You already know this is the Visual Age, when people get information and make judgments largely on the basis of what they see. But are you aware of how little time it takes for someone to judge you? Would you believe one second? That’s the finding of a study reported recently in the Journal of Neuroscience. According to this research, our brains decide whether a face is trustworthy even before we consciously perceive it. It’s all part of a process one researcher called the “amygdala's processing of social cues in the absence of awareness.”
There's not much we can do concerning the face we show the world. Our use of facial expressions, of course, are another matter. What are some of the other ways you can use body language consciously when you relate to others? Below are four ways you might not have thought about concerning how you can employ body language in social situations.
If you want to truy move listeners, you need to use nonverbal communication effectively. Your content delivers information, but the way you look and sound provides meaning. Discover how to use body language to engage, inspire, and activate listeners. Download my free cheat sheet, 6 Skills Building Exercises for Effective Body Language.
Eye Contact Is an Important Communication Tool
One sure-fire way to connect with others and demonstrate your trustworthiness is through eye contact. If, for instance, you're looking to persuade others, you need to establish and maintain a strong visual connection. In Western culture, at least, eye contact is a solid, powerful way to demonstrate your investment in the person or audience you’re communicating with.
Is staying focused on your audience and your task a problem due to speech anxiety? For audiences to have confidence in what you say, you need to maintain your focus. Learn 10 theater-inspired techniques for presenting with enjoyment and energy. Grab my essential cheat sheet, “10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking.”Here’s another hint for acquiring natural and effective conversational skills: We tend to make more consistent eye contact in conversations when we’re listening. So to strengthen this skill, make a point of looking more frequently at the other person when you’re speaking, since that's when you have more of a tendency to look away.
Body Language Can Help Build RelationshipsYour body position—even a step omitted or taken—can make a difference in how others perceive you and relate to you. I like observing pairs or small groups of people at parties or conferences, for instance, and noticing how physical signals are sent and received. Have you yourself noticed people in a conversation who physically signal, “I’m not interested,” or “Go away!,” without their body language being read correctly by the other person? On the other hand, there are many easy ways to show someone that you are interested in what they’re saying. Turning toward them, pointing your feet or crossing your leg in their direction, opening your body stance rather than remaining closed off, are all ways to indicate receptiveness rather than standoffishness or an actual negative response.
Can You Get Closer to Those You're Talking To?
How about physical distance from others—does that matter in terms of how they relate to you? “Proximity” comes from the Latin word proximitās, meaning nearness or vicinity, and we recognize the concept in terms of objects or geographical locations. We even have a name for the study of distance in human relationships: proxemics. But what about how the concept works in terms of relationships and establishing rapport?
Sometimes, we simply don’t get the formula right. We stand too close to someone—perhaps touching their arm, without noticing that they really don’t like it. More often in terms of public speaking, we remain too far from our audience. We stay behind the podium, or never use the space available to us in a room to get closer to our listeners.
Understanding the "right" distance isn’t a difficult equation, really. Simply remember the three kinds of distance in terms of appropriateness: intimate, social or professional, and public. Your distance from others should increase, that is, with each of those three. Stay aware of the situation and you’ll probably build good rapport. Just don’t let “public” make you think you can’t get closer to your audience now and then to help strengthen your relationship with them.
Listening Depends Upon Nonverbal Communication and Body Language Too
Finally, remember that body language matters when you’re listening as well as speaking. Nonverbal communication is a language, after all. What you “say” physically when you respond to others goes a long way toward getting them to enjoy interacting with you and finding you likable and trustworthy.
Eye contact (again), nodding, and active facial expressions are vital ingredients of the listening dynamic. So are the literally non-verbal, i.e., vocal aspects of your side of the conversation—the “Uh-huhs,” “Ahs!,” and other non-verbalized contributions that the active listener makes.
And that goes for phone conversations as well. Personally, I’ll take a grunt or a “Mm-hm” on the other end over the sound of a keyboard tapping or a smart phone beeping. Wouldn’t you?
This blog was first published in 2014. It has been recently updated.
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