We Speak Through our Bodies
Our nonverbal communication is powerful. Without saying a word, our posture, facial expressions, and eye movements speak volumes. We can benefit from increasing our awareness of what we communicate to the world on a regular basis while sharpening our observations of what others are communicating to us.
Verbal language accounts for about thirty-five percent of our communication, while the rest is ‘spoken’ through our bodies. The context of the situation as well as individual body language can illuminate true feelings, so someone smiling may not always indicate happiness depending on the circumstance.
We can convey many emotions simply through our facial expressions. Fear, surprise, anger, sadness, joy, horror, excitement, even disgust, are universally understood when communicated nonverbally through our faces. In North America, someone smiling may be perceived as more intelligent, and in some cultures, grinning too much indicates naiveté. Our nonverbal signals can give away our emotions if they are not aligned with our words. Have you ever noticed someone frowning when speaking of something joyful? Or nodding their head while they are saying no?
The “windows to the soul” otherwise known as our eyes outwardly display our internal thoughts. Consistent eye contact with someone can indicate confidence and curiosity in the other person versus averting one’s gaze can display disinterest, discomfort or being secretive. Blinking too often can signal stress and not blinking enough can appear to be an attempt to control one’s eye movements and conceal true feelings. Prolonged intense eye contact is potentially perceived as a threat.
Our mouths can express feelings of insecurity or fear if we chew our bottom lip, and some smiles can suggest sarcasm and others signal joy. Covering one’s mouth may hide a yawn or conceal expressions of terror or surprise (think of one’s reaction when walking into their surprise party). Grimacing, biting our lip, even covering our mouths may be subconscious, notice in past photos what you are communicating if see this. Even pursing your lips may be a hint of distrust, disapproval, or unhappiness. If your typical smile shows teeth, a closed lip grin may not appear genuine or indicate authentic happiness.
Our gestures are the most obvious body language signals, and many are outside of our awareness. Clenching our fists could be a sign of solidarity, anger, or victory, while raising our arms motions confidence, or excitement. Crossing our arms is a clue to our defensiveness or if we are closed off, while expanding our posture is a nod to appear open, seem larger than we are or can gain attention. You may have seen someone minimizing their gestures and stance to appear smaller, to literally not be noticed. Prince Harry notably holds his suit jacket with one hand over his abdomen, signaling self-protection and unease.
Standing with an even stance and hands on the hips can communicate composure or can be confrontational, while twirling one’s thumbs is usually interpreted as boredom. Have you noticed someone fidgeting lately to relay discomfort, anxiety, or anger?
The key to the kingdom is our posture. How we carry ourselves reveals to the world who we are more than our clothes, our words, or our style. How we feel, what we are thinking, and what our personality is shows through our posture. Sitting up straight or standing tall can show focus, awareness, and self-assurance. Boredom, distraction, and weakness is communicated if we are hunched or slouching, especially standing with our weight shifted to one hip. (And you are not carrying a child or a heavy package).
Increasing awareness around what we communicate to others and understanding what individuals are communicating to us nonverbally is a skill strengthened through practice. Reflect on photos and try to recall what you were thinking and feeling at the time. What were you communicating through your body, without saying a word?