Talking with your body
By Abbie Stewart, 19 March 2015 –
Non-verbal communication can mean body language (kinesics) or your voice – not the words you say, but how you say them (paralinguistics). Why should you be aware of body language specifically in your working relationships?
Body language helps convey both feelings and meanings. You might think it's more to do with displays of affection and dating (should you play with your hair to show somebody that you like them?) but it's not. It covers meaning too. It's easier to describe, explain or persuade when you know how to use your body.
If you have international business contacts, you might have heard tips like “in Japan, receive a business card with two hands” to show respect. You might have been advised on where you should sit in a meeting room. It's a good idea to research cultural customs – it could make a great impression.
Have you ever considered things like “where to sit in a meeting room” within your own culture? It's said that sitting opposite someone isn't good for a working relationship, neither is low seating, and that high seating with the chairs positioned at 45 degree angles to each other makes a meeting more productive. This is probably true. But how do you learn these things and more and use them effectively? After all, body language is a force of habit.
Sales people and professional communicators might do some dedicated body language training. Or they might pick it up as they go along. The best sales people learn over time what works, build their confidence, and soon winning body language comes naturally to them.
That's how you learn body language – from other people. In the same way that a baby learns to talk from listening, we learn to communicate with our bodies from watching. And we may think that we're grown up, but we're developing and learning to communicate every day of our lives.
Think of your industry, whatever your industry is, as a collective consciousness. A group of professionals who might act similarly to get the same desired result. Like the sales person, a doctor might learn that to get honest answers from patients prolonged eye contact works best. And how does the doctor learn that? Probably not by reading about it, but by practicing it daily.
The moral of our article is that you can read books on body language and even watch videos about it till the cows come home. The only way you'll learn how to use it, however, is in communicating with other people. Copying them, teaching each other, professional-to-professional. Meeting other people in your industry is the best way to pick up tips on body language, which you can use in your own working relationships.