By Shreya Durve, MBBS Student
Body language is a type of non-verbal method of communication in which actions, facial expressions, and other physical behaviours instead of words speak for the person’s emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
It has been suggested that non-verbal communication might make up more than 60-65% of all our communication (even more than verbal communication).
Components of body language
Here are a few things to look out for when you try to deduce an individual’s body language:
The Mehrabian Model of Communication
The Mehrabian Model of Communication speaks of the relevance and value of each mode of communication with expressing feelings, emotions, and attitudes.
According to this model, around 55% of communication is attributed to the non-verbal mode; while the rest is attributed to spoken words and tone of voice. This clearly shows that when expressing emotions and attitudes, the non-verbal mode of communication says more than your choice of words and the tone you use to convey them.
Body Language and Culture
Each culture has its own way of commuting – while western culture encourages eye contact, especially in formal interactions; excessive eye contact during conversation is considered rude in many Asian cultures.
Ultimately, the way we interact with others forms a great part of civilization and our culture. The two concepts interconnecting is no surprise then – is it?
Even the way we express negative feelings among individuals can be quite different between cultures – giving rise to unintended conflict. While in most places a nod is considered a sign of approval, in a few a nod also indicates disagreement. Many of us might have been told by our parents to not pass valuable objects like money from our left hand – well, that rule is not followed by all cultures!
Needless to say, this discussion points towards the discrepancies between how body language is perceived in various cultures, and how it can also be a cause of differences.
1. The Face
Our faces can say a lot about how we are actually feeling. It also shows the opposite person whether the words we use actually match up to the thoughts we are having! While some of us have mastered the ability to maintain a ‘poker face’, a vast majority still struggle to control their expressions.
2. The Facial Expression
The way we use the tiny muscles in our faces can have a huge impact on the person we are conversing with. While a smile conveys happiness – some might find a tight-lipped smile to be deceitful.
And while a frown might be considered a sign of sadness, it could also denote physical pain.
Our facial expressions usually convey more than what our words let on – the way we smile, crinkle our eyes, the slight tick some individuals get when they are angry – all have a deeper meaning to it. Each facial expression conveys a particular emotion – be it fear, contempt, disgust, or something positive like happiness or glee.
A few tidbits of information:
3. The Eyes
“The beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” – well, we don't know about that, but they sure do hold a lot of information about what the other person is thinking. The eye contact we hold with the person we are talking to, the raise of our eyebrows, the dilation of the pupils – all convey a piece of us.
A few tidbits of information:
4. The Mouth
Other than its obvious use – eating and speaking of course! – the way our mouth moves, or our mouth expressions do give subtle clues as to what’s going on inside the head. For instance, while a slight tilt of the mouth could indicate uncertainty or contempt, the bite of a lip could indicate desire, worry or insecurity.
One of the most important expressions is that of a smile. A smile is a universal positive reaction – however, it may be interpreted in many ways. A smile is contagious, we tend to reciprocate the reaction when we see it on the other person’s face unconsciously. Although people can make out a fake smile from a genuine one – research suggests that we can receive more positive reactions from a smile, be it fake or real! A smile tends to build trust in the person and is a great tool to make friends!
5. The Posture
The posture gives a lot of hints as to what the person thinks of you – how approachable they are, what level of comfort they have attained with you and whether they think of you positively or not. There have been defined two types of postures – either open or closed.
• The open posture: This type of posture indicates that the person is keen to listen to what you have to say, and is willing to open up. Classically, they would face towards you, with their arms and legs apart (uncrossed), seeming interested.
• The closed posture: This type usually means that the person is either uninterested or unwilling to open up to you. This can also convey discomfort or arrogance. A person in the closed posture would mean that they have their arms and legs placed close together, in a crossed position. The angle at which they are facing you, might not be straight and they might have their body tilted away from you. This is usually a sign a therapist may encounter during therapy – indicating defensiveness and the unwillingness to open up.
Some tidbits of information:
6. The Personal Space/Proxemics
A very important part of non-verbal communication is the need for personal space. For a conversation to be successful we must maintain an appropriate distance from the other person in order to give them their private space. Proxemics refers to the distance between two people as they interact with each other.
• Intimate distance (6 to 18 inches): This is the distance you usually maintain with those you consider to have a close and intimate relationship with. For example, your partner.
• Personal distance (1.5 to 4 feet): This is the distance you normally maintain when conversing with family or close friends. The closer you stand to a person – the higher the level of trust, comfort and intimacy between the two.
• Social distance (4 to 12 feet): This is the kind of distance you should maintain between acquaintances. Again, your level of comfort indicates how close you would stand.
• Public distance (12 to 25 feet): This is the distance you usually maintain when giving a public speech to multiple people.
Personal space and culture
Different cultures have different rules in regards to the space they require. While those in the western influence tend to need more space, even when conversing with close friends and family; those in the East have a tendency to be more proximal even to those with who they might not consider being very familiar.
Body language can not only help those in the profession of mental health – but is a skill that must be acquired by many, in order to have a better relationship with those around us. A good understanding of body language can not only influence your closer relationships, but also help with your professional and business ones, and consolidate a better foundation for intimate partnerships.
Pride and Prejudice
Narcissism and Narcissistic Abuse
We will contact you shortly
Hola! We're here to help. Please share your details