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Body Language. Picking Up and Understanding Nonverbal Signals. Lauren sighed. She'd just received an email from her boss, Gus, saying that the product.
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Learn how to read and use body language in ways that build better relationships at home and work.

Body language is a type of a nonverbal communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey the information. Such behavior includes facial expressions , body posture, gestures , eye movement, touch and the use of space. Body language exists in both animals and humans, but this article focuses on interpretations of human body language. It is also known as kinesics.

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Body language must not be confused with sign language , as sign languages are full languages like spoken languages and have their own complex grammar systems, as well as being able to exhibit the fundamental properties that exist in all languages. In a society, there are agreed-upon interpretations of particular behavior.

Interpretations may vary from country to country, or culture to culture. On this note, there is controversy on whether body language is universal. Body language, a subset of nonverbal communication, complements verbal communication in social interaction. In fact some researchers conclude that nonverbal communication accounts for the majority of information transmitted during interpersonal interactions.


Facial expression is integral when expressing emotions through the body. Combinations of eyes , eyebrow , lips, nose, and cheek movements help form different moods of an individual example happy, sad, depressed, angry, etc. A few studies show that facial expression and bodily expression body language are congruent when interpreting emotions. This means that the brain processes the other's facial and bodily expressions simultaneously.

This is because the face and the body are normally seen together in their natural proportions and the emotional signals from the face and body are well integrated. For example, a lack of crinkles around the eyes suggests a potentially fake smile. At one point, researchers believed that making a genuine smile was nearly impossible to do on command.

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When you're smiling joyfully, they crinkle. When you're faking it, they don't. If someone's trying to look happy but really isn't, you won't see the wrinkles. More recently, a study from Northeastern University researchers found that people could do a pretty good job of faking a Duchenne smile , even when they weren't feeling especially happy.

Besides, the body language of the eye has several implications. For instance, the research approved that, the person has no control over of his pupils , and the pupils expanded when someone interested in the other person, or looking at something. Normally, one's eyes need to instinctively blink at around times per minute, but merely looking at a person or object the viewer finds "attractive" can slow this rate down.

Emotions can also be detected through body postures. Research has shown that body postures are more accurately recognised when an emotion is compared with a different or neutral emotion. Comparing this to a person feeling fearful: they would feel weak, submissive and their posture would display avoidance tendencies, [9] the opposite of an angry person.

Sitting or standing postures also indicate one's emotions. A person sitting till the back of their chair, leans forward with their head nodding along with the discussion implies that they are open, relaxed and generally ready to listen. On the other hand, a person who has their legs and arms crossed with the foot kicking slightly implies that they are feeling impatient and emotionally detached from the discussion. In a standing discussion, a person stands with arms akimbo with feet pointed towards the speaker could suggest that they are attentive and is interested in the conversation.

However, a small difference in this posture could mean a lot. Gestures are movements made with body parts example hands, arms, fingers, head, legs and they may be voluntary or involuntary. In a discussion, when one stands, sits or even walks with folded arms, it is normally not a welcoming gesture. It could mean that they have a closed mind and are most likely unwilling to listen to the speaker's viewpoint. Another type of arm gesture also includes an arm crossed over the other, demonstrating insecurity and a lack of confidence.

The shrug is a good example of a universal gesture that is used to show that a person doesn't understand what you are saying.

Body Language Signal #1: The Head

Hand gestures often signify the state of well-being of the person making them. Relaxed hands indicate confidence and self-assurance, while clenched hands may be interpreted as signs of stress or anger. If a person is wringing their hands, this demonstrates nervousness and anxiety. Finger gestures are also commonly used to exemplify one's speech as well as denote the state of well-being of the person making them.

In certain cultures, pointing using one's index finger is deemed acceptable. Instead, they point with their thumbs. But this same gesture is insulting in other countries like Iran, Bangladesh and Thailand, where it is the equivalent of showing the middle finger in the US.

In most cultures the Head Nod is used to signify 'Yes' or agreement. It's a stunted form of bowing — the person symbolically goes to bow but stops short, resulting in a nod. Bowing is a submissive gesture so the Head Nod shows we are going along with the other person's point of view.

