesses, should learn about body language and the messages it sends. Read ahead to find out if you're committing any of the common body language faux pas and suggestions on how to avoid them.
Facial expressions are arguably the most important aspect of body language. Your face is the first thing that others see, and it's a primary indicator of your level of engagement, interest, and satisfaction. Since facial expressions can convey a multitude of emotions, it is important to understand what different expressions commonly indicate.
Smiling, for example, is one of the most positive facial expressions you can have during a discussion. It indicates friendliness and a level of comfort and happiness, encouraging others to feel at ease and mirror your expression and smile back. However, arching your eyebrows can indicate surprise, confusion, or disapproval causing others to respond by over-explaining or defending their statement. Your facial expressions, regardless of whether or not you're aware of them, can set the tone of a conversation or interaction.
Suggestion: As silly as it sounds, practice in the mirror! The only way to be aware of how you're responding to certain situations it to be aware of your own facial expressions. By learning to detect a change in facial expressions, you can adjust accordingly in situations.
Body posture is another important body language indicator to pay attention to. Slouching, crossed arms, and fidgeting, among others, are all body language no-no's.
Poor body posture can indicate various feelings; from low confidence levels to a defensive attitude and when you pair that with questionable facial expressions, it may give clients all they need to make assumptions regarding your interest, thoughts, and emotions.
Body posture and observation is especially applicable in business meetings and in-person discussions. It can tell others how invested you are, and whether or not you are confident about a presentation or business deal. For example, if your toes are pointed forward when speaking to someone, it indicates that you are engaged and focused on what they are saying. If toes are pointed away, it indicates that you are disinterested and prepared to leave the conversation. Additionally, stance is a body language indicator that often reveals whether or not
Suggestions: Similar to facial expressions, attempt to monitor your own (and others') body language! By understanding exactly what your default positions are in different situations, you will know what to change and how to change it. By monitoring others, you will know what looks professional and welcoming, rather than standoffish and unnatural.
Shakespeare was really onto something when he said "the eyes are the window to the soul." On the surface level, we feel that when we make eye contact that we are making a connection, and therefore we will continue to hold someone's gaze. Scientifically speaking, eye contact is in our DNA. According to studies, infants engage in eye contact from an early age, and are more likely to follow an adult's movements when their eyes are open.
Eye contact is an innate behavior that we learn from an early age and continue to practice making it a fundamental component of body language.
Eye contact is important for many reasons. It can tell a lot about how two people interact by disclosing if two people like one another, if they agree with each other, and measuring alertness and engagement in a conversation. Eye contact is the key to make a lasting impression. Those who keep others gazes are more likely to remember the person they are speaking to and what they are saying as well as how it made them feel.
By making eye contact and holding someone's gaze, you confirm that you are actively listening in preparation to respond and engage. Although eye contact can positively contribute to an experience, it can also make it more negative. Rolling the eyes, looking away, and excessive blinking indicate a lack of interest, distraction, and potentially discomfort. However, it is important not to make TOO much eye contact. Eye contact for an extended period of time can be viewed as aggressive, disrespectful, and an attempt to challenge authority.
Suggestion: Since there can definitely be too much of a good thing, it's important to strike a balance. Eye contact shouldn't make people uncomfortable, so it's important to understand what is too much. Practice making eye contact in informal discussions with friends and family. Gauge their reactions to the frequency and intensity of eye contact to determine what works best for you. If you are not accustomed to making eye contact, try looking between a person's eyes or even slightly above them to get the hang of it.
It's evident that communication goes well beyond what you write in an e-mail or how you speak to your co-workers in a meeting. In fact, it is more about what you don't say rather than what you do. Body language is a key component in communication related to how you present yourself, react to various situations, and physically engage with others. By understanding your own body language tendencies, you can understand the exact effects it has on your personal and professional life.