When I am discussing a critical issue with a colleague and confirming that he has ‘got it and agrees with my sentiments’, I also look carefully at his body language and I am never disappointed. Arms folded tightly, a quizzical frown and avoiding a direct glance are sure signals that what I have said hasn’t gone down well and disagreement is in the air.
You need to study body language – that interesting combination of facial and eye movements and limbs - perhaps overlaced with the tone of your voice. Apparently, only 10% of the meaning transferred between two people talking is via words – the rest – a huge 90% is through that ungainly combination of tone of voice and body language.
How to Use Body Language more Effectively
Typical elements of body language include:
Closed Body Posture. This means the person is hunched over, arms tightly wrapped around the body, legs crossed, hands perhaps hidden stuck in pockets and eyes looking everywhere but at you. Disagreement and unhappiness squeaks from every pore of this person.
Open Welcoming Body Posture. Arms and hands are open and facing you, face is friendly, eyes are twinkling and perhaps legs are sprawled open. This person is happy, positive and agreeing with you - wanting to work with you and contribute.
Eyes are everything. If the eyes are narrowed, brows are furrowed or eyes are blinking rapidly and the individual is looking away from you there may be some unhappy issues that this person has with you.
Touching one’s face or head. If someone is reflectively tweaking their ear lobe, they may be in a reflective mode. If they are touching their face repeatedly, they may be concerned about what you have just told them.
Smiling. There is no doubt when a person is genuinely smiling. Her whole face joins in with the smile. However, when the face is rigid and only the lips tweak cautiously with a slight smile, you can be sure that this person is not happy or not engaged in the smile at all. One can get a good idea of what this useless smile is like when you watch many politicians at work who often make comments which aren’t sincere and the edges of their mouth tweak in a token smile. Don’t trust this person’s words.
Most of the discussion above has been when you have to interpret someone’s body language. However, you also need to be keenly aware of your own body language otherwise you may give the game away. When you are giving an enthusiastic pep talk to a group and want to instill confidence in them as to your intentions – you have to open your hands, arms and ensure you grin enthusiastically and infectiously (using your whole face).
Peter Drucker makes the vital comment: The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.
Thanks Susan de la Vergne of the IEEE for a very useful discussion on body language.
Yours in engineering learning
Mackay’s Musings – 31st July’19 #674
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