Understanding Non-verbal Behaviour Non-verbal behaviour is usually a subconscious use of the body to telegraph meaning, whether
the person is on the giving or receiving end of the message. Since non-verbal behaviour, or body language, is such a natural part of our communication toolkit, its interpretation offers a key to greater human understanding and relationship building. However, this art should be treated with a degree of caution. Misinterpretation, especially when dealing with audience of other region, can have damaging consequences. HANDSHAKES Handshakes do tend to contribute to first impressions, so it is a good idea to be conscious of the different kinds. The two-handed handshake is designed to convey trustworthiness, but can send the opposite message if sincerity is lacking. The ‘wet fish’ or limp handshake is thought to convey weakness and lack of confidence, while the ‘bone crusher’ conveys aggression. The fingertip handshake is interpreted as timorous and insipid. A firm handshake, palm to palm, then a decisive release is probably the safest bet. TRUTH There are a number of gestures that betray lying, most having to do with hiding the mouth with a hand. Other forms include touching one’s nose or running a finger along the inside of a collar. Eye contact is another sign, if a previously ‘normal’ eye-contact pattern shifts suddenly to a darting or averted gaze. Likewise, if the pace of blinking picks up appreciably, there may be more than a speck of dust involved! BLUFF Usually, when people are communicating in a straightforward way, their non-verbals are consistent with their words. They say, ‘Look over there!’, and reinforce the message by pointing simultaneously towards the intended focus of attention. Or they might admit, ‘I’m unhappy about that’, and their face and body droop too. When people are bluffing, their gestures are usually inconsistent with their speech.
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Suppose that you are addressing a group of professionals from a podium. subtle changes in facial expression. You may. be trying to communicate something serious. Training can help correct the most obvious quirks in your non-verbal lexicon. You may like to revisit the incident with the person later and try to work together on a way to communicate more effectively in the future. in fact. particularly if you have a habit of using an expression or gesture that is commonly accepted to mean one thing and you really mean something different. If you decide to pull back. IDENTIFYING ANGER THROUGH A PERSONS BODY LANGUAGE Tone of voice. analyse what happened and how you reacted. WHAT IF I CONVEY THE WRONG MESSAGE This happens. or you may prefer to back off until the heat dies down. In the meantime it might help to acknowledge your idiosyncrasies publicly so people don’t get the wrong impression. If you think you might have contributed to the person’s anger. give anyone who hesitates plenty of space. If there are too many people in the room to pay attention to each one. for example. maybe someone will start pacing up and down or banging the table while still smiling pleasantly to hide true but socially unacceptable feelings. try not to aggravate the situation. and support anyone who finds it difficult to speak in front of a group. BUIDLING RAPPORT WITH SOMEONE IN A MEETING One way of establishing rapport is by working the room. This will give others confidence in your ability to connect with people. might indicate that you think you’re being funny. You can choose to try to calm things down. and gestures head the list of clues. like the shifting of feet or the tapping of fingers. Unusual averting of eye contact or blinking of the eyes can also indicate an inconsistency. acknowledge every contribution. SEMISTER ONE BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS I
. consider how you might do things differently next time. Whatever you do. which communication experts call leakage.Someone may say. but are nervous because the subject is a bit delicate. For example. invite contributions from those who are most extrovert and build rapport with them. of course. ‘The deal is almost in the bag!’…but you notice a nervous body pattern. A nervous laugh. Your reaction to increased anger depends on the situation and your personality. Make sure you seek information from everyone.
Although well-established in our culture as signs for OK and victory respectively. you are likely to see gestures involving hands (they may be signalling that they are evaluating what is being said by balancing their chin on their thumb with their middle finger running along their bottom lip and their index finger pointing up their cheek). and a side-to-side head shake. they have offensive alternative meanings in other cultures! Many gestures come in ‘clusters’. MAJOR COMPONENTS OF NON-VERBAL BEHAVIOUR: • gestures • facial expressions • congruence • props • territory Gestures The six most universal human emotions—happiness. scowl when they are angry. and attitudes. The value of developing more than an instinctive understanding of this type of communication is therefore clear. If you feel that a cluster of gestures is conveying something about what the person really thinks. It is also generally accepted that the verbal part of the communication is used to convey information. feelings. and allow their faces to drop when they are sad. sadness. the forefinger/thumb ring.Researchers into non-verbal behaviour agree that between 55 and 65% of all communication is done non-verbally. fear. ask them to share their thoughts. This cluster of non-verbal gestures indicates that the listener is reserving judgment on what is being said. meaning I don’t know. If you look at people during a meeting. their limbs (one arm may be clamped against the body by the other elbow). anger. while the non-verbal part is used to convey values. and love—can be seen on the face of anyone in the world. meaning yes. Some other common universal gestures include a shrug. Gestures that you may think are universal but actually convey different messages in difficult cultures include the thumbs up. envy. and the ‘V’ sign. and their entire bodies (if someone’s torso is leaning back from the vertical. meaning no. that person is signalling distance from what is being said). a nod. SEMISTER ONE BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS I
. People smile when they are happy.
