Body Language Matters!
Source: Mark Stephen Meadows
Body Language conveys an enormous amount of information, and is what gives us away if we are trying to be something we are not – for example, if we aren’t being genuine or if we are uncomfortable with something. It is a very powerful form of communication and if we can tap into it effectively it can really enhance our active listening skills. I say ‘active’ listening because we can all listen, but to really hear someone we want to listen to their words and their body language. It is this that will enhance our empathy and give us the information we need to remain alert to people’s needs.
Eye contact is particularly important when in comes to building rapport and maintaining that rapport. Looking straight into somebody’s eyes with a small smile and/or nod shows acknowledgement, offers reassurance, and can also encourage greater involvement in the communication process.
If there are many of you, eye contact also helps regulate the flow of communication; people will be using your eye contact as a guide to what is going on and where their focus needs to be. If someone finds it difficult to have eye contact this shows you they might be anxious and therefore might need something to help put them at ease.
In terms of proximity, we want to aim for intimate but non-invasive. You will be able to pick up on whether someone is feeling invaded or uncomfortable by actions such as them pulling away or backwards.
Mirroring is something that we are less aware of, but that we do quite naturally with people we are close to and have a strong bond with. It is basically mimicking the actions of the other person, and it shows friendliness and builds trust.
In some situations, when you won’t necessarily know the person and haven’t established a bond with them, mirroring is something that you might need to put some conscious effort into at the beginning. It shows you are with them, focused on them, and really hearing them. Try to use the 10 second rule, so that it doesn’t seem so obvious that you are copying them….there needs to be a slight gap between their actions and yours.
Gestures bring a conversation to life and there are different gestures that we tend to use:
• Illustrators create a visual image and support the spoken message. So, for example, someone talking about pain might gesture to the part of their body where they feel pain.
• Regulators are used to control and adjust the pace of a conversation. So, for example, you might move your focus from one person to the next in order to regulate turn-taking.
• Adaptors are changing or adapting something in order to communicate a message. For example, you might shift in your seat and lean forward to show that you are listening closely. You might notice others adapting their body because of discomfort, cold, or something else. So, adaptors are also a good way of keeping track of whether needs are being met.
Posture and body orientation is really about being open and approachable rather than closed off. A good way to remember this is SOLER:
Sit straight – this is important in conveying the message ‘I am here with you.’
Open posture – this indicates being open to anything that is being shared.
Lean forward – this indicates an interest in what is being said.
Eye contact – this is another way of expressing interest and reassurance.
Relax – a relaxed posture puts others at ease.
Nodding is another important body language tool. We all do so much nodding that we don’t realise how important it is or how many types of nodding there are! Here are some types of nod we use:
• The encouraging nod, that spurs someone to tell you more.
• The acknowledgement nod that simply shows you are listening.
• The understanding nod that indicates you are actually feeling something about what you are hearing.
• The factual nod where you are confirming that what someone has said or asked is correct.
• The agreement nod where you are demonstrating that you will do something or you are of the same opinion as someone else.
Even nod speed matters! For example, fast nods show agreement and are more to convey something about us and how we feel, while slower nods are more about the other person and giving a sign that you are listening and want to hear more.
Listeners who engage in nodding tend to elicit as much as 4 times more information from a speaker.
As you can see, we can’t underestimate the power of body language and its many benefits! If you require any assistance with understanding body language or require written content on the topic, please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.