Body Language in Communication: What Do Your Gestures Say?

Body Language-An Introduction

BodyWhile speaking at a large International conference recently, I was asked by lots of people why I made certain gestures while I was presenting. People get very intrigued about this kind of thing, especially when talking about body language and non-verbal communication as I was So I write today about body language in communication in relation to gestures in particular.

Who Are The Connoisseurs Of Body Language?

One set of people who really know about body language in communication are dancers. Recently, I had the opportunity of working with a well known dancer, who was demonstrating some secrets of what made certain dancers so good. She was talking to me about the body language, about the importance of certain gestures made by dancers when they are dancing.

She also  explained to me that in differing cultures, the gestures women make when dancing are extremely specific, and often depict story’s all their own and emphasises the nature of that particular dance. As a younger man, I spent a lot of time in the stunning Spanish city of Granada and attended lots of traditional Flamenco dance and gypsy music events and lots of the images, colours and exciting feelings of those days began to resonate through my mind again when having this explained to me.

Body Language In Children

In recent months, someone asked me to consider writing a book with them about teaching methods and when subsequently researching child development and their body language in communication, I stumbled across some information that stated that young children develop body language, i.e. certain arm and hand gestures shortly before they start to speak.

In fact, I read that both gestures and vocal sounds can be considered as part of a person’s symbol-making ability. By “symbol-making ability” I am referring to the spoken word, writing, numbers and pictures; the ways in which we communicate. It is this ability which defines many of us and differentiates humans from the array of other mammals on this planet. However, when we communicate with people, we generally tend to be taught to pay attention to the spoken symbols, in the form of words that people say and tend to ignore body language in communication.

So here today are some steps to follow to heighten your awareness of body language in communication with particular reference to gestures and maybe you can utilise them more yourself.

Basics Steps To Enhance Your Body Language

Step One: Firstly, each time you are having a chat with someone, observe their body language, i.e. the gestures they make. There will often be patterns and repeated ways of utilising gestures. Notice how certain gestures accompany certain words and phrases. Think about what they are doing with this gesture too.

When you listen to someone, their hands will complement or emphasise what they are saying to you or what they are attempting to communicate. You can watch them paint pictures in the air, and interact with their imaginary world as they speak. Anyone that has ever seen me speak will notice that I have very active hands while speaking, if you listen to the podcasts or my audio programmes, you can even tell that I am using my hands while speaking even though you cannot see me!

The thing I find fascinating is that most people are blissfully unaware of their own gestures, unaware of their own body language in communication, let alone anyone else’s. These gestures are deep communications that emerge directly from our unconscious mind. So if you decide to start acknowledging gestures, you are communicating with someone’s unconscious mind and processes, wonderful stuff eh?

Here are three main ways to interact with a person’s gestures/body language:

Step two: Secondly then, once you notice a person’s gestures, feed some of them back to the person. When you refer to something they have said, use their gesture as well. This is known as mirroring or matching, remember from a previous edition of Adam Up I talked about this, do your best not to make it too obvious and not to mimic the person.

Developing rapport with someone has often been described as getting the attention of and communicating with someone’s unconscious mind. When you mirror their gestures back to them, a person’s unconscious mind knows that you have noticed it. As I said, I recommend that you don’t mirror the gesture in full. Let me give you an example, if a person moves their hand in circles as they describe going round and round, you could move your index finger in circles to subtly mirror it.

The second approach to utilising gestures I call referring. So, for example, if someone said “I know there’s the right person out there for me somewhere” and held their hand pointing out in the direction ahead of them as they said it, you can subtly point to the same direction where their hand was guided each time that you refer to it: For example “So this person, you don’t know who they are yet you are looking forward to meeting.” As you refer to them, you match their gesture and point the same way. Just as mirroring did, this sends a covert message to the person that you understand what is going on with them and often that you understand better than that person’s conscious mind does!

Step Three: Investigate how to refer to people’s gestures/ body language by doing it more and more.

If someone says “I’d like to do a certain thing, but something else keeps stopping me” while they then hold one of their hands out in front of them, you could highlight the hand and ask them “What is that?” Sometimes people will just frown, or look at you strangely and say “What do you mean?” , but other times, it brings up wonder and amazement– things come into the person’s awareness that they didn’t previously have conscious knowledge of. It can really have a magical effect.

The third way you can use this is with full engagement. I once had a client who said “I’d like to be a great public speaker, but something’s stopping me.” As he said this, he held his hands out about a foot in front of his chest and made an actual pushing motion, as if trying to move a heavy object. I asked “What happens when you just knock that out of the way” and I then pushed his hands to the side.

His face went bright red and he began laughing raucously out loud! He said “Well that makes it easy” and he stepped forward into a relaxed and confident pose before starting to talk about how excited he was about doing it. This is amazing stuff. Full engagement with people’s gestures is not appropriate for all situations and there are many workplace situations where any sort of physical contact is deemed inappropriate. Having said that, if you are in a situation where you consider it appropriate to do so, and you have a relationship with good rapport with the person where it is fine to do that, then go for it.

Body language in communication: In Business

This is not just interpersonal communication that I am referring to with this working with gestures. In the business and professional environment people use lots of gestures too, so you can mirror those gestures subtly to get rapport. In addition, people will use gestures when describing a specific problem. I was once demonstrating their power to some people on a seminar I was running. Upon meeting one of the attendees a couple of months later, she told me this story:

She said that there was a chap at work who often came to her for help in solving technical problems as she was a bit of a technical whizz. She said that it typically took 20-30 minutes to help the person find the solution to the problem, and subsequently consumed a lot of her time. After learning about gestures, she paid attention the next time the chap brought up a problem which went something like this “I’m trying to do x but I have this problem and can’t see beyond it.”

The lady from my seminar noticed that when the chap said the word “problem”, he held his hand up in a clenched way. Our quick-thinking heroine mirrored the gesture, then said “What happens when you just forget about that [moving his clenched hand as if throwing away a piece of rubbish] and focus on what you want.” The chap with the problem stopped absolutely still for about 30 seconds then said “Oh! I know the answer to that one!” and left the stunned lady in peace, saving her 20-30 minutes of her day.

Pay attention to the gestures of others, their body language in communication and use them back to those using them, become aware of what purpose they are serving and show that, by your body language you understand and empathise with them.

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