Understanding Body Language In Social Settings

Updated May 20, 2019

Medically Reviewed By: Melinda Santa

You have probably heard the statistics that most communication is nonverbal. While there is some debate over this statistic and what it means there is no denying that body language plays a large role in communication. That means understanding body language in yourself and other people will be an advantage to you in social settings.

It's important that you are using body language that matches the words you are saying. This helps others to understand you better and take you seriously. If your words are saying one thing and your body language is saying something different it could lead you into an awkward situation. Keep the following things in mind when you are in social settings:

Body Language: Personal Space

Most people have a certain amount of personal space that they prefer to keep around them. When working on understanding body language, it's important to understand that the personal space someone prefers is usually based upon how crowded space was when they are growing up. People that were raised in locations with dense populations tend to require a smaller amount of personal space. People that grew up in places like out west, northern Africa, and many parts of Australia want a larger amount of personal space around them.

What's The Right Amount Of Space?

The distance that you should keep from people is also largely determined based on the situation that you are in. For example, if you are in an intimate setting with someone, like your significant other, you don't mind them entering your personal space. This is the space that people consider their property. It is generally anywhere from 6 to 18 inches from their body.

However, when you are in a social setting the number of personal space increases. If you try to keep the same amount of personal space in social settings as what you keep in intimate or settings, you will make many people uncomfortable. If you are standing in line or at a cocktail party most people's space increases to 18 to 48 inches. For everyday situations such as being around people that we don't know well the distance expands to at least 4 feet.

There are some exceptions to the rule. If the interaction is between two men, the distance tends to be a little greater, but if it's between two women, it tends to be a little smaller. When you are forced to be in a crowded space where these personal space limits aren't possible, like a crowded elevator, people tend to look straight ahead, or at the ground, so they don't make eye contact.

Learn How To Read Signs Of Unease And Stress

Understanding body language that is used when someone is uncomfortable or stressed can be very helpful in social situations. When you can pick up on these subtle cues that someone is giving it can help you to regain control of the situation before you lose the other person. You can work to put them at ease if necessary.

Signs to watch for include people touching their necks, playing with their tie or jewelry, touching their face, or running the palm of their hands from their thighs towards their knees.

Know The Proper Use Of Eye Contact

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Eye contact is a big part of understanding body language. The tricky part is there are a lot of rules to follow and things to watch out for. It's important to make eye contact when you are speaking to someone, or they are speaking to you. It helps to show that you are engaged in the conversation and often helps you to have an easier time listening because there are fewer things to distract you.

It has often been understood that avoiding eye contact means that someone is lying or trying to avoid something. When you avoid eye contact, it makes people think you are untrustworthy. Or, it gives the impression that you have low confidence. Neither of these is impressions that you want to give others. However, since most people understand that a person who is lying usually avoids eye contact someone that's lying to you may purposefully make eye contact with you to trick you into believing them. But, when they do this, it doesn't have that natural feel, and they tend to hold their stare for too long making it uncomfortable.

Eye contact is also a way to show interest and invite conversation. Eye contact is an important part of body language and something that you should be aware of in any social setting.

Trust Your Gut

When it comes to reading and understanding body language in social settings, it's often best to let your body be your guide. Our subconscious is very good at recognizing the body language of others and its meaning. We tend to get our brain involved too much trying to figure out things and read too deep into them. Things are often what they look like if we allow our subconscious minds to perceive the situation.

Watch The Direction Of The Feet

Many people think that body language is all about the face and arms. But, it's not. People are pretty good about controlling their facial expressions. We know that people are looking at our faces, so we try our best to make them do what they should in a situation. The same thing happens with our arms and hands. Many people have heard the advice about not putting their hands in their pocket or crossing their arms. However, our feet can tell a different story, and we don't usually think about what they are doing.

If you are interested in a conversation, you tend to point your feet towards the person that you are talking to. However, if you are looking to get out of the conversation chances are you have at least one foot pointed in a different direction. It's like you are opening the door to walk away as soon as the opportunity arises. So, when you are interacting with others in social situations pay attention to what their feet are doing (but don't forget to make eye contact).

Source: pixabay.com

Think About The Position Of Your Head

The position of your head communicates a lot more than you might know. If you hold your head upright, it helps you appear confident and alert. However, if you turn it slightly to the side, it can show the person you are talking to that you are listening to them as they talk. Every person wants to be listened to and respected, and this can help you do that.

Watch Where You Stand

Sometimes it's not possible to control exactly where you are standing or sitting in a room, but if you can, it's important to know where to stand. Try to keep your back to a wall instead of the room. When you turn your back on the room, you close yourself off from the other people that would try to start a conversation with you. Do your best to remain open to the room when possible. This invites conversation and interaction with others.

Making A Good First Impression

In social settings, we are often in the position of being introduced to others for the first time and having to make a first impression. The body language you choose to use in these situations can make a big impact on the type of impression that you make. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • A firm handshake is important. You aren't trying to break the other person's hand, but you don't want your handshake to be limp either. You just want it to be firm and communicate confidence.
  • Use good posture. Our posture communicates a lot about us. If you walk around slouched with your eyes on the ground, you appear unconfident and timid. However, if you enter the room with your head up and shoulders back, you appear confident. Also, pay attention to the placement of your hands. If you put them on your hips, you can appear aggressive and confrontational.
  • Use proper eye contact. We discussed this one earlier but will touch on it here. When making a first impression you want to make eye contact with the person you are meeting. Don't stare at them the entire time. Make sure to break your gaze from time to time but show them that you are engaged in the conversation.
  • Don't touch your face. This isn't talking about it you have an itch or something like that. But, try to avoid touching y our face or hair a lot. This can cause you to appear dishonest or nervous.

Source: pixabay.com

How To Improve Your Communication Skills?

Having good communication skills is important on both a personal and professional level. If you realize you could use some improvement in this area talk to a BetterHelp therapist. They can help you determine why you are struggling and what you can do to overcome it and improve your communication skills. Something as simple as improving your understanding of body language can have a big impact on your life.

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