WELCOME to the latest in a series of blogs that helps us reap the benefits of an insight into professional skills.
In previous instalments we have established the fundamental importance of empathy for effective communication. Empathy, the awareness of feelings or emotions is accessed through careful listening and tuning in to body language. The last blog piece considered the power of listening. Today it’s the turn of body language to come under the spotlight.
According to “experts”, over 50% of our face-to-face communication is non-verbal. We communicate our feelings with our bodies, how we position ourselves, use our hands, show facial expressions, or make eye contact. You may have seen some of the photographs or sketches of people demonstrating various body language messages. Crossed arms, for example is often considered to be a sign that a person is feeling defensive. Leaning forwards towards someone is supposed to show interest, whilst leaning back is supposed to suggest disengagement
This static view of body language is rather limited. If we were studying a dynamic engineering process like fluid mixing or bubble coalescence a static photo would be of limited value compared to a video recording of the process. The same concept applies for body language. The most important information about people’s feelings comes from the dynamics; subtle changes in body language as a response to variables like new information, questions, or changes in the context or social environment. Someone who is fluent in body language would be continually monitoring changes in posture, gestures, facial expressions, voice tone, eye contact, and the physical distance between people. If we can link these changes to their cause, and use our heightened listening skills, then we can start to empathise and communicate effectively.
Here are some important aspects to consider:
An engineer once said to me, “I thought body language was just for actors.” On the contrary, body language is for all, and generating some fluency in reading and speaking body language gives us a great advantage when communicating with others face-to-face. How do we get fluent? Like any language, the best way is to learn by having a go. Start becoming aware of body language dynamics in yourself and others. You will undoubtedly get it wrong sometimes, and misunderstand the emotions or feelings of others, but trying to access the emotional content is a very important step. Furthermore, making mistakes is an excellent way of learning!