So, You Think Body Language Is Bunk?

If you think body language is bunk - think about what it's like to be deaf.

Posted Sep 07, 2011

The power of communication - it's undeniable. When you take out the ability to pronounce and proclaim, verbally, the lines of talk and expression get interesting.

For those whose lives do not include the daily tone of pitch and sound, body language and the art of using it, becomes increasingly key when communicating.

Amazingly, I have built a career teaching hearing people the art of understanding how body language affects what they are saying. Yet, it wasn't until recently that I finally understood how critical body language can be to the hearing impaired.

I know...this truly seems like it'd be a no brainer. However, it took meeting my new neighbors to really drive home the critical nature of non-verbal communication for some.

One afternoon, as my family and I were out tending to the yard work - a lovely couple stopped by to chat. They had noticed my "pimped out" Body Language Institute van and wanted to get more information. See, both the husband and the wife were deaf - but their son was not.

Body language was one of the main ways in which they were able to communicate with their only child  - and felt they had much more to learn in order to sustain a high levels of intimate communication as he grew older.

For years, researchers have known that facial expressions and are integral parts of ASL (American Sign Language). With a demographic that cannot distinguish messages through sound, it makes perfect sense why body language takes center stage amongst ASL communicators. The question then becomes, how do we as those who can hear, leverage our non-verbal skills to cross the verbal barrier with those that cannot?

It's simple: we must utilize the language that our body can share through, smile, facial expression and touch.  

According to researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology, "Deaf people have an exceptional ability to use and read nonverbal communications. They pick up on very subtle facial and body movements". The conversation with someone that does not share your language can initially be awkward; you are unsure of what to say, how to say it, how to convey the human emotions and feelings that all of us share, no matter the barrier that language presents.

Given this natural desire to connect, body language is the very piece that connects us all.

Many components of body language are not partial to any culture, any tribe, a particular part of our community, local or global. Rather, it is synonymous with the manner in which we communicate, particularly for those that do not have the ability to hear. Its weight within a conversation becomes the antithesis for how we understand one another.

Have you ever been witness to the exciting exchange between those that use sign language to communicate? The facial expressions are more exaggerated; the smile and physical interaction between the parties are intensified. Why the lively interaction between those that cannot hear? How is the intensity of the conversation even felt without audio? Since the presence of audio exchange is not there, the use of visual must be. With the absence of hearing within a conversation, the power of reading and seeing the visual exchange of expression is crucial. Part of this visual and physical exchange is touch.

 Again, from the Rochester Institute of Technology: "An important aspect of body language is the use of touch". Touching another person is used in Deaf culture to greet, say goodbye, get attention, and express emotion."  The intensity of touch, were you touch within a conversation without sound, conveys exclamation within a conversation, adding to the way in we you express your thought.

The neat phenomena about conversing without sound is that those that engage in this kind of communication daily, have an increased awareness and ability to read, detect and portray non-verbal language. Think about how much you would pay attention to your non-verbals if they were your only means of communication?

Try it for one hour, one meal, one interaction with your spouse - and watch the effect that it has on the depth of your communication.

I think you might find that you are definitely saying more than you think, without saying a word!

Janine Driver is the NY Times Bestselling author of You Say More Than You Think: The 7-Day Plan to Using the New Body Language to Get What You Want, available at Amazon and other fine retailers. To learn more, visit her online at or

About the Author

Janine Driver

Janine Driver is a popular media guest, sales trainer, retired Federal Law Enforcement Officer, and president of the Body Language Institute.

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