Table of Contents Hide
- IT’S IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO COMMUNICATE
- HOW TO UNDERSTAND AND USE “PERSONAL SPACE”
- HOW POSTURE AND GESTURES INFLUENCE COMMUNICATION
- UNDERSTANDING OTHERS THROUGH FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
- PARALANGUAGE – WHAT ARE WE REALLY SAYING?
- THE IMPORTANCE OF TOUCH
- REMEMBER, HOW YOU LOOK IS A FORM OF COMMUNICATION
- BODY TYPES INFLUENCE PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS
- TEN POINTS TO REMEMBER
- FIVE ACTION STEPS TO PERSUADE OTHERS THROUGH YOUR BODY SIGNALS
To begin our discussion on body signals or non-verbal communication, let’s follow a typical middle-class married male through his day to show how he produces and processes non-verbal human communication.
First of all, he begins each day by preparing himself as a non-verbal message to the world: He shaves (and/or trims his beard or mustache), he uses toothpaste, soap, and deodorant to send out messages of smell; he may then add after-shave or cologne; he combs his hair into a style that is current, or at least acceptable to those he meets.
He may display some jewelry – wedding ring, class ring, tie tack, or gold chains. The jewelry – can be used to display wealth, taste, political leaning, or to define the situation (work, leisure, formal, casual). Both his male and female friends use an array of cosmetics to enhance their best features, to cover blemishes, and to accent the features that are currently popular.
A person dresses not only for protection from the elements but are a statement about himself. And so we match our outfits to the events of the day: play or work, formal or informal, important or unimportant. Our dress reflects the way we feel about ourselves, the way we feel generally: happy or sad, youthful and mature, fashionable or conservative. Our clothing may accent our best features or disguise those that are not so great.
While dressing, our typical male may be listening to music or watching TV. Breakfast is announced by the smell of bacon and eggs or the aroma of coffee. Or perhaps his breakfast comes from very bright, colorful packages. His partner’s facial expression may tell him whether
he should talk, or read the paper. It may also determine whether he will compliment her or complain.
At work, he interacts with friends and associates by shaking their hands to communicate a greeting or an agreement. He nods to friends and waves to associates. He shows approval with a smile and disapproval with a frown. As he verbalizes, he talks with his hands. He regulates his interactions with a complex pattern of eye contact, head nods, and body movements. He also decodes the body movements of others: their status, their likes or dislikes, or their willingness to communicate. He meets people and makes immediate judgments about their competency and honesty. He makes persuasive attempts to present himself with his best foot forward.
He returns home pleased or displeased about what his home has to say about his station in life. He notices that order or disorder of the room and tries to detect the odor coming from the kitchen. He hugs his partner and then relaxes in front of the TV. He knows the theme song to his favorite show, and that the good guys wear while hats. The background music tells him when to feel tension or suspense. Perhaps his partner is wearing his favorite perfume and gives him a seductive look. This may bring about a whole set of courtship and touching behaviors, or it may bring about a most eloquent nonverbal snore!
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO COMMUNICATE
The above example shows the impossibility of not communicating. Each of us is a transmitter that is impossible to shut off. No matter what we do, we send out messages about ourselves. The fact that you, and everyone around you, are constantly sending out nonverbal clues is important because it means that you have a constant source of information available about yourself and others. If you can tune in to
these signals, you’ll be more aware of how those around you are feeling and thinking, and you’ll be better able to respond to what they say.
Knowing that people express their feelings by their actions is important to keep in mind when you notice that someone is often expressing, simultaneously, different or contradictory messages in their verbal and nonverbal behavior. A common example of this sort of “double message” is the experience we’ve all had of hearing someone with a red face and bulging veins yelling, “Angry?” No, I’m not angry!” As we discuss the different kinds of nonverbal communication throughout this chapter, I’ll also point out a number of ways in which people contradict themselves by conscious and unconscious behaviors. What you’ll gain is a better idea of how others feel, even when they can’t or won’t tell you with their words.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND AND USE “PERSONAL SPACE”
We each walk around inside a kind of private bubble that represents the amount of airspace we feel we must have between other people and ourselves. This can be easily demonstrated by moving in gradually on another person. At some point the other person will begin, irritably or absentmindedly, to back away. Edward Hall, a professor from Northwestern University, first commented on these strong feelings about personal space and has developed the study of proxemics – the study of how we unconsciously structures microspace. Hall has hypothesized a whole scale of distances; each felt to be appropriate in this country for a particular kind of relationship.
