Body language and nonverbal communication – Examples and meanings

Hyperaxion Oct 12, 2020

Body language provides an incredible amount of information about what other people are thinking if you know what to look for.

During a conversation, the words that come out of our mouths are far from the only form of communication. We all use gestures, mannerisms, and postures, the so-called “micro-behaviors” that can say a lot about what we are feeling at a given moment.

Some of them are universal and easy to read. Of course, you need to know what to look for and understand the meanings of each gesture.

A simple change in voice pitch, for example, can indicate fear, irritation, or even that the person in front of you is about to cry. This holds true both for personal and professional contexts.

Do you want to find out what meaning behind these, often involuntary, bodily processes? Keep reading this article until the end and your next work meeting will be quite insightful.

What is body language?

Language is a type of nonverbal communication called kinesic communication. It is expressed in our posture, gestures, how close we are when talking to another person, in facial expressions, and even in the movement of our eyes

Although the interpretations related to these expressions fall within specific, standardized, and conventional cultural codes, which give them more or less tacit meanings, there seem to be practices and attitudes common to different geographical and cultural spaces.

It is often through body language that we can identify the real meaning behind a verbal message, and it is not difficult to understand how this process happens.

When we are in front of a person, we have access not only to what that person says, but also to what that person’s body shows.

All this available information helps us to understand what the interlocutor really means when he says something.

This is the case with irony, for example.

A brief eye-roll gesture is a hint that the message’s real meaning is the exact opposite of what the person said.

Why is body language important?

(Credit: Free-Photos / Pixabay).

Body language has great importance in everyday life. Your posture, for example, can reveal traits about your personality like insecurity, confidence or fear and directly influence the way people act towards you.

A study by David Lapakko of Augsburg University, Minneapolis, found that only 7% of all our communication is verbal.

According to the results, 38% is related to voice qualities (such as tone, pitch, and intonation) and 55% to body language.

In other words, interpersonal relationships would be very different if we could not count on assessing the way the body behaves during a conversation.

What are the types of nonverbal communication?

There are five categories of nonverbal communication, which includes the full range of nonverbal expressions.

  • Kinesics: is related to the body language itself, such as gestures and facial expressions;
  • Proxemics: related to the human use of physical space;
  • Paralanguage: qualities that modify the sound of the voice, such as tone, pitch, and intonation;
  • Haptics: the touch and the characteristics related to it, such as pressure exerted, the place touched, age and sex of the communicators, among others;
  • Physical characteristics: appearance and body shape.

Negative body language signs that can communicate weakness

So far, we have presented some concepts and particularities of body language to allow you to understand how much it is involved in our daily lives and, therefore, how it influences our experiences.

By now you should have a clear idea of ​​what body language is and the important role it plays in our daily lives, shaping our relationships with others and defining the way we are perceived.

Now, it is time to address some body language cues that can help you read others’ actions and even spot undesirable signs in your own actions.

You should avoid the following gestures, especially in a job interview.

Hands close to mouth

(Credit: Khusen Rustamov / Pixabay).

The act of bringing your hand to your mouth while you speak can reveal an attempt to lie. But this is not the only gesture typical of someone who is lying.

Rubbing your lips, placing objects close to your mouth, and even touching your chin are also recurring actions when telling a lie.

These nonverbal cues are triggered by anxiety and have the function of shifting the focus from what is being said.

Compressed lips

(Credit: Brayan Raul Abreu Gil / Pixabay).

Keeping your lips compressed shows that you are trying to avoid saying what you think. It can show, for example, that you prefer not to answer a question that has been asked.

Lip biting and lip chewing

According to body language expert Blake Eastman, biting and chewing your lip usually indicates fear and anxiety.

This can mean that the person is uncomfortable in the situation, worried or insecure about something.

Of course, it can also be an indicator of stress when someone is afraid of being caught lying. This is very common in children, especially if accompanied by raised eyebrows in the middle and lowered at the sides.

Clenched jaw

The clenched jaw is a signal linked to stress. Regardless of what the person is saying, this is a sign of considerable discomfort.

The conversation may be about something that makes them anxious, or their mind may be elsewhere and they are focusing on what is stressing them out.

Looking away

The eyes are one of the most expressive parts of our body. You don’t have to be a body language expert to notice when someone is sad or happy just by looking into their eyes.

But do you know what looking away means? Well, it depends on the direction.

