Body language awareness

Effective communication isn’t limited to the words we say. Our non-verbal communication includes body language, tone of voice, eye contact and facial expressions.

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Why this matters

Effective communication should clearly express your ideas and feelings in a respectful and authentic way. It’s important to be aware that, no matter what you say, your communication will be ineffective if your body language contradicts your words.

Explore and reflect

Our body language includes:

  • Posture
    • Are you sitting or standing up straight with your head and shoulders back in a relaxed and open manner?
  • Eye contact
    • Are you maintaining soft, non-intimidating eye contact?
  • Attention versus fidgeting or distraction
    • Are you distracted by texts, emails, people walking by, or are you focused on the individual?
  • Tone, volume and pace of voice
    • Are you speaking in a calm, even voice, or are you louder and more pressured?
  • Facial expression
    • Are the muscles around your eyes giving away your thoughts of anger, impatience or disbelief? Is your mouth open as if you're ready to interrupt at any moment, or pursed tightly as if you're frustrated?
  • Level of intensity
    • Are you tightly contracted, or does your body language and facial expression convey an open and respectful curiosity about the other person's perspective?
  • Gestures
    • Are you nodding or shaking your head, shrugging your shoulders or any other gesture which may be communicating in a way that isn’t not helpful?

Our body language can be affected by:

  • Competing demands for our time and attention
  • Anger or hostility, even if it's not directed at the person you're communicating with
  • Sadness or loss
  • Burnout or stress
  • Personal or family issues, unrelated to the situation
  • Physical or mental health concerns
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger

When you know you’re dealing with one of these situations, you can  adjust your approach. There are a couple ways you can do this:

  • Share that you’re going through something 
    • Let the other person  know you’re going through something right now, so they understand your body language isn’t directed at them.
  • Be deliberate about adjusting your body language 
    • Be consciously aware of your current emotional state so that it doesn’t impact your body language. Learn how to listen to understand to help you choose your body language more effectively. Changing your body language to be more positive can also trick your brain into feeling more positive.

Take action

Keep the following list nearby and think about your intended and unintended body language in every face-to-face interaction.

  • Posture
  • Eye contact
  • Attention versus fidgeting or distraction
  • Tone, volume and pace of voice
  • Facial expression
  • Level of intensity
  • Gestures

Notice how body language affects the signals you send to yourself and others. Pay attention to how it influences your emotional state and your communication with others.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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