An Intimate distance is up to 18 inches apart. This is the distance for such interactions as wrestling or lovemaking or intimate talk. At this range people communicate not only by words but also by touch, smell,
and body heat. Each person is aware of how fast the other is breathing, and of changes in the color and texture of the skin. A proximity between 1 ½ to 2 ½ feet is what Hall calls personal distance. It approximates the size of the personal space bubble in a non-contact culture such as ours.
A wife can comfortably stand inside her husband’s bubble, but she may feel uneasy if another woman tries it. A distance of 2 ½ to 4 feet, within arm’s length, for most people, is still considered within the range of personal distance, but it is the limit of physical domination. This far range of personal distance is appropriate for discussing personal matters.
A distance of 4 to 7 feet is called close social distance. In an office, people who work together normally stand this far apart to talk. Far- phase social distance, 7 to 12 feet, goes with formal conversation. Desks of important people are usually big enough to hold visitors at this distance. Above 12 feet, one gets into public distances that are appropriate for speech making and for very formal styles of speaking.
Hall believes that human beings not only have strong feelings about space but also a real biological need for enough elbowroom. Crowding definitely influences behavior, and it influences men and women differently. Men, when crowded together in a small room, tend to become suspicious and combative. Women tend to become friendlier and more intimate with one another; they’re apt to like each other better and to find the whole experience more pleasant than if the meeting were in a larger room.
Psychological studies have shown that people choose to stand closer to someone they like than to someone they don’t. Friends stand closer together than acquaintances do, and acquaintances closer together than strangers. Space, then, communicates. When a number of people
cluster together in a conversational group (at a party, for example) each individual expresses his position in the group by where he stands. When the group settles into a particular configuration and all the shifting has stopped, it’s a sign that nonverbal negotiations are over. All concerned have arrived at a general (but not permanent) agreement on the level of intimacy that’s to be maintained. The way people use space can communicate a good deal about power and status relationships. Generally we grant people with higher status more personal territory and greater privacy.
By observing the way people position themselves, you can learn a good deal about how they feel. Next time you’re in a crowded room where people can choose whom to face directly, try observing who seems to be included in the action and who is being subtly shut out. And in the same way, pay attention to your own body orientation. You may be surprised to discover that you‘re avoiding a certain person without being conscious of it, or that at times you’re turning your back on people altogether. If this is the case, it may be helpful to figure out why. Are you avoiding an unpleasant situation that needs clearing up, communicating annoyance or dislike for the other, or sending some other message? The general rule is, facing someone directly signals your interest, and facing away signals a desire to avoid involvement.
HOW POSTURE AND GESTURES INFLUENCE COMMUNICATION
Another way we communicate non-verbally is through our posture. The main reason we miss most posture messages is because they aren’t very obvious. It’s seldom that a person who feels weighted down by problem hunches over so much that he stands out in a crowd. And when we’re bored, we usually don’t lean back and slump enough to embarrass the other person. The key is to look for small changes that might be indications of the way people feel inside.
I work hard to make my talks entertaining, but nobody’s perfect, and I do have my off days. I can tell when I’m not doing a good job of communicating by picking out two or three people in different parts of the audience before I start my talk and watching how they sit throughout my presentation. As long as they’re leaning forward, I know I’m doing okay, but if I see them starting to slump back, I know I’d better change my approach.
In addition to indicating interest or boredom, postures can also be a key to feelings of tension and relaxation. We take relaxed postures in non- threatening situations and tighten up when threatened. Thus we can tell a good deal about how others feel simply by watching how tense or loose they seem to be.
Gestures are another good source of nonverbal communication. Most of us, at least unconsciously, know that the face is the most obvious channel of expressing emotions, and so we’re especially careful to control our facial expressions when trying to hide our feelings. But most of us are less aware of the ways we move our hands, legs, and feet.
