Body language can be a significant part of communication, whether consciously or subconsciously. Non-verbal behavior, including body language, can offer silent cues and signals that may impact how you speak, react, and feel. Understanding body language in yourself and others may help you more successfully and confidently navigate social settings. Regardless of your background, there are a few ways you can learn to recognize what others are communicating through their actions.
How To Understand Body Language In Social Settings
Below are a few ways to better understand body language when communicating with strangers, acquaintances, friends, potential partners, and families.
Gauge And Respect Personal Space
People often have a certain amount of personal space they prefer to keep around them, often around two to three feet from the body. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may have increased what people consider appropriate amounts of personal space.
However, how much personal space is enough can depend on a person’s upbringing and culture. Some people may be comfortable standing close together when they speak and may love physical contact, whereas others may not like to stand close to or touch anyone, including friends and family. If you’re unsure how much personal space to give others, look at their behavior. How close do others stand to you? How do you see other people communicating with each other?
The distance to keep from people can also vary based on the situation that you are in. For example, if you are in an intimate setting with someone, you might be closer to them physically. If you’re speaking to someone new at a party, you might choose to keep your distance until you get to know them. In general, try to start at an arm’s length.
Learn How To Read Signs Of Unease And Stress
Understanding body language used when someone is uncomfortable or stressed can be helpful in social situations. When you can pick up on these subtle cues, you may be able to adjust how you communicate, if necessary, or offer reassurance to the person you’re talking to.
Signs to watch for include neck touching or rubbing, fiddling with jewelry or hair, excessive face touching, fidgeting, or a lack of direct eye contact. Even if the cause of the discomfort isn’t your own communication, knowing when and how to comfort others can be a part of building or sustaining relationships.
Understand Eye Contact
Eye contact is often a part of understanding body language. Maintaining eye contact can lead to increased engagement and connectivity between two people. Looking someone in the eyes can help you show that you’re interested, attentive, and a safe person to confide in. This skill may be appreciated when speaking to someone in a position of authority or having a serious conversation.
If you struggle with maintaining eye contact, know you aren’t alone. From low self-esteem to neurodevelopmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorder, there are a few reasons eye contact might seem overwhelming, intimidating, or unnatural. Studies have also shown that forced eye contact or pressure to maintain eye contact can cause autistic children and adults to have slower brain function, which may limit communication. For this reason, it may be beneficial for those who are not neurodivergent to lend patience and kindness to those who struggle with eye contact.
Trust Your Gut
When reading and understanding body language in social settings, let your body be your guide. Your subconscious may be adept at recognizing the body language of others and its meaning. Involving your brain by trying to overthink a situation may lead to misinterpretation.
Watch The Direction Of The Feet
Some people may believe that body language is about the face and arms, but it can also involve other parts of the body. Parts of the body that are often overlooked, including feet and legs, can tell a different story.
For instance, if you are interested in a conversation, you may naturally point your feet toward the person you are talking to. However, if you want to get out of the conversation, you might have one or both feet pointed in a different direction. Paying attention to the entirety of someone’s body may help you pick up signals you might otherwise miss.
Make A Positive First Impression
Body language is often most important when you first meet someone. Because you may be more likely to speak impersonally, using acceptable and well-understood language, such as small talk and politeness, you might not get to know someone’s true feelings. As such, the body language you use in these situations can make an impact on the impression you make. Use the following tips when meeting someone:
- Use A Firm Handshake: A firm, friendly handshake may help you appear more confident and ready to engage in conversation.
- Consider Your Posture: If you walk around slouched with your eyes on the ground, you may appear timid, irritable, or uninterested. However, you may appear confident, approachable, and friendly if you enter the room with your head up and shoulders back.
- Use Eye Contact: Eye contact can be vital upon first meeting someone to show that you are listening.
