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Bad body language? Your business could pay the price...

By Kirsty Craig

We’ve all heard the phrase: ‘It’s not what you say but how you say it’. But is this just about tone, or do your facial expressions and body language play a major part in the way someone interprets what you say?

Perhaps the most well- known piece of research in this area is Professor Albert Mehrabian’s Elements of Personal Communication, in which he maintained that only 7% of communication was actually the spoken word.

We deduce our feelings, attitudes and beliefs more from the speaker’s body language and tone.

Think about someone writing a particular sentence in an email or a text and then think about the same sentence being said to you in a face-to-face meeting. How that sentence is delivered in regard to their body language can play a major part in firstly how it’s interpreted, and secondly what it is really saying about the person you are talking with.

So why should an awareness of this form part of any good manager’s toolbox?  Communication is everything!  How will you engage your staff on this journey? How will you give feedback and deliver performance reviews? 

It’s simple to do, but so important to ensure that your facial expression matches the message you are wanting to convey. Imagine being in a disciplinary hearing and the chairperson smiling throughout….a very mixed message!   

According to the experts, there are six functions of body language in communication.

REGULATING is used to keep pace on a conversation with non-verbal communications that indicate functions such as when someone is coming to the end of what they are saying. Understanding this type of body language in an interview or meeting, and recognising it means you are unlikely to either talk over someone or not pick up the flow of the conversation.

SUBSTITUTING is an action we do when we are unable to use verbal communication to tell someone something. For example, when someone is talking too much, but you aren’t able to ask them to stop, you can use substitute body language like glancing away or not maintain eye contact. If someone is not holding your eye in a conversation that you are dominating – it may be time to stop talking and start listening!

CONFLICTING body language occurs when your verbal communication and body language are not saying the same thing. In these situations we tend to believe what the body is telling us.

MODERATING body language tends to emphasise verbal communication. If you are talking about a particular item or object and pointing at it or using hand gestures towards it, emphasises what you are saying.

COMPLEMENTING body language is when we use gestures and movements to support what we are saying. It can be as simple as nodding your head when you are verbally agreeing with someone. This type of body language is a way of confirming the authenticity in the words you are speaking.

REPEATING body language is used when we want someone to listen and follow direction. Maybe you want someone to leave a room before you, by gesturing that they should walk in front of you while verbally communicating this reaffirms your request.

So how many do you recognise, or do already? A bit of self-reflection goes a long way!

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