Because of this, these movements are better indicators of how we truly feel. It’s possible to observe anger by looking beyond the smile and noticing the whitened knuckles and clenched fists. People may talk about how open and honest they want to be, but their real message may come through the gestures of talking from behind a hand or crossing their arms across their chest. Movements such as stroking or combing the hair, glancing in a mirror, or rearranging clothing are called preening behaviors and are often signals of sexual interest in another person. There are also lies of omission in gestures. This is shown by the person who tells you he’s happy or excited while sitting motionless with hands, arms, legs, and posture signaling boredom, discomfort, or fatigue.
UNDERSTANDING OTHERS THROUGH FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
The face and eyes are probably the most noticed parts of the body, but are the hardest to read for a number of reasons. First, it’s hard to describe the number and kind of expressions we use. Also, facial expressions change very quickly, some fleeting across the face in a fifth of a second. However, you can still pick up messages by watching faces. Look for expressions that seem to be overdone. Often when someone is trying to fool himself or another, he’ll emphasize his mask to a point where it seems to be too exaggerated to be true. Another way to detect a person’s feelings is to watch his expression at moments when he isn’t likely to be thinking about his appearance. Finally, you can watch for contradictory expressions on different parts of someone’s face. His eyes say one thing, but the expression of his mouth or eyebrows may be sending a conflicting message.
The eyes themselves can send several kinds of messages. Meeting someone’s glance with your eyes is usually a sign of involvement, while looking away signals a desire to avoid contact. This is why beggars on the street try to catch your eye. Once they’ve made contact, it’s harder for the approached person to draw away. The eyes communicate a positive or negative attitude; also dominance or submission. We’ve all played the game of trying to stare someone down, and in real life there are times when downcast eyes are a sign of giving in.
Even the pupils of our eyes communicate. A person’s pupils grown larger in proportion to the degree of interest they have in an object. Thus a good salesman can increase his profits by being aware of pupil dilation.
PARALANGUAGE – WHAT ARE WE REALLY SAYING?
The voice itself is another channel of nonverbal communication. It’s not the words, but how we say them. By changing the word emphasis, we can change the entire meaning of what is being said.
There are a number of other ways our voice communicates: through its tone, speed, pitch, number and length of pauses, volume, and sounds such as stammering, the use of uh, um, er, and so on). All these factors together are called paralanguage, and they can do a great deal to reinforce or contradict the message our words convey. Communication through paralanguage isn’t always intentional. Often our voices give us away when we’ve trying to create an impression different from our actual feelings. For example, you’ve probably had the experience of trying to sound calm and serene when you were really exploding with inner nervousness. Maybe your deception went along perfectly for a while – just the right smile, no telltale fidgeting of the hands, posture appearing relaxed – and then, without being able to do a thing about it, right in the middle of your relaxed comments, your voice squeaked and the charade was over. The point here is to be conscious of our paralanguage, which reinforces or contradicts our true message.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TOUCH
Touching, in addition to being the earliest means we have of making contact with others, is also essential to our healthy development. Touch plays a crucial part in expressing encouragement or tenderness, showing support or praise, as well as many other things. It seems that the more self-confidence a person has, and the better his self-image, the more likely he is to reach out to others.
People are more likely to touch when they give information, give an order, ask a favor, try to persuade, engage in deep conversation, communicate excitement, or receive messages of worry and concern. Touch may be of a functional-professional nature (the intent is non- personal, businesslike, and task-oriented), or it may be socially polite, as in the handshake; it may be friendship and warmth (this shows liking and recognizing the other’s uniqueness), or it may be love and intimacy, which shows emotional attachment.
Recent research indicates that there is a feeling among many people that an element of warmth is missing from their lives, which they want to recapture. Since studies show that physical contact is essential for healthy development, we may find the society we live in is beginning to place more importance on touching.
REMEMBER, HOW YOU LOOK IS A FORM OF COMMUNICATION
Another way of advertising yourself to others is through your attire. Choice of clothing communicates some definite information about the person living in them. Sometimes people relate to you prompted only by the clothes you wear. And remember that for most it is a common experience that when you look good, you feel good. Proper attire and grooming affect your attitude and behavior.
