Our choice of words can certainly be fine-tuned to deliver the right message to impact our listeners; however, we cannot forget the important role body language plays in everyday communication. Body language can portray an image that reflects on our personal and profession life. A person can be perceived as confident, friendly, approachable, standoffish, arrogant, shy, or lacks leadership even when these perceived images are a misrepresentation of true charter and performance.
In his well-known work, Dr. Albert Mehabrian explained that there are three parts of a message – 3 Vs (verbal, vocal and visual) that impact how a message is received. Visual is focused primarily on body language (55%). Dr. Mehabrian defined body language as facial expression, hand gestures, and postures. Visual is followed by vocal, which is the tone of voice, volume, rate of speech and vocal pitch (38%). Lastly verbal which are the words that were used to deliver the message (7%).
There are six basic facial emotional expressions that humans exhibit including anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Humans have the ability to successfully differentiate between these emotions and identify cross-culturally these emotions.
It is also argued that humans are biologically capable of recognizing threat (flight-fight), such as that conveyed by a fearful or angry facial expression. We have a heightened sense of rapid detection of angry facial expressions compared to happy expressions. Recognition does not translate into accuracy. We must be aware that there are pre-existing assumptions or experiences that might have an affect on how we translate these facial expressions.
While eye contact is important in connecting with the other person during a conversation, it can be perceived as rude in certain cultures or even intimidating and hostile when prolonged during interactions.
We are often told that an indication of a person’s deception is lack of eye contact; however, this theory does not take into consideration the various cultural backgrounds that consider eye contact as disrespectful. Furthermore, this theory does not take into consideration that some people are shy or introverted feeling more comfortable with avoiding eye contact. Contrary to common belief, people that are habitual lairs will likely overcompensate their behavior through added effort to make eye contact and hold eye contact longer.
Eye gaze direction
Humans have the tendency to follow the gaze direction of others. This gives cues to discovering what people are interested in or what their intentions are. A study by Bayliss et al. (2006), showed that this human tendency to follow the directional gaze of others is automatic and difficult to suppress even when interacting with individuals that gaze repeatedly in the wrong direction. Individuals that gazed in the wrong direction were ultimately rated as less trustworthy. Eye gazing can also convert attention and become a source of distraction.
Different features vary in the way that they contribute to the recognition of the different expressions. Where information from the eyes contributes to fear, anger and sadness, and recognition, information from the mouth contributes to the recognition of happy, surprise and disgust.
Mirroring is the act of unconsciously mimicking of the behavior of an individual that being is observing.
Mirroring of facial expression
Mirroring of facial expression creates a sense of empathy with the speaker feeling listened to and connected with through the listener.
Mirroring of speech
Mirroring of speech creates alignment with communications with vocabulary and grammar.
Mirroring of gestures
The mirroring of gestures have been shown to lead individuals to feel friendly towards the other individual in a conversation.
Mirroring of movements
The positive effects of mirroring are experienced only when the person is unaware of the imitation. Multiple studies have shown that the signals perceived have different affects depending on whether or not the they are consciously perceived.
Mirroring is a good habit to employ especially when building relationships; however one must be aware that mirroring if affected by a number of factors, including the social context and the relationship between the observed and the observer. Intentional mirroring an be perceived as mimicking or mocking someone which certainly will not leave a good impression.
Do you have some tips on how to use body language to better connect with others?
Leave your comments, I’d love to hear from you!
Lakin J. L., Chartrand T. L. 2003Using nonconscious behavioral mimicry to create affiliation and rapport. Psychol. Sci. 14, 334–339 doi:10.1111/1467-9280.14481
Wells LJ, Gillespie SM, Rotshtein P. Identification of Emotional Facial Expressions: Effects of Expression, Intensity, and Sex on Eye Gaze. Key A, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(12):e0168307. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0168307.
Frith C. Role of facial expressions in social interactions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2009;364(1535):3453-3458. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0142.
Wegrzyn M, Vogt M, Kireclioglu B, Schneider J, Kissler J. Mapping the emotional face. How individual face parts contribute to successful emotion recognition. Pavlova MA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(5):e0177239. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0177239.