When we communicate with others, body language can both support our message and give us important information about the other person / people. It is useful to increase our awareness of our body language to ensure it supports the message we wish to relay.
1. Be calm and grounded – be aware of how physically relaxed you are. Having both feet on the ground – whether sitting or standing, allows us to be grounded. When sitting, keep your back against the chair. When standing, keep weight evenly distributed. Breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax into your breathing. If you do yoga or stretching, this will be familiar. Feel the effect a few steady breaths can have.
2. Mirror body language - this is something we tend to do naturally when we are comfortable with people. This mirroring allows us to feel ‘in synch’ with each other. If the person you are communicating with is not relaxed, start by mirroring their body language and gradually move into a more ‘grounded’ position. Often people will unconsciously mirror the changes you make and become calmer – though this can take a bit of practice!
3. Gestures – are they in line with your message? A misalignment can happen when we are trying to communicate something serious, or say no, yet we smile and nod…A sure way of losing the power of what we are trying to say. Equally telling someone we are happy about something whilst frowning, will leave them confused or feeling that what we say is not genuine. Congruence is vital.
4. Respect space – ensure you allow enough space for the person you are talking to. We each have an invisible space around us, which when invaded can make us feel uncomfortable – being aware of how comfortable the other person appears can help us gauge the appropriate space for them.
5. Eye contact – generally people will feel listened to if you offer eye contact, although it is better to also look away, so that the eye contact is not too intense. In some cultures direct eye contact is disrespectful. Check out with the other person if they appear uncomfortable with your eye contact. If you cannot be seen – if you are on the phone or if there is a sight impairment, stay mentally focused on the person you are communicating with.
6. Open and closed gestures – the more open your gestures are, the easier and more confident you will appear. Crossed arms or legs do not automatically come across as closed gestures if they are done in a relaxed manner (and if they mirror the other person). Arms firmly crossed across your chest will most likely be interpreted as hostile! We can sometimes do this if we are insecure (or feeling angry) so check how you are coming across, as it can really block useful communication.
7. What does their body language tell you? I once ran a training event where a woman sat with her body turned away from everyone else. She appeared to be uninterested and separate from the rest of her team. I really did not feel listened to. By checking out with her what was going on, she became aware of how she came across. She was distracted by something that had happened on the way to the training. Once I drew her attention to how she appeared, she refocused and joined in with everyone. It’s great to check in with people and ensure any assumptions you make are based on fact. Giving open and non judgemental feedback on how people appear can help them engage with you.
What else do you pick up from non verbal communication? It is really useful to observe people, and see how body language impacts on the way their communication is received and responded to. Is there anything you want to be more aware of in your own body language?
The next post will cover listening skills – absolutely vital to effective, confident communication. Sign up to my news feeds to receive the next installment.