However. If you notice side-to-side head-shaking while someone is saying.Facial expressions Most non-verbal signals conveyed by the face are done so by the eyes. it may be considered hostile. you may appear timid or ‘shifty’. or the long. Using a prop extends the space taken up by the body. and one eyebrow raised can indicate cynicism or suspicion. so try to limit the time to around two thirds of the conversation. all the non-verbal channels of communication must reinforce the message you’re trying to convey. too much eye contact can be intrusive or too intimate. you can also convey. If you hold your stare for too long. and forego the more intimate glance to the lips or upper body. blink that effectively draws the shutters down. It extends that person’s ‘territory’ and sends a message distinctly different than standing with hands folded at the waist or perched on the hips. In a business setting. and the person is perceived as more confident and powerful. ‘I agree wholeheartedly with this decision’. very subtly. fluttery. Both eyebrows raised up into the hairline can indicate surprise or amazement. messages that will reinforce what you are saying. the person’s words and body language are contradictory. Adjusting a tie. pen. Not only can you ‘read’ the other’s disposition. or concern. you are seeing an example of incongruence. This includes eye movements such as the ‘over the shoulder stare’. doubt. or even a cigarette. or tugging at a cuff is representative of ‘preening’. Those who do not want to be exposed on the ‘soul level’ may use techniques to break or block eye contact.
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. People often use these behaviours to endear themselves to others. fussing with the hair. Props Many people use props to reinforce their messages. People come across as inauthentic when one or more of their channels of communication are ‘saying’ opposite things. Pulled together at the middle they can indicate a question. If you reduce the timing to below one third. the most common being extensions of the hand such as fingers. although these gestures can instead be perceived as nervousness. it is important to confine your gaze to the eyes and forehead. Good eye contact is an effective way of building rapport. pointer. Congruence In order for non-verbal behaviour to work for you. Eyebrows can emphasise a signal dramatically.
You try to bluff Thinking you can bluff by deliberately altering your body language can do more harm than good. Common Mistakes you over-interpret When people become aware of the power of body language. Territory People travel through the world with a conceptual egg-shaped zone of personal space around their bodies. it will be hard to overcome the body’s inability to lie. They might also make themselves taller by rocking forward onto the balls of their feet to indicate power and confidence. Leaning back with arms behind the head and one leg crossed horizontally across the other conveys feelings of superiority. A closed or crunched body position can mean disapproval. essential to place any ‘bodywatching’ observations in context. signs that your channels of communication are not congruent. as most non-verbal communication is part of a broader dialogue. Remember to take account of the context and do not jump to conclusions. However. The way people in a group sit can convey powerful messages about the pecking order. Unless you are a practised actor. It is interesting to watch people in groups. This is part of a ritual of creating territorial boundaries. and feel invaded if others trespass into it. This is called leakage and it will be seen in one way or another. SEMISTER ONE BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS I
. There will always be mixed messages. If you see two or three men talking.Clenching coffee cups or wine glasses close to the body allows them to be used as defence mechanisms. you might notice them shifting their weight from one foot to the other. standing behind a chair or counter. They effectively close off the more vulnerable parts of the body. It is. defensiveness. or a lack of interest. or clasping an object like a handbag or briefcase to them as if it were a shield. they are much more likely to mirror each other’s non-verbal behaviour in an attempt to build lateral bridges. Taking the chair at the head of the table automatically puts someone in the controlling position. They often protect their territory by placing a desk between them and others. When women are grouped. therefore. false interpretations can cause damaging misunderstandings. they can go overboard and think they have revealed a whole world of silent messages.
Matching and mirroring can also be used consciously as a technique to achieve rapport with someone. If they are eating or drinking. and it occurs naturally between two people who feel that they’re on the same wavelength. although we sometimes make judgments as if it were. you may notice that their bodies have taken on a similar demeanour. Using Non-verbal Communication to Build Rapport Non-verbal communication is not an exact science. Both may have crossed their legs. and the other person is likely to feel embarrassed or angry. ‘I get the feeling you are uncomfortable with this course of action. facial expressions. Many believe that the greatest part of meaning is conveyed through non-verbal signals. but you need to be subtle. your meaning may well be misinterpreted. You could say something like. Would you like to add something to the discussion?’ This will draw out the real message and force the individual to come clean. or withdraw his or her bodily objections. It involves many different ‘channels’ that convey meaning beyond what is being said. body movement. Because the person receiving your message can’t see your body or face. or settled into their chairs in similar postures. MATCH AND MIRROR If you watch two people talking in a relaxed and unselfconscious manner.
