Use body language to your advantage
Non-verbal cues are powerful forms of communication. They can be used for impression management and persuasion.
Consider this: you’re communicating non-verbally even when you’re silent.
Teaching, above all other experiences, made me very aware of my communication.
At most universities, students get the opportunity to evaluate their tutors and lecturers. The evaluations are anonymous, so there’s often no holding back.
Early on, three students gave me feedback that criticised my facial expression during their presentations. They said I looked “scowly”, which made them feel uncomfortable. I was surprised by this because I had no idea of how my non-verbal language affected the feelings in the classroom. My hearing’s not great, so I used to lean forward and had to concentrate solemnly to catch every word, so my brow was wrinkled and my face focussed. You can imagine how my body signals did not create a relaxing space for students anxious about presenting.
The student feedback alerted me to be more aware of how I communicate with students non-verbally.
“ Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages. ”
If you are also misinterpreted or misrepresented, perhaps it’s because your non-verbal communication doesn’t synthesise with your intentions.
So here are some nonverbal communication tips you can master in no time.
When you make eye-contact you show confidence, as well as interest in what the other person is saying. And one of the best ways to get someone on side is to take an interest in them.
More than this though, people give away a lot about their thoughts and feelings through their eyes. As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages.”
So by making eye contact, you get access to information that words won’t reveal.
*Important note – avoid wide-eyed staring, which is not read as confidence and interest, but weirdness.
Nod your head
As with eye-contact, this shows interest. It is an especially important gesture in group communications, where it’s easy to feel as though you’ve dissolved into the background if you’re not speaking.
Head nodding cues give important encouragement to speakers and demonstrate engagement.
Your hands play an important role in gesturing. But they can also get in the way of communication. Touching your face is especially problematic. It’s been shown that touching your mouth can show you’re lying, touching your ear may show you’re unsure of something and touching your chin may show judgement. Also, be conscious of how you touch other people, especially in professional situations.
Researcher Amy Cuddy proved that power postures can be a way to communicate with yourself and other people about your capability in certain situations. Holding your hands in the air is, for instance, a culturally universal gesture of success. Body gestures that take a lot of space, like sitting with the hands on the hips or behind the head, tend to show power, where gestures that make the body small, such as slouching, show powerlessness.
These are things you do with your body, especially when you’re nervous or stressed. I pick my cuticles and gesticulate wildly when I’m excited, which makes me look as though I lack control. To stop these tics, I hold onto a desk or chair to anchor myself to something solid. This sends off a feedback pathway that slows me down and makes me become aware of my body.
Get someone to record you speaking to figure out what your tics are. Once you’re aware of what you’re doing, it makes it so much easier to think of ways to change your body’s habits.
Often the gestures, movements, postures and other ways we signal with our bodies feel ‘natural’. And that’s because they’re usually formed as a result of habit. While it’s important not to stymie flow, energy and physical expression, some of your habits may be resulting in miscommunication. Check in with your body every now and again to monitor impression management and to master clear communication of your thoughts and intentions.