Looking to the right usually indicates confusion. People tend to look to the right when they try to remember a sound and to the left when they think of something visual.

Looking to the right can also indicate that the person is having creative thoughts. This expression can make you look insecure about what you say.

Looking up, on the other hand, can indicate contempt and irritation – that classic eye roll.

Forehead contraction

Indicates doubt, tension, and even nervousness. This sign is seen as negative because it pushes the interlocutor away. You should avoid that at a business meeting, for example.

Crossed arms and legs

These are a common sign that the person is angry or rejects the situation they are in.

Crossed arms and legs are physical barriers that suggest that the person is not open to what you are saying. They may be smiling and engaging in the conversation like they were enjoying it, but their body language shows otherwise.

Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero recorded more than 2,000 negotiations for a book they wrote about reading body language, and none of those negotiations ended in an agreement when one of the parties was legs crossed when negotiating.

Psychologically, crossed arms or legs signal that a person is mentally, emotionally, and physically blocked from what is in front of them. It is not intentional, which is why it is so revealing.

Positive body language signs that communicate confidence

(Credit: Free-Photos / Pixabay).

It is surprising how many negative signs we can blurt out when we are talking to someone. But don’t worry, that is only half the list.

Now it’s time to learn how to use body language to make a better impression when communicating.

Dominant handshake

A good handshake can leave quite an impression.

So, every time you start a conversation with customers or even partners in your business, don’t be afraid to demonstrate security in your handshake.

A handshake with the palm facing down indicates leadership and power, while the palm facing up indicates that you are open to dialogue.

If you are uncertain and afraid to make the other person uncomfortable, do not use either, leave your palm facing sideways.

Speak calmly

(Credit: oTschOo / Pixabay).

The tone of voice makes all the difference in the message we want to convey. So, try to articulate each word well, and don’t forget to breathe.

When you start talking too fast, you end up running out of breath and even lose your chain of thought.

Try to keep your speech calm even in stressful situations. This demonstrates credibility and shows that you know what you are talking about.

Maintain a neutral posture

Yes, your posture can say a lot about you.

Remember when we said that crossed arms and legs indicate that you are mentally, emotionally, and physically blocked?

Well, then, having your back straight and your hands rested at your sides, you signal the opposite.

If you want to go even further, try to observe the gestures of those who are talking to you and mimic them. This shows sympathy.

Maintain a steady breathing rhythm

Needless to say, panting gives the impression that you are nervous. To improve your breathing rhythm, you can practice breathing control: breath in and out calmly, repeatedly. This also helps to reduce anxiety.

At a decisive moment, when it is necessary to demonstrate self-confidence, take a deep breath and hold the air for a few seconds, until you feel your lungs expanding.

Look people in the eye

(Credit: Dieter_G / Pixabay).

Yes, we know that it is not always easy to stare into another person’s eyes. On the other hand, this is also the best way to convey the impression of authority.

You are in charge and want to make that clear.

While presenting a new idea and seeking acceptance, it is also important to direct a few straight looks at the person’s face. This shows that you are sure of what you say.

Extra tips to consider when analyzing someone’s body language

The previous tips can help you better understand human communication, even if not a single word is used.

Still, it is always good to consider that all the gestures we make, our body language as a whole, does not happen alone.

What does that mean? Let’s explain.

Take the context into account

Context is everything. If that goes for what we say, it also applies to our behavior. A sentence removed from the context in which it was said can be meaningless and even sound absurd. With body language, it’s no different.

Analyze the whole of the interaction

Don’t just stick to the details, looking at them individually. To understand what body language is showing, it is necessary to analyze the complete scenario.

Watch for sudden changes in behavior patterns

Another fundamental aspect to understand what body language says is to be aware of sudden variations in the pattern of behavior. This applies to both micro expressions and routines.

For example, if a person usually speaks slowly, but suddenly starts speaking quickly when you ask a question, it means that, for some reason, the person is experiencing anxiety.

Likewise, if a person usually speaks quickly, but when you ask a question he or she starts to speak slowly, it indicates that the person is thinking very well about what being said and possibly manipulating the narrative.

If a person’s common pattern of behavior suddenly changes significantly, try to understand what has changed.

If your partner is a routine person, but suddenly starts changing the routine, coming home later than usual, for example, or going to the gym an extra day a week, this is a red flag. This person may be lying or hiding something from you.

Related topics:

Body language


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