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Body language and everyday gestures speak louder than your words.

A recent study by Spencer Kelly, Associate Professor of Psychology, Colgate University showed that people were much quicker to understand any verbal message when the message was supported by appropriate body language and gestures.   When the gestures were either missing or didn’t match the message was harder to understand.

Body Langauge & Gestures

Perhaps more importantly research also reveals that when your words and body language / gestures are do not match, and you send conflicting messages, the person you communicate with will believe the gestures and other body language, and ignore your verbal message.

The implication is clear – you MUST be aware of what your body is saying if you wish to communicate a clear and believable message.  Then, you must take control of your body language and gestures to ensure that they communicate only what you wish to communicate.

In this first post of a three-part series on this critical topic we’ll look at a brief list of positive gesture ‘phrases’ that you can train yourself to employ to fine tune your communication skills.

Gesture ‘Phrases’

Body language and gestures reveal your inner attitude – something you’d sometimes prefer remain private.   For example, lack of eye contact, absence of a smile, hidden palms, hands on hips, drumming, fidgeting, playing with clothes or jewelry, picking nails etc are perceived as cold or nervous.   Watch your body language in unguarded moments.

There are some core gestures that are almost like gesture ‘phrases’ that can be combined to tremendous positive or negative effect – by understanding these key gestures you can choose to use them for positive effect when anxious to ensure your message is completely clear and credible:

  • Palms. The palms are one of the most effective tools in body language.  Your palms convey an enormous amount of information when engaged in a gesture.   In general palms down or hidden from view is viewed as closed gesture and authoritative – ‘I’m in charge’ or ‘this issue is not up for discussion’.   Palms up is the opposite: open, saying ‘trust me’, ‘I’m friendly’, ‘you’re my equal, ‘let’s talk’, or ‘I’m open to discussion’.
  • Leaning in. When you like someone or are interested in what they have to say you unconsciously lean in.   Everyone does – this is utterly universal and instinctive body language.  Similarly, when you do not like someone you unconsciously lean away from them.   This is so ingrained in us that we are all unconsciously capable of reading this critical signal very effectively.   So anytime you want to indicate interest or positive attitude toward an individual or audience lean slightly towards them.  Be particularly wary of leaning away from someone in unguarded moments – unless you’ve made a conscious decision to send a message of dislike, distrust, or disinterest then this is too powerful a message to get wrong.   Become aware of whether you’re leaning in or out and, if in doubt, don’t lean out!
  • Nodding. This is another simple but very telling basic gestural phrase – nodding indicates interest, and encourages the other person to continue doing or saying what they’re doing.   Not nodding sends a neutral or even disinterested impression. Once again, unless you’re trying to signal disinterest use frequent nods accompanied by encouraging sounds to signal that you are positively interested to hear more of what they have to say.   Be careful, however, to use single well-spaced nods – double or triple nods in quick succession signals ‘speed up’ or ‘get to the point’.   Eye contact is great reinforcement here.
  • Proximity. Standing square to someone, as long as you’re not too close to them given your relationship or culture, is a friendly and open statement.   Research by Edward T. Hall established ‘personal space’ guidelines for North America as follows:  Intimate: 18 inches and less; Personal: 18inces to 4ft; Social 4-12 feet; Public: 12 feet to edge of visibility.  Personal space is a critical element in body lanague and it varies from culture to culture. Be sure that your proximity is appropriate to both your relationship and the norms for the culture you’re operating in.
  • Openness. When the view of your solar plexus is unimpeded by your hands or other objects like desks, lecterns, PCs etc you are generally perceived to be more open and honest.   So, when you want to believed open up your solar plexus.   Don’t hide behind desks, podiums or other props.  Watch your angle too. Standing angled away from, as opposed to squarely facing your conversational partner, signals an unconscious desire to get away, to find someone more interesting to talk to, or to protect yourself.

Become aware of what everyday gestures are normal for you.   Do they convey the messages you want to convey?   If not, then start working on consciously changing your body language and gestures so that they positively convey only the message you wish to convey.

In the next post I’ll show you how you can combine these basic gestural phrases to come up with the ‘7 Most Powerful Body Language Gestures’.

What is the most positive/negative gesture you have seen in use?

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