Body language in business: Decoding the signals

Research conducted with people who were born deaf and blind shows that they also use this gesture to signify 'Yes', so it appears to be an inborn gesture of submission. Handshakes are regular greeting rituals and commonly done on meeting, greeting, offering congratulations or after the completion of an agreement. They usually indicate the level of confidence and emotion level in people.

Handshakes are popular in the United States and are appropriate for use between men and women. However, in Muslim cultures, men may not shake hands or touch women in any way and vice versa. Likewise, in Hindu cultures, Hindu men may never shake hands with women. Instead, they greet women by placing their hands as if praying. A firm, friendly handshake has long been recommended in the business world as a way to make a good first impression, and the greeting is thought to date to ancient times as a way of showing a stranger you had no weapons.

Body language related to breathing and patterns of breathing can be indicative of a person's mood and state of mind; because of this, the relationship between body language and breathing is often considered in contexts such as business meetings and presentations. Generally, deeper breathing which uses the diaphragm and abdomen more is interpreted as conveying a relaxed and confident impression; by contrast, shallow, excessively rapid breathing is often interpreted as conveying a more nervous or anxious impression.

Some business advisers, such as those who promote neuro-linguistic programming , recommend mirroring a person's breathing pattern in order to convey an impression of mutual understanding. Covering one's mouth suggests suppression of feeling and perhaps uncertainty.

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This could also mean that they are thinking hard and may be unsure of what to say next. Unfortunately, many people send confusing or negative nonverbal signals without even knowing it. When this happens, both connection and trust are damaged. Oculesics, a subcategory of body language, is the study of eye movement, eye behavior, gaze, and eye-related nonverbal communication.

As a social or behavioral science, oculesics is a form of nonverbal communication focusing on deriving meaning from eye behavior. For example, in traditional Anglo-Saxon culture, avoiding eye contact usually portrays a lack of confidence, certainty, or truthfulness. Haptics, a subcategory of Body Language, is the study of touching and how it is used in communication. Based on the Body Language Project, [19] touching is the most developed sense at birth and formulates our initial views of the world.

Why body language is important in business communications

Touching can be used to sooth, for amusement during play, to flirt, to express power and maintain bonds between people, such as with baby and mother. Touching can carry distinct emotions and also show the intensity of those emotions. Touch absent of other cues can signal anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude and sympathy depending on the length and type of touching that is performed.

Many factors also contribute to the meaning of touching such as the length of the touch and location on the body in which the touching takes place. Research has also shown that people can accurately decode distinct emotions by merely watching others communicate via touch. Heslin outlines five haptic categories: [21]. Donald Walton [22] stated in his book that touching is the ultimate expression of closeness or confidence between two people, but not seen often in business or formal relationships.

Touching stresses how special the message is that is being sent by the initiator. A study by Jones and Yarbrough [23] regarded communication with touch as the most intimate and involving form which helps people to keep good relationships with others. For example, Jones and Yarbrough explained that strategic touching is a series of touching usually with an ulterior or hidden motive thus making them seem to be using touch as a game to get someone to do something for them. Another notable area in the nonverbal world of body language is that of spatial relationships, which is also known as Proxemics.

Introduced by Edward T. Hall in , proxemics is the study of measurable distances between people as they interact with one another. Hall also came up with four distinct zones in which most men operate: [26].

How To Read Body Language: 7 Unconscious & Revealing Signals

In addition to physical distance, the level of intimacy between conversants can be determined by "socio-petal socio-fugal axis", or the "angle formed by the axis of the conversants' shoulders". For example, when people talk they like to face each other. If forced to sit side by side, their body language will try to compensate for this lack of eye-to-eye contact by leaning in shoulder-to-shoulder. It is important to note that as with other types of Body Language, proximity range varies with culture. Hall suggested that "physical contact between two people In Latin America , people who may be complete strangers may engage in very close contact.

They often greet one another by kissing on the cheeks. North Americans , on the other hand, prefer to shake hands. While they have made some physical contact with the shaking of the hand, they still maintain a certain amount of physical space between the other person. Particular tones of voice are linked with particular types of body language.