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. can be embarrassing and damaging. based on erroneous observations. This is called matching or mirroring. This explains why it’s often hard to convey subtle meanings over the telephone or through the written word. Then follow the pattern of their non-verbal communication and reflect it back. These include gestures. Exaggerated mirroring looks like mimicry. they may do so at the same rate. Always verify your interpretation through another channel before rushing in.You rush in with an accusation based on someone’s body language Accusing someone of something that they are not guilty of. So. most of which come from the eyes. and even vocal tone and pitch. observe what your counterparts do with their bodies.
Once this feels natural. odour. listen to the kinds of words he or she selects. I can see that it will take lots of energy to create what is in my mind’s eye’. Speak the same language According to neurolinguistic programming (the science of tapping into the unconscious mind to reveal what is going on beneath the surface). An auditory person might say. Some people are very visual. and fragrance. ‘Yes. auditory. but your farsightedness will surely enable you to reach your dream’. some are auditory or kinaesthetic (tactile). ‘I have a vision of what this organisation will look like in five year’s time. enabling us to do our jobs more efficiently. see if you can use it in a situation that is problematic. The person might say something like. language can indicate much about how an individual views the world. sweet. using the same kind of language significantly enhances the level of understanding between you. The words in italics indicate that this person is visual in constructing meaning—and you can respond similarly: ‘You build a very clear picture for me. See if you can lead that person into a relaxed exchange by practising the matching and mirroring technique. feel. I have been called upon to sound out the market and ring some changes in the way we sell our products’. I can see that this will be a challenge. Kinaesthetic language uses words such as sense. bitter. Perhaps there is someone at work with whom you do not have a good rapport. move towards. Olfactory words include smell. SEMISTER ONE BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS I
. Listen Active listening is a rare skill. and other taste-related words. but it is very effective in helping you build rapport with another. You can establish rapport with people more effectively by paying attention to their individual preferences for visual. see if you can take the lead by changing your body position and watch to see if they follow. Once you begin to get a feel for this process. Very often they do. dynamic. When you are building rapport with someone. When talking to someone you don’t know well. gustatory. others understand the world primarily through their olfactory (smell) or gustatory (taste) senses. It can also yield valuable information. you could respond. or kinaesthetic cues. You must have done a resoundingly good job!’. ‘I hear that you have been promoted.
The best way to build rapport using non-verbal cues is to be authentic in what you say. Common Mistakes – A lack of subtlety People new to the techniques of non-verbal communication can be overenthusiastic practitioners.
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. ‘Can you tell me more about…?’ and ‘What do you think…?’. In addition. Be cautious of jumping to conclusions without further information. It is very difficult to convey convincing messages that do not genuinely reflect what you think. Interpret in context There is much written about non-verbal communication. These questions encourage further communication and enrich what is being communicated. cold. You ignore context Putting too much store by someone’s non-verbals can lead to misinterpretation and misunderstandings. You over-emphasise non-verbal signals Trying to control your meaning by emphasising your non-verbal signals can make you look ill at ease. ‘Mmmm’. and asks open questions such as. This may give insights into what is going on. or ill. but always remember to place your interpretation in context. and your body language will reinforce that message naturally. Finally. But. Even if it is very subtle. This will raise people’s suspicions and level of distrust. and responses such as ‘Ah ha’. or disapproving. a good active listener summarises what has been said to demonstrate his or her understanding. Observe yourself objectively to make sure you aren’t offending others by broadly mimicking their speech or behaviour. lots of head nods. someone sitting in a meeting with his or her arms crossed is possibly being aggressive. stay true to yourself. For instance. and ‘I understand what you mean’. reluctant.Active listening is about demonstrating that you have understood and are interested in what is being said. leakage is bound to occur. especially about how to read body language. and don’t adopt behaviours that are incompatible with it. perhaps the person is shy. It requires good eye contact. It is important to understand the context in which the signals are being transmitted and think through the possible scenarios before jumping in. Be aware of your own natural style. Remember that most people instinctively send and interpret non-verbal signals all the time: don’t assume you’re the only one who’s aware of non-verbal undercurrents.