Cross your arms when talking with someone?
How about staring off into space? Make faces? Or fidget with your hands or iPhone or pen?
From the bedroom to the boardroom to the bar, your body language says a lot about how you communicate — even if you’re not the one talking. After all, more than 90 percent of communication is nonverbal.
But so many of us fail to recognize what tone our body is setting by gestures and motions we’re making.
A work-from-home friend of mine was telling me the other day the difficulties she faced in a face-to-face staff meeting. She’s used to talking shop lounging in her pajamas on the couch via a conference call or, at the very least, using FaceTime or Skype to discuss work.
But on this particular day, she had to meet with other co-workers. My friend explained the difficulty in remembering to sit up straight and not glance all around the room — never mind the fact she said she wasn’t able to pace in her home, throw a load of laundry in the washer or clear the dishwasher.
She found herself struggling to look co-workers in the face when she was speaking or when she was listening, she said.
I didn’t ask her this, but I wondered if she thought she came off unprepared or unfocused?
As a reporter, I tend to stare people directly in the eyes as I’m asking them questions and listening to their answers. But even before I considered myself a professional reporter (whatever that term means), I’ve always directly looked at folks while conversing.
It can be intimidating, but it usually allows me to tell when someone might be lying. All the while, I keep my cool, but observing not just their words but their body language.
The world of professional communication is sort of a battle zone, so one slouch or awkward move and the other person swoops in to take the lead.
These situations are similar among friends and family, too. I had a difficult conversation with a friend not too long ago that provided all of the tell-tale signs that something was amiss. My friend was fidgeting, stuttering, rubbing his knuckles and my friend’s eyes increasingly watered up as our conversation continued.
While my friend spoke, I tried to look directly at them, though I did fail at this, I observed. But even throughout the situation, I took note of my body language and their body language.
Sure, some folks are nervous by nature, but there are sure-fire ways of knowing when it’s nerves and when it’s guilt. Maybe my inquisitive ways allow me to understand how someone is using their body language.
Of course, there are obvious ways of knowing how someone feels — their tone, their eye rolls and crossed arms are easy ways to discover how the conversation is escalating.
But even a worrisome face and a forced smile help to gauge the tone.
Even in the bedroom, body language sends messages letting those involved know how things are progressing.
For instance, a closed-lips kiss could signal an avoidance of intimacy.
There’s a balance, however, of focusing on observing your body language (and theirs) and actually communicating. If you spend too much time over thinking how your body is responding, you’ll likely lose focus and come off as agitated.
Likewise, if you spend no time considering your body language, chances are you could come off as lazy or uninterested.
And if you’re not good at reading someone, don’t over think their body language as you could send mixed signals or worse yet, the wrong signals.
The best advice when trying to figure out how to communicate with your body is no different than using your mouth to communicate — think before you speak. Take a moment to pause, gather your thoughts and think about how your body is reacting to what you’re saying or hearing.
Learning your body’s language can make or break any relationship.
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