Many books sand articles have been written on how to dress, but generally speaking, in most professions, conservative styles, colors, and patterns will win out over whatever the latest fashion magazines are suggesting for the season. Conservative dress conveys to others that you have the situation in control and that others do not easily influence you. It is true that the person inside the clothes is more important than the clothes themselves, but remember how you look when you say anything is more important than what you say.
BODY TYPES INFLUENCE PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS
Now what about the person inside of those clothes? For quite some time researchers have been attempting to establish a correlation between body types and certain personality characteristics. There are three main categories of body types. The first is endomorph. These people are soft, round, tend to be overweight, and are perceived as more talkative, good-natured, agreeable, and trusting. The second category is mesomorph. These people are bony, muscular, athletic, and are perceived as being more adventurous, good-looking, nature, and self- reliant. The third category is ectomorph. You would describe these people as being tall, thin, and fragile, and they are perceived as being more tense, nervous, pessimistic, difficult and quiet.
Keep in mind that these are broad definitions and that personality characteristics are not always associated with the body types as they are listed. Body types occur in a large number of combinations of the three basic categories. Shapes and sizes are controlled, to varying degrees, by heredity, diet, or level of physical activity. However, there is a sufficient level of confidence in the accuracy of the findings to warrant some serious thought. It is true that the physique constitutes only a partial statement of who and what you are, but nonetheless, it is a nonverbal message that can be especially significant when it is a first impression. People who manage to stay in good physical condition present a favorable initial impression. They appear to others as being disciplined and able to take command of any business or personal encounter.
If you are not in the shape you would like to be, regular attention to proper nutrition and exercise should remedy the situation. As we said,
when you look good, you feel good. This is especially true of your physical condition.
Other body aspects also come into play when first impressions are formed. Your choice of cologne of perfume has a great influence on how people react to your presence.
Careful selection and application of these products can enhance your position with your business associates. They will notice that you are wearing something unique that sets you apart from others when they come in contact with you during the workday.
Personal habits that involve offensive odors always carry over into the work environment. If you are a cigar, pipe, or cigarette smoker, or enjoy eating onions and garlic, you might want to be aware of how these habits affect the people with whom you interact. If you have ever worked with someone with bad breath or offensive body odor, you know exactly what nonverbal communication really is!
TEN POINTS TO REMEMBER
As we draw this discussion of body signals of the super persuader to a close, there are some points to reemphasize. First, in a normal two- person conversation, 7% of the impact results from what people say, 38% from how they say it, and 55% from how they look while saying it. This may have been previously hard for you to believe, but now you know how many channels of nonverbal communication there are: distance, touch, body posture and tension, facial expression, hand and body movement, dress, physique, tone of voice, speed of speech, as well as manner of speech. These are the ten ways to make your body say what it means.
You should now understand the importance of congruency Contradicting messages from two channels are a pretty good indicator of deliberate or unconscious deception, and matching signals reinforce your messages. This new awareness of the messages you and others send will help you understand and improve your ability to persuade and communicate with others.
FIVE ACTION STEPS TO PERSUADE OTHERS THROUGH YOUR BODY SIGNALS
- The most useful and effective from of body language is your smile. A genuine smile implies sincerity – and that is usually associated with a willingness to be fair and equitable.
- Handshakes transmit your self-image. A person with high self- esteem has a firm, confident handshake, while someone who suffers from an inferiority complex will reflect that condition. Let handshaking work to your advantage by doing it with firmness, directness, and conviction, while maintaining direct eye contact.
- The most convincing body position to show invulnerability is to be open and vulnerable. Extend your arms out, with your shoulders back rather than hunched. Expand your body into more space rather than trying to shrink it and withdraw within yourself.
- In your speech, make use of the “pause.” Don’t fear silence when you are thinking of the right words to say to give birth a new idea. Stop – move – look pensive. All of this communicates that your next idea is very important, even when you’re not sure what it’s going to say!
- Maintain congruency between the words you say and what your body is communicating. In this way you are establishing trust and conviction in your ideas as you communicate with self-confidence.