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The importance of understanding body language

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Can you think back to a face-to-face conversation you’ve had with someone when their words didn’t match their expressions? It may have been just yesterday when you asked an employee to do something and they responded, “I’d be happy to,” but the grimace on their face and the shrug of their shoulders told you a different story. This is an all-too-common encounter in the workplace oftentimes because there aren’t open lines of communication established. Whether it’s being cognizant of your own body language or others’, there is a lot more that’s said between two people than the words coming out of their mouths.

When it comes to body language, many of us aren’t even aware of the vibes we are emitting. Examples of body language include facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of voice. For example, you might not realize you always cross your arms when you speak with someone, which can come off as guarded or cross – as if you are literally putting a barrier between the other person and yourself.

Or perhaps you have a habit of placing your fingertips together when you’re talking. This act actually has a term – “steepling” – and can be used to subconsciously demonstrate control or authority. While it may be deemed appropriate in some instances, for example while leading a meeting or having a conversation about money, it may not be the best to do this when you’re trying to relate to an employee on a personal level.

Another common misunderstood and misinterpreted body language communication we see has to do with eye contact. When you are speaking with an employee and they lower their head and look to the floor, it often means they are shy, timid or feeling shameful about something. Take a moment to connect on a personal level.

On the other hand, when you have a conversation with an employee and you are sitting back in a chair with your hands behind your head with elbows pointed out, it can come across as arrogant or intimidating. This is not a pose you would want to use when meeting with a new client.

While none of these body language cues in and of themselves will make or break a conversation, repetitive behavior could lead others to think something of you that is unsavory or not true, even if what you’re saying is sincere and trustworthy.

Take a moment this week to reflect on the conversations you’ve had recently and how your body was positioned. In the future, make sure you are aware of your extremities and always maintain eye contact.

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