BODY LANGUAGE: The handshake
Communication is how people exchange information with each other such as their thought, feelings, and so much more. Did you know that only about half of your communication is done with your mouth? While it is very important to speak with correct grammar and great vocabulary, sometime what we do not say is just as important. At least half of what you want to say to someone is communicated to them through your body language.
What does body language even mean? It is all the things you do with your body to express your feelings and thoughts. This includes things like facial expressions, body posture, eye movement, touch, the use of space, and a lot more.
Before we even get to what to do with your body, we have to talk about the first thing we usually do when meeting someone: Shake hands. You might not think of this as body language, but it is, and it can say a whole lot about you. A good firm handshake is appropriate in a lot of countries. You want to grip the hand in a solid manner that is firm but will not hurt the person whose hand you are shaking. This is also the first time, but not the last time, you will see this warning in the article: This might change depending on what country/culture you are in. For example, in Muslims countries men and women may not shake hands. Likewise in India. In America it is expected that you will shake the hands of both men and women. There is a way to get around this. If they are aware that you are not comfortable shaking hands because of your religion/custom, you can place your hand on your heart. While this is not universal, it will be understood by most people as you refusing to shake their hand in a polite manner.
BODY LANGUAGE: Personal Space and our arms
One of the most important parts of body language, and one that can be different depending on what country/culture you come from, is use of space. In places like America, the idea of personal space is very important. If you are standing too close to someone when you are speaking to them, that person will think you are being aggressive. They might say that you are “getting in their face” about something. This means that they think you are getting ready to fight them! At the same time, if you stand too far away from them they might think you are not interested in what they have to say, or that something is wrong with your health. The best idea is to stand about two feet away from the person you are talking to. This shows them that you are interested in what they have to say and gives them enough personal space to feel comfortable.
So now that we are a good distances away from the person we are talking to, let’s talk about how we are going to stand or sit while talking to them. The posture of your body says a lot about what you are thinking or feeling. Even sitting or standing can communicate a lot to someone. If you are standing, you need to make sure you are standing straight. Do not put your hands in your pocket. This might be a sign to someone that you are not interested in what they are saying. Do not fold your arms in front of you. This makes your body seemed closed off, and that would tell someone that you are not interested in what they are saying and possibly even a bit mad about it! The best thing to do is stand with your arms at your side, or hold your hands together in front of you. This tells the person that you are interested, or at least your body.
BODY LANGUAGE: Where and how we sit
If you are sitting, you need to be carefully about what you are doing with your legs. A lot of people like to kick or tap their legs/feet while they are sitting. This is what we call a nervous habit. Most people do it without even thinking about it. For most people, this is a sign of impatience or anger in the person they are talking to. Both of these are not thing you want to communicate by accident. Just like with standing, you want to sit up straight. Your arms should be on the arm rests, in your lap or on your knees. If the chair you are in has wheels or can swivel, make sure you stay in one spot! Don’t twist from side to side or use your feet to move the chair.
If possible, you want to sit across from the person you are talking to if you are the same gender. This is a way for you to put yourself on the same level as the person and it tells them that you respect them. In Western countries it would be considered strange for you to sit next to the person you are talking to if another option is there. This is the issue of personal space that we talked about before. Likewise, if you are the opposite gender of the person you are talking to it might be considered aggressive or just inappropriate.
To make things even more complicated, sometimes it might not be okay to sit across from someone. This is usually only an issue if a man and woman are talking. If you are at a table with someone, sitting to a just to the left or right of the seat directly across from them can tell them that you are not aggressive. Please note that this is only an issue if a man is joining a woman at the table and usually it is only for sensitive discussions were emotions and feelings are going to be the topic. If this is a job interview or a business meeting, it is best to sit directly across from the person regardless of gender.
BODY LANGUAGE: The face
Now we are sitting or standing. We have our arms in place, and we are ready to listen. We have also come to the last and maybe most important part of body language: Our face. This includes our eyes and mouth most importantly. Our eyes say things we are not aware off, pretty much all the time. There is even something called micro aggressions that we might do by accident, without even thinking about, with our eyes. We are not going to worry about those because they are hard to control. More importantly, they are hard for most people to notice. Instead, we are going to focus on the things we can control. If you are speaking with someone, look them in the eyes. While this might change from country to country, in most countries it is considered a sign of respect to look the person you are talking to in the eyes. If you are very shy and cannot handle this, trying looking at the top of their head. You are still making contact with them in some way.
Lowering your eyes while talking or just looking down is thought by many to be a sign a lying. Looking up too. If you need to think before speaking, just make sure to keep that eye contact at all times.
It is important to smile while you are speaking to, if it is appropriate. If someone is telling you something sad, don’t smile! Then you want to show sympathy for what they are saying using you mouth and eyes. This will say more then you words ever could. But if your conversation is a normal conversation, a slight smile will do. Or at the very least, do not frown. If you are not sure what a frown is, think of a smile. Now turn it upside down on your face. That is a frown, and it is very rude.
This is just a starting point for body language. You should look on the internet for helpful suggestions about body language in the country/culture you are in. The first few websites that you see should offer helpful suggestions for cultural appropriate hints.