Communication involves more than just the words we use, it also consists of facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice and other nonverbal signals and cues. This is known as body language – the use of physical behaviours, expressions and mannerisms in communication. Often, these forms of nonverbal communication are done instinctively rather than consciously.
It is important to take into consideration the culture and context when it comes to analysing and studying body language. For example, the ‘OK’ hand gesture which some of us use to signal that the situation is under control is seen as an insult in Brazil. Another example can be the amount of eye contact. Some use eye contact to show respect while others avoid eye contact for the same reason. Cultural differences exist and what is seen as positive body language to one can be perceived as negative to another.
There are many forms of body language, and this article will be a rough overview on three of them.
1. Facial Expressions
The human face can convey countless emotions such as joy, sadness, disgust, fear, etc. Charles Darwin proposed that facial expressions are universal, but some researchers have argued that facial expressions are both universal and cultural-specific, which better explains why expressions may appear differently across cultures.
This refers to the distance between people as they interact. The physical space between individuals can communicate a lot of information. For example, the shorter the distance between the individuals, the closer their relationship is with one another. We do, however, also need to take cultural differences into consideration.
Gestures can be seen as one of the most direct and obvious body language signals. They are the use of bodily actions to communicate messages. Some common examples include waving, pointing, showing thumbs up or down, etc. The ‘OK’ hand signal example mentioned above is a form of gesture.
Body language serves as another conduit to interpret and detect emotions and intentions of others. To be a better communicator, it is important to be sensitive to the body language of others and of your own. By being more conscious of these nonverbal cues, you can learn to respond appropriately and build stronger and healthier relationships.
Written by Winnie.