Body Language: Using Your Body to Communicate
How body language tells our story, whether we want it to or not.
Posted March 23, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- Interpreting and presenting body language has been difficult during the pandemic.
- Body language can be both conscious and subconscious, with the potential to strengthen verbal messages or cause confusion.
- Although body language can make interactions easier, it is only one part of communication and is not the only way to show who you are.
After a year of near-total virtual communication with just about everyone we know, we’ve adjusted to communicating differently, despite the many limitations of group chats, virtual meetings, and conference calls. One vitally important aspect of our communication that’s been missing over this year is interpreting and presenting body language.
Body language is an essential part of communication and can be just as important as our verbal exchanges. Often, it’s the nonverbal messages we send in our gestures, facial expressions, or posture that can cement or invalidate our words. Body language can be both conscious or subconscious actions, so it is important to make sure your body is sending the same messages as your words to ensure good communication. These nonverbal cues can strengthen the verbal messages you’re sending or it can lead to mistrust or confusion—signs of poor communication and misunderstanding. And let’s not underestimate the vital effects of pheromones to the limbic system which is cut off when we are virtual.
This is just one more way that the pandemic has hindered learning in children. By not allowing them to be physically present with people, they’re not able to interpret body language or pheromones in the ways they normally would. Body language is an important tool children use to learn and develop social skills.
In this way, body language can make interacting with others and expressing yourself much easier, but it can also introduce new challenges. Some nonverbal cues unintentionally communicate parts of ourselves that we don’t want others to know. For example, bad posture or fidgeting may communicate lack of confidence, something we may not intend for others to know about us. But body language can enhance our verbal messages and solidify what we are telling others. Facing someone with eye contact or taking notes while someone is speaking can communicate genuine interest. Without these cues, teachers may not be able to assess a student’s understanding.
When you’re speaking authentically, it’s natural for your body language to respond to your words through gestures or facial expressions. We also use gestures in conversations to tell stories or describe objects, often using hand signals to show how big or small something is. These are largely subconscious, naturally occurring forms of body language.
It can be difficult to communicate confidence in your actions when you may not feel it internally. When you display confident body language, such as good posture or eye-contact, even if you’re making a conscious effort, studies have shown that it can lead to feeling more confident. When speaking to others, practice controlling impulses to fidget and planting your feet confidently to increase self-esteem.
You can interpret a lot about someone from their body language, but it can’t tell you everything you need to know about someone. Behavior changes across social situations; what you show to some people, you may not feel comfortable showing to others. Some social situations may present circumstances for you to act outside of your norm and these instances obviously don’t represent who you are as a person. You can be more conscious of your body language and alter it to communicate different messages, but it isn’t the only way to show who you are. Personality is made up of so much more than just our body language, but knowing how to use it will make you better at communicating with others.
Toastmasters International. (2011). Gestures: Your Body Speaks, How to Become Skilled in Nonverbal Communication. Toastmasters International. https://web.mst.edu/~toast/docs/Gestures.pdf
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