Why You Might Want to Give Up Everything Else and Learn About Body Language

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Does non-verbal communication really matter?

Here’s the one thing you need to know about body language: Researchers believe it’s even more important than words.

Yes. You read that right. When you are talking, your body language may be even more important than the actual words coming out of your mouth.

UCLA professor and well known communication expert, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, found that what humans communicate can be broken down like this:

  • 7 percent of meaning comes from the words you speak (Is anyone else dying here? Only 7%?!)
  • 38 percent of meaning comes from tone of voice
  • 55 percent of meaning comes from body language.

Another way of stressing how much meaning body language carries is to think about it this way: Body language is sometimes more honest than the words coming out of your mouth as well. Right? If you are sitting in a staff meeting and your boss has just taken 8x longer than needed to explain something, your mouth may be saying, “Yes, uh-huh, great…” but your tapping foot or glazed over stare  is telling the real story. You’re impatient and bored and want to leave.

If you want to master the art of communicating well, then, body language is something worth exploring.

The Origin of Body Language

Researchers believe our early ancestors relied on body language to communicate their needs and emotions before verbal communication had fully developed. These physical movements–such as flinching when you walk into a cold space–are mostly times subconscious, but they also communicate meaning to anyone observing. Seeing you flinch as you walk outside may prompt the person following a few feet behind you to button up their jacket or pause and pull on a hat, for example.

In addition to aiding in survival, body language may also help people better understand and predict your behavior. For example, if you don’t have time need to talk at length, because you need to leave to get to the airport in time for your flight, your body language will (or at least “should”) help cue your conversation partner. Things like checking your watch, tapping your foot, putting on your coat, standing up, and moving to the door are nonverbal hints that help others piece together your needs and intentions.

Some tips for using body language to make a good first impression:

  • Always face the person speaking to you if possible and resist crossing your arms or putting your hands on your hips, which can come off as aggressive.
  • Stand up straight with your shoulders back. This portrays confidence.
  • Lean forward when someone is speaking to you. This indicates you are interested and eager to hear what they have to say.
  • Make eye contact while smiling and nodding. This helps you to establish a positive emotional connection with your conversation partners.
  • While you don’t want to copy people in obvious aways, take cues about the emotional climate of the room from watching the other people. Are they sitting in a relaxed, restful posture, for example? This might be a cue that they feel tired, which might prompt you to adopt a restful posture as well so that you don’t disturb the tone of their current state.
  • Pay attention to other people’s body language so you can begin to perceive messages they wish to communicate (such as wanting to exit the communication) that they’re too polite to say aloud. If the person’s file seems force, like their jaw is clenched, they may be uncomfortable with something going on in the room. In this case, you will learn to recognize this is not a genuine smile prompted by joy, but a nervous smile of someone trying to cope with an unpleasant situation.
  • If you use touch, use it only with those you know well and only in light, appropriate, and infrequent ways. A brief touch to the arm or shoulder can provide comfort or encouragement. A lingering touch or a touch to someone’s face or leg, while they are sitting, might create discomfort.
  • Focus on making a pleasing entrance when you first enter a room or greet a new person. People remember and like to be around those who smile warmly and act happy to see them.

Ted Talks About Body Language

Before you rush out to try these tips, you might boost your understanding and skill sets even further by watching these Ted talks on body language.

There are 3 comments

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  1. Kelsey Anna

    I love learning about things like this. Its the sorta thing you might not notice normally but when someone points it out to you then you start seeing these things all the time.

  2. KeithConnor

    To me, these aren’t just tips, they’re like psychological insights that help us understand people. It’s not about “reading people” in some mysterious way. It’s just about learning to get along well and make people feel comfortable.

  3. Alyssa Johnson

    I’m always skeptical of articles about how to tell if someone is lying to you. Because I’m a good liar and I don’t do ANY of their tells. 😉

    These I can get into though.

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