It is often stated that in communication – be it for business or in personal relationships and interactions that the greatest percentage is non –verbal – that is said with body language rather than verbally or even via written memos.
There are many differing opinions on the meaning and meanings of non-verbal behavior, yet much has been done to develop a set of standard decoding keys. Improving the ability to read body language and other non-verbal behaviors will overall require you and your co-workers and / or management to both understand and recognize these behavior codes. These include recognizing open/closed behaviors that signal acceptance or rejection of the message or forward /back behaviors that signal active or passive reaction and reactions to your communications.
The following checking can give you a good head start.
1) Responsive Signals:
An individual engaged in your communication will be sitting still but leaning forwards with an open body, a slightly tilted head, arms and hands that signal openness to your ideas and perhaps engaging in slow head nodding. The person will demonstrate direct eye contact, and upward turn of the mouth and a comfortable smile. A person who is ready to agree with you may well close their papers, put their pen down and place their hands flat on the table.
2) Reflective Signals:
A tilted head and lots of eye contact accompanied by head nodding suggests the individual is listening and paying close attention to what is being said. Stroking the chin, chewing on eyeglass arms, looking up and around and placing an ankle across the knee might suggest the individual is evaluating your proposal. Alternatively tension in the brow, lack of eye contact and a lack of head nodding, accompanied by pursed lips might suggest confusion, discomfort or even disinterest.
3) Fugitive Signals:
“Fugitive Signals” include signs of boredom, a desire to break away from the conversation or behaviors that suggest complete rejection. Look for signs such as staring into space, foot tapping, doodling, chewing on a pen or pencil, biting a fingernail, or slumping into a “withdrawn” posture. Signals such as looking at the door, turning the body towards the door, buttoning a jacket, or fidgeting may suggest the individual wants to leave. One young toddler in fact – to give you a basic idea of how deeply unspoken and non-verbal cues are written into our psyche and subconscious would simply go to the door and hold onto the door handle when he wanted to indicate “enough said … I want to leave”. Rejection is easy to spot as the individual typically sits back or moves a distance from you, folds their arms across the chest, clenches their fists, frowns and keeps their head down not even looking or glancing at you. With some training even the most uninformed and recalcitrant non-verbally directed communicators or non-communicators can be taught to pick up and read basic signals and cues emanating from meetings and interactions.
4) Combative Signals:
Impatience is a key signal in this case with the individual continually tapping in his or heat seat accompanied by finger tapping, rapid head nodding, staring, leaning forwards, finger pointing or even clenching fists. As well, and additionally, a person or even groups and teams of individuals might rise to standing position, demonstrate rigid body posture and postures, cross their arms or put their hands on their hips, stare past you, avoid direct eye contact and show a frown on her or his face. It can be said that things are “getting tough” that the final signal or set of signals may be a deliberate physical move or moves away from you or your group distancing themselves and their group away from you.
5) Territorial Signals:
Individuals are also very territorial with their personal space. Each of us has a “personal zone” or a seemingly invisible personal space or “box” that surround us and which we will protect fiercely from others , who we somehow sense are “breaking into our space and spaces” or “getting into our turf”. Note as well that the basic definition of what constitutes a general idea of personal space varies from culture to culture and even person to person. Major blow ups and even wars and conflicts have originated by what were somehow considered inopportune and even inconsiderate invasions of personal space and spaces where neither party realized in any manner shape or form that they were breaking serious unstated rules. Differing cultures and families of origin it seems have widely different though staunchly well protected “automatic” and intrinsically held standards of personal space. Step into someone’s unstated personal territory without cause of explanation and you are courting an instant conflict or at the best feelings of unease and discomfort.
Indeed take care, indeed great care and attention to watch out and observe for how an individual or groups of individuals use personal space for conversation. Is it an intimate or social conversation distance? This should give you a clue and clues as to the person’s level of comfort. Territoriality also extends to office space and spaces. Look for the control of communication flow through placement of desks, chairs, other furniture arrangements as well as visitor space and spaces.
In the end it cannot be overemphasize the percentages of, and value thereof of non-verbal cues and communications in human interactions and relationships. It’s not as if people only communicate now by phone, fax, email or even Facebook and other social media setups and sites. Much of what happens in relationships that are “important” – leading to agreements, contracts and the solidification and development forwards of business relationships and building of contacts still happens in direct “meetings”.
It is sometimes said and summarized that the value of understanding non-verbal body language is worth more than a thousand words and in fact may be much more important and vital than what is actually “said”. After all isn’t a well heeded Chinese proverb that a “picture is worth a thousand words”.
Being fluent and proficient in reading and reacting quickly, promptly and succinctly to non-verbal cues and outpourings is a skill that if you wish to be successful in business and your career that you cannot ignore nor do without.