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Communicating—Reading Body Language

Research indicates that only 7 percent of a message is communicated with words; 55 percent is transmitted via gestures, and the balance — 38 percent — from tone. Clearly, we need to be more adept at reading non-verbal cues, so our perceptive radar can pick up messages accurately.

  1. Body language can be different in different cultures. But in Western societies, there are some clues to the thoughts and feelings of people. Here are some common body postures and what they mean.

    • Crossed legs and arms. Not open to your ideas. Defensive.

    • Darting eyes. Anxious or lacking confidence.

    • Staring. Person is not hearing you.

    • Eyes up at top left. Figuring a way to outmanoeuvre you. May be lying.

    • Eyes up at top right. Trying to figure something out. Conceptual, silent problem-solving.

    • Hands on hips or hip jutted out. Confident, almost arrogant. Challenging.

    • Hands at side. Neutral.

    • Hands closed in a fig-leaf position. Could indicate a closed attitude.

    • Jacket buttoned up. Formal.

    • Jacket unbuttoned. Open, informal.

    • Leaning forward. Acceptance and interest in what you're saying.

    • Leaning back, arms behind head. Contemplative, skeptical, possibly with reservations; relaxed.

    • Looking over top of eyeglasses. Evaluative, skeptical.

    • Open hands, palms down. Demanding.

    • Open hands, palms up. Wanting, needing.

    • Hands on the table. Willingness to get things done.

    • Slouch. Low self-esteem.

    • Slow blink. Person doesn't enjoy being there.

    • Smile. Enjoyment, pleasure.

    • Head angled down. Shame, shyness, or lying.

    • Head back. Arrogance or a sense of superiority.

    • Head cocked to the side. Interested or listening; acceptance of your idea.

  2. In using body language, try always to show a positive, open approach to encourage reciprocity. The best combination might be leaning slightly forward, cocking your head slightly to the side, keeping your arms at your side, and smiling.


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