By Subhojit Roy, Partner & Co founder Connections
Body language refers to the nonverbal signals that we use to communicate. According to experts, these nonverbal signals make up a huge part of daily communication. From our facial expressions to our body movements, the things we don’t say can still convey volumes of information. We use it all the time in our social life and business life so it is all about gestures movements and expressions made by people to deliver a specific message to other people. Such behaviour includes facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of space. Body language exists in both animals and humans, but this article focuses on interpretations of human body language.
Professor Mehrabian combined the statistical results of the two studies and came up with the now famous—and famously misused—rule that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent).
Your eyes are often the first piece of body language others see or notice. They make visual contact; avoid visual contact, express feelings based on intensity and length of eye contact, and the like.
Eye behavior communicates a lot. Inability to make direct eye contact can indicate boredom, disinterest, or even deceit – especially when someone looks away and to the side. If a person looks down, on the other hand, it often indicates nervousness or submissiveness. Pupils dilate when cognitive effort increases, so if someone is focused on someone or something they like, their pupils will automatically dilate.
Facial expressions are responsible for a huge proportion of nonverbal communication. Consider how much information can be conveyed with a smile or a frown. The look on a person’s face is often the first thing we see, even before we hear what they have to say. While nonverbal communication and behavior can vary dramatically between cultures, the facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are similar throughout the world.
Your posture includes how you hold your head, shoulders, legs, arms, and hips. Each of these parts of your body work separately as well as together to send non-verbal cues. Research on body language has grown significantly since the 1970’s, but popular media have focused on the over-interpretation of defensive postures, arm-crossing, and leg-crossing, especially after publishing Julius Fast’s book Body Language. While these nonverbal behaviors can indicate feelings and attitudes, research suggests that body language is far more subtle and less definitive than previously believed.
Gestures can be related to verbal communication or unrelated to verbal communication. For instance, you might wave at another person as a way of saying ‘hello’, but you do not have to actually say the word out loud for the message to be clear. Or, you might use hand gestures to emphasise a key point during a speech or presentation; in this case, your gesture is related to the verbal communication.
Movement is both flexible and commanding. A message of dominance or assertiveness, avoidance, submission, or simply bringing the interaction to a close is very often sent through body movements.
How close someone stands or sits next also determines how favourably or not someone is disposed towards the other person. Ofcourse this is also determined by the cultural, religious nature of the geographic location of the persons concerned. The amount of distance we need and the amount of space we perceive as belonging to us is influenced by a number of factors including social norms, cultural expectations, situational factors, personality characteristics, and level of familiarity.
Touch is capable of communicating so many different messages, and can also be interpreted in so many different ways. Touch is usually divided into four main categories: friendship, professional, social, and intimacy. Harry Harlow’s classic monkey study demonstrated how deprived touch and contact impedes development. In her book Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, author Julia Wood writes that touch is also often used as a way to communicate both status and power. Researchers have found that high-status individuals tend to invade other people’s personal space with greater frequency and intensity than lower-status individuals. Sex differences also play a role in how people utilize touch to communicate meaning.
Researchers have found that appearance can play a role in how people are perceived and even how much they earn. One 1996 study found that attorneys who were rated as more attractive than their peers earned nearly 15 percent more than those ranked as less attractive. Culture is an important influence on how appearances are judged. While thinness tends to be valued in Western cultures, some African cultures relate full-figured bodies to better health, wealth, and social status. Our choice of factors deciding our appearance are also considered a means of nonverbal communication.
Objects and images
Objects and images are also tools that can be used to communicate nonverbally. In modern age in an online forum, for example, we may choose an avatar or image to represent our identity in the web world to communicate about who we are and the things we like.
Nonverbal communication determines how we convey meaning and information to others, interpret the actions of those around us. Such nonverbal behaviour determines our actions in groups, what we say along with his or her expressions, appearance, and tone of voice which tells a great deal about what that person is really trying to say.