Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Body Language Preconceptions

In those days when I was conducting non-verbal communication seminars, sales organization often overwhelm me with their replies. ”I don’t think you can get anything out of a body language seminar; the salespeople won’t be interested in a boring subject.”

This preconception about body language wasn’t an isolated case then. People in positions were just ignorant. They were not aware that it was a subject taught in universities as a big part of communication. Even today in this 21st century we need to debunk and explain these biases about these body language seminars to these aliens to arouse interest in them.

But wait a moment, because, the first international conference on non-verbal communication was only held in the 20th century recently (1967) in Oxford, organized by Britain’s famed authors and doctors of social psychology, Dr Michael Argyle and Dr Ralp Exlline. It was long after the 19th century (1872) publication by Charles Darwin on the first scientific study of nonverbal communication, “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” So how could we be so well-read.

Today, institutes and centers for Non verbal studies have prospered both in Britain and in the United States of America. Writings and research on findings and communication techniques have filled books more so since the “Decade of the Brain” (1990 – 2000) discoveries in neuroscience where we have been provided a clearer picture of what the unspoken signs and signals mean. Because we now know how the brain processes nonverbal cues it has contributed much to self-improvement, interrogations, salesmanship, and therapies for normal and abnormal people and for those used by encounter groups.

The first is body language is not important; oral language will do. On the contrary, there are clear and important similarities between verbal and non-verbal language.

Both are modes of communication. You use words when you have to be precise, detailed, or want to talk through problems, plans, solutions, and you use them to influence another person but not without the use of non-verbals, that is, appearance, posture, gesture, gaze, proximity, vocal qualities, facial expressions and smells.

Most of us are not aware that non-verbal and verbal communication has different functions. We don’t express emotions through words alone; we use our face and body too.

When establishing and maintaining friendships and other relationships we can’t do without non-verbal communication signals, such as proximity, tone of voice, touch, gaze and facial expressions.

In creating impressions on others through our physical behavior, we are deliberately or involuntarily sending a non-verbal message across and that’s important for both senders and receivers.

2. The second preconception is that body language differs across the world, so it is not important to learn it. To an extent, gestures vary in meaning in other parts of the world, but that only makes the study even more fascinating and relevant.

Desmond Morris, who traveled to more than 60 countries while making field studies of human behavior, says that certain familiar gestures do disappear and other strange ones take their place, but there are gestures that do not differ at all.

In fact, he says, they are universal and make you feel at home even when you are on the other side of the globe.

A smile is a smile the world over; a frown is a frown; a stare is a stare. Arms folding shows defensiveness; arms placed on the hips reveal that I feel anti-social-these are common gestures all over the world.

3. The third preconception is that body language is manipulative; you can put on a show just to get your way and therefore it is undesirable.

That’s only seeing the other side of the coin. All scientific discoveries can be used for good or bad and body language skills are no exception.

Skills in body language techniques and its importance in social behavior do not make being genuine and sincere less pleasing.

Individuals must exercise some restraint in their interpersonal feelings, such as aggression, if their organization or group is to function harmoniously.

It has been said that the most effective and desirable behavior is that of controlling the inner expressions of one’s feelings, which is one of the social training skills in body language.

Therefore, we should not assume that the skilled body language exponent will spend his time playing tricks on other people and controlling situations to his advantage.

4. The fourth preconception is that body language awareness and skills make people self-conscious and awkward in their interaction with others.

To answer that any trainer will tell you that when a person learns a new skill, such as handling a car or bicycle for the first time, he goes through stages when the behavior is awkward and requires full attention. Once these stages are over and competence is acquired, he doesn’t need to reflect on the training while he is driving or cycling. The skill to do that is habitual. The same is true with body language skills.

5. The fifth preconception about body language is that a single gesture means a single thing. Crossed arms, for example, may mean a closed mind, but it can also mean anxiety, anger or feeling cold. You can’t interpret one gesture without considering the whole context.

RULES FOR INTERPRETINGIn body language there are four main rules for interpreting. The first rule is cluster, where you have to look out for three or more gestures in order to interpret correctly.

The second rule is context, where we must take gestures into account based with the situation and the identity of the person using those. A person seated with arms and legs tightly crossed in a cold room, for example, may not mean a closed mind, but feeling cold.

The third is congruence where your gestures should match your verbal communication.

The forth rule is culture. Certain gestures vary in meaning with different cultures. For example stroking the beard in Israel means, “I am deep in thought”.” In Austria the same gesture means “How boring”. In Ghana if you show your thumb with the other fingers cupped like the way some Malaysians show direction it would mean you are showing a vulgar sign to get lost.

BODY LANGUAGE SKILLS FOR PROFESSIONALSBody language skills training can benefit and be applied to most professions, especially those who interact with others during work. Let us look at two careers and how its application can benefit others.

School teachers who lack body language skills won’t be good at teaching. Studies of American and European children who got the most out of formal learning showed that it was the consistent non-verbal skills of the teacher which made them effective and which created the environment for effective learning.

Firstly, good teachers who like others and are likeable smile and engage in eye contact with their students. They will try to stand close, bend to compensate for height difference and would nod approval of what students say or do.

Secondly, good teachers are confident and remain in control by standing tall, being relaxed and will laugh to encourage genuine laughter in others without making fun of others.

They will always look out for their students’ body language signs that need attention and will act immediately.

Thirdly, good teachers create interest in the subject by varying their facial expression and gestures when speaking; they lean forward and show genuine excitement to explain the topic effectively.

On the other hand, bad teachers shows dislike and are disliked when they hide behind the barrier of the desk; exhibit negative movements, tense gestures and closed postures. They don’t touch students, have poor eye contact and seldom smile.

Secondly, bad teachers who are not confident and often lose control are nervous, have tense voices that stammer and don’t notice body language signals that need attention.

Thirdly, bad teachers manufacture boredom in their students through their subject by monotonous voices, by moving about just a little in class, by getting bored themselves and showing unconscious signs of anger.

SALESPEOPLESalespeople who quit the selling profession often are unaware that their main problem is failing to understand the body language of their prospects and their own.

Their ability to interact with prospective customers through an understanding of behaviors, feelings and reaction to situations can help them sell well and keep them in their profession.

In body language skills training for salespeople, I often conduct role-playing, where a selling skill away from the real situation is first discussed then demonstrated.

I usually provide a written account of the background of the people and the situation and get my trainees to role-play.

For example, a prospective customer allows for interruption or answers the telephone. What does this behavior suggest and what should you do?

In role playing, I seek out the best selling techniques for dealing with that particular situation and then allow a feedback which may come from the other members of the group, which is done without disturbing those, involved.

Sales trainees who transfer what they have learnt in my training sessions to the real world of selling often grow in confidence not only in understanding their prospect’s behaviors better but in reacting with effective behavior of their own.

If you are one who has preconceptions about body language, then you have failed to know that we all communicate more with out bodies than with our words.

Albert Mehrabian researched the total impact of a message in communication and found that seven per cent is words while 38 per cent is the tone of voice, inflection and other sounds (vocal) and 55 per cent was non-verbal. Similar estimates were later confirmed by other researchers.

Strangely, we emphasize the verbal aspects of communication and have ignored the more than 90 per cent of the non-verbal aspects of communication.

We rely on words and then wonder why we sometimes miscommunicate, misunderstand, and fail to learn from it. We only know too well, that the biggest problem in all relationships is communication and yet end up doing the wrong thing. We should base the ideas we have about body language on sufficient information and experience.

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