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Miscommunication through Body Language

By Laura Perry, Copywriting & Editing Intern at Talent Academy


Have you ever heard the phrase “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? Well, at Talent Academy, we believe that your body language definitely tells half the story of what you are trying to communicate. Often when you are unaware of your body language, miscommunication can occur as you may be sending mixed signals.


People are talking

So what exactly is body language?

“Body language is the use of physical behaviour, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate non-verbally, often done instinctively rather than consciously,” (Segal et al.).


You are always communicating non-verbally, even when you’re silent! Jeanne Segal et al. note that “all of your nonverbal behaviours - the gestures you make, your posture, your tone of voice, how much eye contact you make - send strong messages. They can put people at ease, build trust, and draw others towards you, or they can offend, confuse, and undermine what you’re trying to convey.”


Sometimes, what you say and what you communicate through your body language may be completely different. These mixed messages will often make your listener think that you are being dishonest, forcing them to choose whether they should believe your verbal or nonverbal signals. Segal et al. observe that “since body language is a natural, unconscious language that broadcasts your true feelings and intentions, they’ll likely choose the nonverbal message.”


The more aware you become of your body language and how you use nonverbal communication, the less likely you are to miscommunicate with others.


A girl thinking about something

Nonverbal communication can play five roles in an interaction:

  • Repetition: it repeats and often strengthens the message you’re making verbally.

  • Contradiction: it can contradict the message you’re trying to convey, thus indicating to your listener that you may not be telling the truth.

  • Substitution: it can substitute for a verbal message. For example, your facial expression often conveys a far more vivid message than words ever can.

  • Complementing: it may add to or complement your verbal message.

  • Accenting: it may accent or underline a verbal message,” (Segal et al.).

Positive body language is reflected in nonverbal cues that are relaxed and open. Examples of positive body language include maintaining eye contact, upright posture, and open palms. People are likely to respond in a more positive way when you are communicating with positive body language as they feel more at ease with you.


Negative body language is when you show boredom, anger or a lack of confidence in your nonverbal communication. Some negative body language examples include avoiding eye contact, crossing your arms and poor posture. All of these are actions that may cause someone to respond negatively to what you are saying.


Some eggs with emoji(emotion)

Types of nonverbal communication include:

  • Facial expressions

  • Body movement and posture

  • Gestures

  • Eye contact

  • Touch

  • Voice

  • Space

What is space in nonverbal communication, you ask? Space is simply the amount of physical distance between yourself and the other person. The meaning behind this space changes depending on the relationship you have with the person, for example physical closeness would convey intimacy and affection in a close relationship, or dominance and aggression in a distant one.


How can nonverbal communication go wrong?

When people are unaware of how their body language impacts the way they communicate with others, they can unconsciously send mixed messages which make it confusing for the listener to read the situation. It is important to understand how to use your body language to complement your verbal communication. By improving your nonverbal communication skills, you can create stronger and more meaningful relationships with anyone you interact with.


It is so important to use your body language when presenting in order to keep your audience engaged and enthusiastic about your ideas. Check out our online school to improve your presentation skills today!


How can you prevent misunderstanding in communication?

Our top tip for better nonverbal communication is being present in the moment. If you are distracted, planning what you will say next, checking your phone or thinking about something else, chances are you aren’t going to be able to read the other person’s nonverbal cues which would help you to fully understand what they are trying to communicate. By learning to manage your own stress and be more emotionally aware, your nonverbal communication will improve as you will have greater control over what you are thinking and feeling.

A lady calling

Does body language change how we see ourselves?

In her so-called "Power Pose TED talk", Amy Cuddy shares her idea that your body language can influence your own opinion of yourself, in particular the usefulness of power posing.


We know that your nonverbal communication impacts the way other people see you and interpret what you’re saying, but Cuddy’s research has found that your body language also sends significant messages to your own brain which can have an impact on how confident you are. She found that people who showed confident body language by assuming dominant, powerful positions (a power pose) experienced increased testosterone and lowered cortisol which led to higher levels of confidence and decreased stress. Whereas people who assumed low-power positions and curled in on themselves experienced the opposite.


By power-posing for 2 minutes before a stressful situation, you will increase your confidence which will change your mindset going into the situation, and potentially allow you to have better control over your nonverbal communication. It’s a bit like how smiling even when you aren’t happy tricks your brain into thinking you are happy; when you don’t feel confident, power-posing will make you feel more confident!



Nonverbal communication can be difficult to control, but by increasing your awareness you can become a better communicator and learn to understand interactions more deeply. At Talent Academy, we strive to become better communicators and to help others improve their communication skills. Our firm belief that "practice makes better" helps us to achieve this goal!



If you are interested in learning more about communication and how to overcome your public speaking fears, we offer a range of online courses designed to improve your communication and presenting capabilities.



For more information on how to understand nonverbal communication better, we recommend the fantastic article and TED talk that we have referenced in this piece!




References:

Segal, J, Smith, M, Robinson, L, & Boose, G, 2020, Nonverbal Communication and Body Language, accessed 25 January 2022, <https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm>


Cuddy, Amy, 2012, "Your body language may shape who you are," TED, viewed 31 January 2022, <https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_may_shape_who_you_are?language=en>


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