Body Language and Nonverbal Communication

What is body language?

Your ability to communicate effectively is key to your success in personal and professional relationships. However, it is not your words that matter most. It’s your nonverbal cues (or “body language”) that speaks loudest. The use of nonverbal communication, such as body language, is the use and expressions of your body to communicate, usually done instinctively, rather than consciously.

You are constantly giving and receiving nonverbal signals to others regardless of whether you realize it. Your nonverbal behavior, such as your gestures, posture, tone of voice, eye contact, and body language, can send strong messages. These behaviors can help you build trust and ease people’s feelings of comfort. Or they can confuse and offend and derail what you are trying to communicate. These messages don’t stop when you stop talking. Even if you are silent, these messages continue to be communicated nonverbally.

Sometimes, the words you speak and your body language can be completely different. Your body language can be misleading. If you speak one thing but your body language is another, your listener may feel you are being dishonest. For example, if you say “yes” and then shake your head no. Listeners must decide whether to believe the mixed signals. Because body language is an unconscious, natural language that communicates your true feelings, intentions and thoughts, the listener will likely opt for the nonverbal message.

You can communicate what you mean and connect with others better by understanding and using nonverbal communication. This will help you build stronger and more rewarding relationships.

Nonverbal communication is vital

Your nonverbal communication cues, which are the way you listen to, look at, move and react, tell the person you are communicating with if you care, if truthfulness is your goal, and how attentive you are listening. Your nonverbal communication cues should match your words. This increases trust, clarity, rapport, and trust. They can cause tension, mistrust, or confusion if they don’t.

It is important to be more sensitive to nonverbal and body cues, as well as the signals of others, if you are to communicate better.

Five roles can be played by nonverbal communication:

  • Repetition This repeats and strengthens the message that you are communicating verbally.
  • Contradictions: This can be a contradiction to the message you are trying to send, indicating to your listener you might not be telling all the truth.
  • Substitution A It can replace a verbal message. Your facial expressions often communicate a more powerful message than words.
  • Complementing: This may enhance or complement your verbal message. It can help increase the impact of your message if you give praise and a pat on the back to employees.
  • Accenting: This can accent or underline a message. For example, poking the table can emphasize the importance of your message.

Different types of nonverbal communication

There are many types of body language or nonverbal communication.

Expressions of facial expressions. Human faces are extremely expressive and can convey many emotions without speaking a word. Facial expressions, unlike other forms of nonverbal communication are universal. All cultures have the same facial expressions that express happiness, sadness and anger.

How your body moves and how you hold your head. Your body language and movement communicates a lot to the rest of the world. This nonverbal communication can include your posture, bearing, stance and subtle movements.

Gestures. Gestures are part of our everyday lives. When arguing, speaking animatedly, or pointing, you may use gestures to express yourself without thinking. Some gestures may have different meanings depending on the culture. The “OK” sign with the hand conveys a positive message, but it is considered offensive in Russia, Germany, and Brazil. To avoid misinterpretation, be mindful of the way you use gestures.

Eye contact. Because the visual sense dominates for most people, eye communication is an important form of nonverbal communication. Eye contact can convey many emotions, such as affection, hostility, attraction, and interest. Eye contact is important for maintaining conversation flow and for gauging other person’s interest in you and your response.

Touch. Touch is a powerful way to communicate. Consider the many messages that a weak handshake can send. A warm bear hug, a pat on the head or a controlling grip on your arm could all convey different messages.

Space. Ever feel uncomfortable in a conversation due to the other person being too close or invading you space? Although we all need physical space, it varies depending on culture, situation and relationship. Physical space can be used to communicate many nonverbal messages such as signals of intimacy, affection, aggression, or dominance.

Voice. Not just what you say but how it is said. Other people can “read” what you say and how it sounds. They pay close attention to your pace and timing, how loud and clear you speak, your tone, inflection and sounds that convey understanding.

Is it possible to fake nonverbal communication?

Many books and websites offer guidance on how to use your body language to your advantage. They may show you how to position yourself, raise your hands, or shake hands to assert authority or confidence. These tricks won’t work unless you feel confident and in control. Because you don’t have control over all the signals that you send about your thoughts and feelings, it’s impossible to be confident. The more you try to control your signals, the more natural they will seem.

But, this doesn’t mean you can’t control your nonverbal cues. To rebuff someone’s message, you might use negative body language, such as crossing your arms or avoiding eye contact. While you don’t necessarily have to agree with or like what is being said, it’s important to communicate effectively without putting the other person on defense. This can be done by trying to keep your stance open and really trying to understand what they are saying.

Nonverbal communication: How it can go wrong

How others perceive you and how they view you through body language and other nonverbal signals can have a significant impact on how they see you and how they feel about you. This will affect how they treat you and how they trust you. Many people don’t realize they are sending confusing or harmful nonverbal signals. As the following examples show, this can lead to a loss of trust and connection in relationships.


