One thing to consider is the commonly quoted statistic on nonverbal communication—93 percent of communication is conveyed nonverbally. Dr. Albert Mehrabian is known for having conducted two research studies (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967 and Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967) on nonverbal communication. His findings pointed to posture, gestures, and facial expression as having the highest impact (55 percent) in conveying our messages, whereas only 38 percent is through tonality, leaving a mere 7 percent of our communication being conveyed through the words we speak.
Body Language Trumps the RestWhile what you say is important, how you say it and your physiology will convey more information than the words you use. Think of a time when a friend tells you, “Everything is fine,” but you can see by their facial expression or their body posture that things are not fine. Clearly their words are stating that things are fine and yet you know they’re not. This shows that when your body language and your words are saying different things, body language will more often than not trump the language you use.
Without getting into the details of context, clusters, and congruence (known as the 3 C’s of nonverbal communication), let’s assume for a moment this is true. One contributing factor is that words mean different things to different people and, depending on how something is said, it can come across much differently than intended. Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s not what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it”? Sometimes the words you speak are incongruent with your body language (e.g., facial expression, gestures, eye contact).
Can you remember a time when you were being scolded as a child and your only option to show your disdain (because you didn’t dare talk back) was to cross your arms indignantly? This is an example of a time when you may have purposely used your body language to communicate your feelings. In other instances, you may be intent on conveying a point while having a certain expression on your face, only to hear, “Why are you looking at me like that?” You may have thought to yourself, “looking at you like what?” Without realizing it, the look on your face relayed a different message than what you had intended.
The point is that most of us aren’t consciously aware of how impactful these things can be. Nonverbal communication is automatic and, for the most part, primarily unconscious; meaning, we aren’t consciously aware of how we are standing or what our facial expression is when we are listening—intently or otherwise. Our body language is so powerful that it’s capable of hinting to—or directly displaying—our emotional state of mind, which directly impacts how we are being perceived by others.
7 Ways to Communicate with Body LanguageUnless you’re someone who has been trained in the art of nonverbal communication, chances are that you’re not hitting the mark every time you want to effectively communicate. Here are some ways to begin honing your communication skills specifically through the utilization of body language.
- Build rapport. One highly important thing to keep in mind is building and maintaining rapport. Rapport is best defined as being how you relate to or connect with others, especially when it comes to harmonious or sympathetic relation. When you have rapport with your audience, the odds of miscommunication are dramatically reduced.
- Make eye contact. Look the person in the eyes while you are speaking to them and remember that it’s just as important to maintain eye contact while listening. This helps both parties to feel recognized and heard.
- Increase proximity. Remove any obstacles between you and the other person. In the workplace, come around the other side of the desk and meet the person face to face. If you’re at home and calling out from a different room, choose instead to walk into the same room to communicate. This will help to provide a sense of connection and respect.
- Watch your posture. Sit upright and communicate with a relaxed yet confident posture. Be sure not to cross your arms, as crossing your arms can be seen as being closed off or even hostile. Also, lean forward into the conversation as this shows interest, whereas leaning back may give off a sense of indifference.
- Consider facial expressions while speaking and listening. You can practice this by looking in the mirror and having discussions with yourself as if you’re conversing with another. Practice work-related, relationship-based, and social scenario exchanges and notice how your facial expression supports or takes away from the communication.
- Set your intention. The intention behind whatever you are communicating is another worthwhile point to cover. When your mind and heart are aligned, it is easier to adjust your body language to support the message you are wanting to convey. Think about what you want the other person—or your audience—to hear and how you want them to feel.
- Be flexible. If the point you are wanting to make or the message you are wanting to deliver is not being received in the way you had hoped, be OK changing your communication style and/or your body language. Having a willingness to be flexible with what is working and what is not will enable you to make course corrections along the way.
Overall, we are always doing the best we can with the resources we have and we can always improve. Keep in mind that intention guides our non-verbal communication, and that if you speak from the heart and do your best to be flexible, you will increase the likelihood of conveying that across the board.