When it comes to body language, you may have it down, but do
"When I'm on campus, I see kids who are walking around with
earphones and texting and twittering," says David B. Givens, Ph.D.,
director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies. "They're looking down
at their machines, constantly checking their messages, and they're
ignoring people around them. They're not getting the face-to-face
training they need. ... Later in their careers, they'll need to be
able to do more than text messages and e-mail."
So what can you do to help Generation Y master this essential
First off, model appropriate body language with your kids. That
means putting away the electronic devices (yours too!) when you're
talking with your children. Use eye contact to connect, and as your
child gets older, explain the importance of looking someone in the
eye when speaking. Have him act out scenarios with you (talking
with a teacher about missing an assignment, reaching out to a
friend having a hard time) so that you can help him learn what's
appropriate and effective-and what's not.
Helping your child learn to use his body and facial expressions
appropriately will help him look and feel more confident in any
situation-and be a better communicator.
Finally, setting time limits on electronics, PCs and television
and encouraging face-to-face time with friends and family will help
your children learn appropriate body language through practice and
I admit I'm an inveterate eavesdropper. Some mornings I work at
a local Caribou, where I write, sip a nonfat latte and listen in on
a variety of conversations-some interesting, most not very. But
I've found that I can tell a lot about the conversation without
even having to hear the words being said-and I'm sure you can,
That, in essence, is body language-all of communication that
occurs aside from the actual words and vocal inflection you use.
Facial expressions. Gestures. Your overall posture. The way you
position your body toward or away from someone. Even your
hairstyle, your clothing and your jewelry contribute to body
language and impact what people think of you and how they respond
"Your word choices are important, but what happens with
nonverbal communication determines 'yes' or 'no' faster and far
more often," says body language expert Kevin Hogan, author of The
Psychology of Persuasion. "Everything from how you are perceived
upon first impression to the small, almost hidden nuances that your
body signals to other people determines whether someone will like
you, believe you or want to stay in your presence."
communicate better with your kids? It may have more to do with what
you do, rather than what you say.
Once you become more aware of the unspoken messages you're
sending, you can easily appear more confident, make a better
impression and improve your communication with friends, family and
co-workers. You're even more likely to get your own way.
Read on for common communication challenges, and how your body
language can help you master them:
Having trouble connecting with your kid? First off, get on her
level. If she's sitting on her bed, join her; if she's sprawled on
the floor, make yourself comfortable next to her. That gives an
unspoken message that you consider her equally important and that
you want to hear what she has to say. Keep your posture open, arms
at your sides or in your lap instead of crossing them over your
The next step is to reach out physically-without crowding her.
"One of the best ways to bring a person in is to use a hand gesture
as you're speaking-to reach out with your arm and show your palm in
a friendly way, palm raised up, toward the person," says David B.
Givens, Ph.D., director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in
Spokane, Wash., and the author of Love Signals (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006) and
Crime Signals (St. Martin's Griffin, 2009).
"You've reduced the physical distance between the two of you and
projected an attitude of being together on the same team."
Using a palms-up gesture invites conversation; a palms-down
gesture says, "I'm in charge," and is likely to cut your kid off-or
even rub her the wrong way.
Also, make eye contact-give your child eye contact 100 percent
of the time while she's speaking, and look at her about half the
time while you're speaking, Hogan adds. This is the right amount of
eye contact to enhance open communication.
You're trying to finish a project at work and your cube buddy
won't stop talking. Sure, you can tell her you don't have time to
gossip, but if she's not getting the message, try a more subtle but
effective approach. "Do nothing," Givens says. "Don't respond in
any kind of way. Don't tilt your head, don't give a smile and don't
do anything with your shoulders. … Turn your head and body away
from her." If she continues to chat, position your body away from
her, cross your arms and avoid all eye contact.
Chances are she'll finally get the message-and even if she's
miffed, you can still make your deadline and apologize later. (You
can use the same approach with unwanted attention from strangers or
salespeople; all but the most persistent will pick up on these cues
and move on.)
The key here is to try to stay relaxed. Becoming tense will show
in your body and the other person is likely to notice it and become
even more hostile. Keep your body relaxed and try to maintain a
welcoming appearance with an interested look on your face, says
Hogan. Clenching your jaw, gritting your teeth or grimacing is a
clear sign of anger and is likely to escalate the situation.
Pay attention to what the person is saying, using eye contact
100 percent of the time the other person is speaking, and 50
percent of the time when you're talking. When you break eye
contact, look down, not away or up, which may be interpreted
negatively. By appearing relaxed, even neutral, you'll likely
disarm much of the other person's anger.
So you're giving a presentation to a group at work. First,
remember how important eye contact is, especially in a group. "Try
to look at each person in the room," says Givens. "We are very
attuned to not being looked at if someone is looking at other
people and not looking at you. ... For a good presentation, go
around the room systematically and make sure you establish eye
contact with all of your listeners."
To appear confident, don't overdo the smiling. "Use a smile
appropriately-like at the end of a sentence or if someone has said
something that's really interesting," says Givens. "Smile to
acknowledge something rather than leave a smile on your face
constantly, which can be interpreted as foolish or a little
overdone." Use hand gestures to emphasize major points, but keep
your hands away from your hair and face.
All right, so you're not really going out of town that weekend;
you just don't want to go to your boss's pool party. If you're
going to fib, act as normal as possible-and keep your hands away
from your face. "Self-touching tends to go up a little bit with
deception. … It's a way of relieving stress," Givens says.
People also tend to cover their mouth with a hand when they lie,
as if "covering" the fib, so keep your hands relaxed at your sides
if you're going to tell a little white one. And pay attention to
your feet-if you're anxious, irritated or bored, you may move, tap
or shift your feet without realizing it. Researchers call this
"leakage," which refers to your body revealing your real feelings
even while your words may convey the opposite.
You lined up the sitter, slipped into something special and even
took extra time with your makeup. Now how do you connect with your
husband or beau on date night? "Dressing up" does more than make
you feel attractive; it's a nonverbal signal that spending time
with him is important to you.
Keeping an open body posture and aligning your body with his
shows that you want to connect, as does a soft smile and
maintaining eye contact when he is talking. Touching your hair or
fiddling with your jewelry is considered "preening" behavior and
will let him know, whether he's consciously aware of it or not,
that you find him attractive. Touching him occasionally, which
draws you closer physically, will show him that you want to connect
with him. The more you touch someone, the more interested in him
Kelly James-Enger is a former lawyer, a mom of two and a freelance writer.
See more of Kelly's stories here.
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