Jack believes he is a great worker, but if asked by his coworkers, they would tell you that Jack is “intimidating”, “very intense” and “very intimidating.” His eyes seem to devour you. He will grab your hand and squeeze so hard that it hurts. Jack is a kind and caring man who secretly longs to have more friends. However, his nonverbal awkwardness makes it difficult for him to make new friends and hinders his ability at work.


Although she is attractive, and can meet eligible men easily, it is difficult for her to maintain a long-term relationship. Arlene is interesting and funny, but she also radiates tension. Her eyebrows and shoulders are raised and her voice is raspy. Her body is stiff and rigid. Many people feel uncomfortable and anxious around Arlene. Arlene has many things going for her, but the discomfort she causes in others is a lesser part.


Sharon was not so certain that Ted had found the right match, although he thought he did when he met Sharon. Ted is a hard worker, a good looking man, and a great communicator. Sharon seemed to care more about Ted’s thoughts than Sharon. Ted was always there to respond to Sharon’s thoughts. Sharon felt ignored and began to date other men. Ted is also losing out at work because of this. He is unpopular among many people he admires because he can’t listen to them.

These intelligent, well-intentioned people have a hard time connecting with others. They are often unaware of the nonverbal messages that they transmit.

It is important to learn how to read and use body language to communicate effectively and avoid misunderstandings. This will help you build trusting relationships with others, both professionally and socially.

How to improve nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication involves a fast-moving back-and-forth process. This requires you to be fully present in the moment. You’re more likely to miss nonverbal cues if you’re thinking about what to say next, planning your next move, or checking your phone. This can lead to a lack of understanding and a loss of focus on the moment. You can also improve your nonverbal communication skills by managing stress and increasing your emotional awareness.

Learn how to manage stress at the present

Your ability to communicate is affected by stress. Stress can cause you to misunderstand others, send confusing and off-putting nonverbal messages, and fall into unhealthy, knee-jerk behavior. Remember that emotions can be contagious. It is possible to cause others distress by being upset.

Take a break if you feel overwhelmed by stress. Before you get back in the conversation, take a moment to calm yourself down. You’ll be able to handle the situation more positively once you have regained your emotional equilibrium.

You can calm down and manage stress the fastest and most effective way is to use your senses. This includes what you hear, see, smell, taste and touch. You can relax quickly and refocus by looking at a photo of your pet or child, or even smelling their favorite scent or listening to music. You may need to try different sensory experiences because everyone reacts differently.

Increase your emotional awareness

To communicate nonverbal cues accurately, you must be aware of your emotions. It is also important to recognize and understand the emotions of others, as well as the true meaning behind their cues. This is where emotional awareness comes into play.

You can be emotionally aware and you can:

  • You can accurately read the emotions and unspoken messages of others by reading them.
  • Send nonverbal signals to build trust and confidence in your relationships.
  • Show compassion and understanding by responding to others.

Many people are disconnected from their emotions, especially strong emotions like anger, sadness, and fear, because they’ve been taught to suppress them. You can deny or numb the feelings but you cannot eliminate them. They are still there, and they still affect your behavior. You can take control of your thoughts and actions by developing emotional awareness and connecting to even the most unpleasant emotions.

How to read body language

Once you have mastered the skills of managing stress and recognizing emotions, you will be able to read nonverbal signals from others. It is also important to:

Be aware of inconsistencies. Nonverbal communication must reinforce what is being stated. Are they saying one thing but using their body language to communicate another? Are they saying “yes” but shaking their heads no?

Consider nonverbal communication signals in a whole. Don’t try to interpret one gesture or nonverbal cue. Take into account all nonverbal signals that you receive, including eye contact, tone of voice, and body language. Consider all of the nonverbal signals they are sending, from eye contact to tone of voice and body language. Are these consistent or inconsistent with what they are actually saying?

Listen to your gut instincts. Do not dismiss them. You may sense that someone isn’t being truthful or that something isn’t right. This could be a sign that there is a mismatch in verbal and nonverbal cues.

Evaluating nonverbal signals

Eye contact Is eye contact made by the person? Is it too intense?

What’s their facial expression? Do they look sombre and unexpressive? Or are they emotionally present and full of interest?

Voice tone – Does the voice convey warmth, confidence and interest?

Body posture and gesture. Are they relaxed or stiff and mobile? Are their shoulders relaxed or tense?

Touch Is there physical contact? Do you think it is appropriate for the situation? Is it making you uncomfortable?

Intensity: Does the person appear flat, cool and disinterested or exuberant and dramatic?

Timing and place . Is information flowing back and forth easily? Are nonverbal responses too fast or too slow?

Sounds Do you hear sounds that show interest, concern or care from the person?

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