‘Body Language’ – How to Read People and Navigate Conversations

After combing through “top ten” style list-articles and explanations from pop-psychology, many of our clients reach out for help with a conflicting array of “body language” tips and tricks from online resources. We understand that confusion, and we also know that you want tools that work.

Our approach to physical communication is grounded in the theater arts- and that’s where we begin to build a foundation with our clients. Performance artists have successfully taught physicality with structured and formalized curricula for centuries.

At The Human Communication Studio, we draw from those disciplines to make that structured approach accessible to the public speaker- not just by focusing on action, but by having a rational behind the decision making process.

To that end, this time on the blog, let’s look at ‘body language,’ what you may be telling people without realizing and what to look for in others to better navigate your conversations to successful outcomes.

‘Body Language’ Basics

First, body language is open to a broad range of interpretation, and there are many ways to approach how to use it and what it means. It’s just not an adequate, or accurate enough term. Because the term has become so flexible, the Human Communication Studio uses specific vocabulary. These words describe patterns of movement in space that can fall under the “body language” umbrella. You’ll hear terms like Line Focus, Physical Orientation, Level, Plane to describe ways to take agency over your physical communication. Using these terms makes for a more accurate discussion, that drills down to what is actionable, what isn’t and why. The way in which you position yourself in the physical space speaks volumes, it attracts and manages attention. To discuss it and do it justice, you need to have specific conversations.

If that interests you, please look into our podcasts, video learning library, and training options where you’ll learn more! For now, let’s look at some basic ways to read and understand the posture and physicality of others.

The mind-body connection is incredibly strong. Think of all the things our bodies do automatically, instinctively to keep us alive. In that same vein, your body naturally tends toward certain behaviors when you are feeling certain ways. When it comes to your industry, that kind of clear indicator of mood, emotion, or perspective can be a blessing or a curse. Here are some of the basic considerations for reading common body language and what they mean. 

Crossed Limbs Can Reveal a Less Open Communication

How are you sitting right now?  Chances are your arms are open, your feet are flat. That’s because you sought out this blog, you are interested in learning what it has to say. Without our notice, our exteriors can reflect the interior. When someone isn’t interested in what you have to say or they are opposed to your point of view, their posture will similarly be show disinterest. Narrowing the body, changing plane away, or crossing legs and arms creates physical barriers between the two parties, revealing the mental and emotional block occurring within or, might simply be a person that disengages the body to mentally process the communication. Reading body language requires context to arrive at a supported interpretation.

We talk a lot more about this when discussing the concept of Line Focus. It’s how you draw, give, and receive attention. If you have control over your own Line Focus, you can have better control over the communication. To find out how, check out this podcast on Line Focus and Physical Orientation!

podcast on body language, line focus and physical orientation
Learn how to use your Line Focus in Episode 4 of WTF Do I Do With My Hands?

Eye Contact and Body Language Work Together

There is a lot of attention placed on Eye contact. You might read about studies on how eye contact might be interpreted or what various cultural inferences are involved with eye contact. There are two things we can consider as we answer the question about when to emphasize our communication with eye contact and to consider how much eye contact to engage in? Eye contact is generally not separated from what the body is doing while a person communicates. Orientation of the body, gesture, and facial expression, all influence the interpretation of the given or withheld eye contact. When we are purposeful about what we intend to communicate we integrate the use of supportive body language in our communications, we can employ eye contact more effectively.

The more you know about your content, your audience, the desired outcomes, and the circumstances of the interaction, the more purposeful you can be about making eye contact or relaxing the intensity of your eye contact.

Remember, your audience will be paying as much, or sometimes more, attention to what your body or voice is saying as they do to where you direct your eyes. You want your eyes and body to be in sync.


Mirroring or Countering to Be A Better Communicator

Mirroring body language is a strange but real thing we may do subconsciously when we feel bonded to another person. Switching hands, uncrossing legs, or other familiar gestures that can be mirroed between people conversing can be a sign that it is going well, that the other participant is receptive to your message. You might observe crossed arms or legs and consider whether that positioning is a sign that the person is closed off or simply preoccupied with their own processing. But mirroring is not going to be the most strategic course of action for every outcome. Sometimes the more advantageous choice to counter another person’s body language. Learning the tools of composition, body positioning, and gesture can turn communications that don’t seem to be going anywhere into dynamic opportunities to be better understood by countering. Paying attention to what the bodies are expressing in a communication can help you get your point across and find an ally through understanding how to counter or mirror gesture or body positioning.

Nodding Nuance

Ever ask someone a question or for help doing a task and see them nod an excessive amount? Certain personality types have general patterns of Body Language that are expressive or affirming, others have a lack of Body Language patterns that make it difficult for communication partners to feel affirmed. Nodding is a great example. Some nod because it is the pattern of communicating to demonstrate understanding or confirmation, but someone nodding may be to simply make the communication partner feel heard and they may not even agree or truly understand. Others wouldn’t be inclined to nod at all. Navigating Body Language as absolute cues or interpretations of meaning is a pop culture fantasy. True understanding comes from more than a nod.

Now that you are thinking more deeply about the nuance of Body Language, You can visit us at The Human Communication Studio to learn more about what you can do to better read the room and help the room read you. In the meantime, check out some of our material to learn how to keep your posture open and signal you are open for discussion. Observe your own patterns of body language and think about what you are really communicating.

How to use your body to maximum effect is something we talk a lot about here at The Human Communication Studio, so if you’d like to know more check out some of our podcast episodes on the subject, or look into getting video training to be the best communicator you can be!

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