Among the many different ways that we as human beings communicate with one another, nonverbal communication is one of the most common yet most unnoticed form of communication. Also described as body language, nonverbal communication can be the slightest facial expression or just the certain position of your body in a conversation. Without even realizing it, your body language can show feelings of happiness, awkwardness, nervousness and much more. Furthermore, the study of the movement, facial expressions and posture is called kinesics. Having the skill to understand kinesics is a fundamental tool in all aspects of life. Being able to read other’s body language can help you in a number of situations. By learning more about kinetics, you can open your eyes to a whole new way of reading others as well as presenting yourself appropriately for a given situation. In order to utilize any nonverbal communication skills effectively, you must first be familiar with what it exactly means as well as to recognize what each motion or signal symbolizes.
These signals could be anything from the twitch of a nose, to a gaze of the eyes or just the fiddling of hair. To be completely knowledgeable about studying one’s actions, you must learn the deeper meaning behind each gesture. That’s not to say, however, that each signal means the same for everyone in every situation. Noticing that your spouse is not making eye contact with you does not necessarily signify that she or she is telling a lie, although that may be a possibility.
Generalizations such as avoiding eye contact or fidgeting to indicate that a person is lying are simply what many studies have shown to be more than likely true in a number of cases. There is much debate as to whether or not non-verbal communication skills should be taught as an aid for medical uses. Of course those in professions such as the psychiatric field, gain a trained eye to notice certain feelings of their patients, but there is question about if the skill is even a teachable subject. A reason being because there doesn’t seem to be any real answer or strict guideline to every action or expression, especially when it comes to discussing the differences between cultures.
Yourself and certain gestures that you make can be considered as strange or even insulting. Take eye contact for example. Most people who have grown up in not only the United States, but most Western cultures, use eye contact in a positive way. When making eye contact with someone who you are speaking with, it shows that you are listening and paying close attention to what they are saying. Also, it shows a sense of respect, where the elder in a situation prefers the child to be looking them in the eye while being scolded, showing that they are understanding and paying attention to a lecture. On the other hand, there are negative connotations regarding eye contact when it is being avoided.
Usually when someone is not looking you in the eye while speaking to you, it gives a sense that the person is not being truthful. This scenario takes a whole three-hundred-sixty degree change in the minds of other cultures. For example, some Caribbean cultures find eye contact to be offensive. They believe that when a child is being scolded, they should not make eye contact. It is a sign of disrespect, as the child is expected to lower their eyes and show complete remorse.
Aside from eye contact, there is a whole spectrum of differences in common gestures between cultures. In many cases, Americans especially fail to understand that the world is very different from the United States. In America, the “Rock On” symbol is made by closing a fist while leaving only the index and pinky finger extended. Commonly used when listening to music or maybe simply during an exciting situation. On the other hand, traveling to Italy and preforming this hand gesture is not only insulting, but is considered an offense. In Italy, it is a sign that when given by a man to another man symbolizes that “other men are in relations with his wife”, which is obviously a huge sign of disrespect as well as a personal insult.
There are many ways in which cultures differ when it comes to body language, but there are a few universal expressions that are the same across the board. British scientist, Charles Darwin, was the first to recognize the six basic facial expressions as being the same all over the world. They are happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, and anger. Darwin first made these claims in his book titled The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Darwin’s idea about the six facial gestures was later put together in a study in the 1960’s by Paul Ekman. Ekman was a psychiatrist expert in facial expressions and decided to test the validity of Darwin’s theory. He found that all men, even those from isolated tribes, were able to recognize all six expressions for what they were, proving Darwin correct.
Not only is it important to understand what messages you body language sends while you are in other cultures, but it may be even more important to learn how to carry and present yourself in the workplace. Knowing what sends off confident and powerful signals to your boss or employees can be a key factor in your performance and enables others to take you seriously. It could even be what makes or breaks you being accepted for a position you are applying for. As everyone knows, first impressions are incredibly strong and lasting. Before an interview is begun, there is almost always a handshake with the interviewer. Even before that, theres the moment that you are walking up to that person and your strut and presence or lack of fidgeting approaching the handshake sends signals before you can even present your credentials. They will note if you carry yourself confidently and especially if your handshake is firm or limp.
When asked what percentage of communication comes from actual words and speaking, most would think it’s a high percentage. In actuality, only a surprising 7% of communication is derived from words. That leaves 38% to vocal details such as the tone, speed, or volume while speaking. So interestingly enough, 55% of communication is the reading and sending of body language signals. Now the signals that you send may give away what your feeling, or they could be a complete misrepresentation. This is why it is in your best interest to make note of how others are seeing you, so you can make any necessary changes to your behavior. This is obviously easier said than done, especially if you are among those who have always been the nervous type and tend to perspire or fidget.
Fortunately, knowing what your faults are and having the knowledge to correct them can result in making a complete change and eventually landing that promotion that you have sought after for so long. First, understanding the importance of eye contact in crucial. One step of effectively making this connection with an audience is knowing the material you are presenting. If you are constantly referring back to your powerpoint or notes, your obviously not making eye contact which in turn creates a distance that is imperative to avoid. Another tactic is to rid of all objects that could count as a barrier. Standing behind a podium or folder or even crossing your arms will create the distance between you and your audience, and may ultimately end up with a performance that was not your best. Along with making eye contact, it is a good idea to appear animated. Using hand gestures or maybe even moving about the room will create interest which in turn leaves a great impression on the audience.