by Harvey Mackay
Body language is an important part of communication—it can constitute 50 percent or more of our message. If you wish to communicate well, then it makes sense to understand how you can (and cannot) use your body to say what you mean.
Hard to believe? Mute your television sometime and see how easy it is to figure out what’s going on. Rent an old silent movie. Sometimes the subtitles belie the real story! Play poker with a novice if you want to learn how important body language is.
Does that mean we can just stop talking? Of course not.
But consider this: According to the Houston Chronicle, verbal content in a speech accounts for 7 percent of communications impact. Voice tone is responsible for 37 percent. Body language—believe it or not—has a 56 percent effect.
The ability to read between people’s words is a skill that you’ll need for the rest of your life. Even when you’re silent, your body is sending signals about your mood and inner thoughts. Hand movements, posture, even the tilt of the head are dead giveaways for the underlying message.
John Gottman, relationship expert and author of The Relationship Cure, says, “An open posture—in which you sit with your arms relaxed, your legs slightly apart, and your body tilted a little forward toward your conversation partner—gives the message that you respect this person and you want to offer your full attention. Adopt this position and you communicate that you’re open to influence; you’re available for interaction.”
On the other hand, crossing of the arms seems to be a worldwide body language symbol of defensiveness, according to communication and negotiation experts Gerard Nierenberg and Henry Calero in How to Read a Person Like a Book. Often, when people cross their arms during a conversation it can indicate that they have withdrawn from communicating and are locked into their position. While you can’t always assume that someone’s body language indicates exactly what he or she is thinking, you can use it as a signal to pay attention to your own communication.
When you are engaged in conversation with someone and they cross their arms, do a mental checklist. Are you communicating in ways that are causing the person to shut down or feel defensive? Be honest with yourself, and do what you can to get the person to relax and open up again. Your goal should be to get the person communicating with you again. Think of the times when you have crossed your arms. When did you do it? Did it mean anything?
To gain the trust of a customer or co-worker, body language expert Robert C. Brenner offers the following advice to help ensure that your body and your mouth are saying the same things:
Shake on it. When extending your hand to shake, keep your palm facing upward, suggesting honesty and sincerity.
Keep your hands where they can be seen. Shoving your hands into your pockets makes you look secretive and suggests hidden agendas.
Here’s the steeple. Pressing the fingertips of one hand against the other (steepling) conveys confidence.
“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
“Poor or fuzzy communications are major time-wasters. Take the time to be crystal-clear in your communications with others.”
— Brian Tracy
“The goal of effective communication should be for listeners to say, ‘Me, too!’ versus ‘So what?’”
— Jim Rohn
“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.”
— Dale Carnegie