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Kinesics: Communicating with body language

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[pull_quote_center]“Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.” – Amy Cuddy[/pull_quote_center]

Communication isn’t all verbal; it’s also visual or physical. Your body can speak volumes and doesn’t naturally lie. Grasp every opportunity to personally converse with your clients – with ears and eyes.

The study of body movement and expression, commonly referred to as body language or non-verbal communication, is technically known as kinesics. We move our bodies, as all animals do, in certain ways when communicating to enhance the effectiveness of the message, particularly when it is emotionally or intellectually difficult.

When strolling through the jungle, have you ever come across a family of gorillas? Perhaps not, but visualize a mighty male silver-back standing daringly erect and thumping his massive fists against his barrel chest; there’s a clear message there. Right? He’s warning you to keep your distance because he’s definitely in charge. And without being instructed otherwise, unless you’re an idiot, intoxicated or have a death wish, you humbly and hastily exit his turf. That’s non-verbal communication. Effective, right?

Non-verbal expressions can reveal a lot about both the sender and receiver. For example, hand, arm or even one of many timeless international finger gestures (let your imagination soar) can emphasize a point or relay an unequivocal message. Posture can reveal boredom or interest, and depending on the type and circumstance, touch can convey encouragement or caution. Waving and pointing are also commonly used for emphasis.

Amy Cuddy, social psychologist, associate professor and researcher at Harvard Business School says your body language contributes to who you are, how others see you and how you perceive yourself. Nonverbal behaviour, including body position, can influence others, even your own brain, and a few simple conscious body language adjustments can help increase your personal power.

For example, slouching can reduce self-confidence and manipulate hormones that mess with your mind. Dr. Cuddy led a Harvard study in which participants were asked to appear smaller for two minutes by slouching while sitting or standing. Not only did they look more insecure, but they reportedly actually felt that way too. The results concluded a 10 per cent decrease in testosterone and a 15 per cent increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. Conversely, when participants were asked to hold a confident posture for another two minutes, standing tall with open arms and shoulders back, thereby making them feel larger, their hormones responded accordingly with a 20 per cent increase in testosterone and a 25 per cent decrease in cortisol.

The conclusion? Sit and stand tall to not only radiate confidence and increase self-confidence, but also to decrease your stress level.

[pull_quote_center]“We don’t change what we are, we change what we think what we are.” Eric Butterworth[/pull_quote_center]

With non-verbal language, nothing is absolute. As a spoken word used in varied contexts can have multiple meanings, body language depends on circumstances. It’s not unlike a phrase having different meanings in different locales. For example, “knocking someone up” in England means something quite different in America (an awakening occurs in either scenario). Since it’s not totally dependable, don’t rely on it completely, only as an adjunct to verbal communication. When listening to someone speaking their native tongue, if you possess a rudimentary comprehension of their language, physical gestures can improve accuracy. However, the risk of misunderstanding remains. Use it wisely and in context.

Understanding your client isn’t solely about listening to what they say. A big part of comprehension includes your innate ability to intuit what is spoken between the lines. This is where non-verbal communication enters the picture. Having the capability to “read” your client is a critical skill. Anything you can do to enhance this skill, including taking appropriate courses or reading self-help books, would be a good idea. And while you’re in the studious mood, learn a second or third language, even if it’s purely conversational. In our world’s growing cultural melting pot, having additional languages at your disposal would be a great advantage.

It takes years to build a solid reputation of integrity and confidence, and during a miscommunication, mere minutes to destroy it. Think butterfly effect. As the miniscule effect of the flap of a butterfly’s wings can theoretically be felt around the world, a misspoken or misunderstood word or gesture can have a devastating long-term effect on your career.

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