While we might think (or wish) that communication were as simple as the words we say being the message, that isn’t reality. The truth is there is far more to our message getting received than just our words.
If you have ever been misunderstood in an email, text or instant message, you know what I mean. Words alone aren’t enough. Part of what completes the message is our body language. And if people can see us (face to face, on Facetime or using webcams), our body language is impacting our message.
Recognize too that there is more to the message you are delivering – there is the meta message of who you are and your intent as you deliver the message. Body language is communicating both to others all the time.
My goal here is to give you some specific tips to make the body language you use support your message and improve the chances that your message is both heard, and properly understood.
Make eye contact. Without question, this is first on the list. While there are some cultural differences here, we communicate with our eyes. When we make eye contact, we build faith in what we are saying and trust with the other person. Perhaps our eyes are the windows to our soul, but they are definitely a pathway to building a relationship and delivering clear communication.
Be a mirror. Our emotions and thoughts show through in our body language (which is the point of this article). If you want to communicate better with others, consider mirroring their body language. This isn’t a YouTube moment of a baby imitating someone else – the point isn’t to mimic or mock someone, but rather to show empathy through your body language. This must be subtle and will take practice, but it can help your messages be received more easily by others.
Walk with energy. Imagine that you are meeting someone for the first time. They come up to you at a slow gait, ambling towards you. Now imagine that same situation with a person walking with purpose and energy – we aren’t talking about sprinting, but with a purposeful walk. This simple act forms an opinion of the person, doesn’t it? How we walk sends a message about our confidence and credibility as well as (though this might not matter for the purposes you are reading this article) attractiveness.
Let people see your hands. We all use our hands to communicate. You can even watch people on the phone, when the other person can’t possibly see them, using their hands to make their point! When people can’t see our hands, they wonder if we are hiding something, if we are nervous, and perhaps many other things. Your hands are part of your communication repertoire; so use them and avoid any negatives that might come from hiding them from others.
Use encouraging body language. Two immediate examples: eye contact as mentioned already, and nodding with people to show that you understand and/or agree. When someone does that it communicates powerfully to you, doesn’t it? This is not the only example. Related to mirroring above, this is the idea of using our body movement and gestures to show people we care and want to listen to and learn from them (and that what we are sharing is in their best interest too).
Slow down. Some of us rush our communication. Slow down your speech, but slow down your gestures and movement. While some speed communicates energy, there is a fine line that we cross that leads our body language to show anxiousness, nervousness, or even dishonesty. Take a deep breath and slow down just a bit.
Have a great handshake. If you have one, you know how important this is. If you are unaware of this fact, you may very well have a limp, dead fish or dominating and over-powering handshake. A handshake sends a message about who you are. Work on a firm and inviting handshake and you will communicate credibility and confidence to others.
While we all can (and would be advised to) work on these things, recognize that the receiver of our message (the viewer of our body language) is the judge. Their perception of our body language rules the day. When we apply the ideas above though, we will improve the chances that their perception is positive and will support better communications and relationships.