How To Improve Your Communication Skills
Communication skills can be essential on a personal and professional level. Practice and individualized advice can make a difference regardless of where you’d like to improve. In some cases, a lack of confidence may be an obstacle. In others, severe social anxiety or neurodiversity can make it challenging to understand social cues. These challenges may also become barriers to reaching out for in-person support.
If you face these barriers, you might benefit from contacting a therapist on an online platform like BetterHelp. By helping you identify your challenges, desires, and expectations, a therapist can provide you with resources for improvement. In addition, online platforms allow individuals to choose between phone, video, or live chat session formats, which may benefit those with social fears.
Working with a therapist online might also be a way to practice your communication skills without creating undue stress.
What are the 4 types of body language?
Many believe that there are four primary ways that people read body language and body movements. These can include: soft and fluid, light and bouncy, precise and bold, or dynamic and determined. Often, we may project these qualities in our body language signals automatically in social interactions — perhaps without meaning to. Being aware of our social body language (and someone else’s body language) can allow us as humans to be more meaningful with our speech; whether we are using verbal communication or not.
What are social skills of body language?
Understanding facial expressions and body language signals is an underrepresented social skill, possibly allowing you to read someone based on their facial expression and nonverbal cues — which can be a more powerful form of communication compared to verbal communication methods alone.
What are the 4 types of social cues?
When it comes to reading body language during social interactions, there are usually four primary types of social cues to consider: body language, tone, expressions (such as facial expressions that may show a person’s mood), and boundaries (which may be indicated by other body language signals; such as crossed legs).
These social cues can take the form of positive body language, which may project acceptance and feelings of welcome. Other body language signals and social cues may project negative feelings or standoffishness. Understanding how to read these nonverbal communication signals can allow deeper communication to occur, possibly enhancing one’s social interactions and forging deeper connections at all levels of society. Reading body language can also increase one’s emotional intelligence and empathy.
What are the 7 types of body language?
Body language can be so much more than facial expressions. Learning how to read someone else’s body language (as well as your own body language signals) is a powerful skill. To begin, consider focusing on what many believe to be the seven “main” types of body language signals:
- Eye contact. This can be one of the most powerful nonverbal cues, possibly giving you direct insight into someone’s feelings. Are they avoidant? Are they confident?
- Gestures. This can vary when someone is working to read body language. It can be as simple as a hair flip or as obvious as crossed legs.
- Facial expressions. Perhaps one of the more heavily focused-on elements of reading body language, facial expressions can clue us into what a person is thinking, even if they are saying something to the contrary. One’s facial expression selection can also be unique to them, so learning and practicing reading body language in a person-specific way can also be helpful.
- Posture. Yet another helpful nonverbal communication cue, you can determine a person’s state of being from their posture. Are they slumped, or pin-straight? Do they seem uncomfortable? As you learn to read body language, you may find yourself asking these questions naturally.
- Touch. Perhaps one of the more powerful forms of body language beyond facial expressions, touch can convey either positive body language or negative body language. For example: Using an index finger to point may be considered aggressive, while using a gentle hand to wave in the right direction can be considered polite.
- Voice. Voices can be one of the most diverse body language signals on a per-person basis, either complimenting or contradicting our facial expressions. For example: Someone may use a smile as their primary facial expression when they don’t feel happy at all — but a gravelly or tear-filled voice may signal that there’s more feelings than what you can see on the outside.
- Space. Distance and personal space (or, personal boundaries) can be a powerful form of nonverbal communication that can indicate how comfortable a person feels with someone else or in a social situation.
What are the 5 C's of body language?
Many believe that there are five C’s to remember when learning to read body language, as they can allow you to reach a greater degree of accuracy in your assessment. Some of these are other cues or cue facets, and some are simply considerations to take before walking away with an assumption.
Many believe that the 5 C’s of body language or context, clusters, congruence, consistency and culture.
Here is a brief definition and context around each of these elements:
- Context. Body language signals and facial expressions don’t generally happen without a situation that triggers them — serving as the context. To consider this element, you may consider asking yourself: What was going on in the background when I observed this person’s body language?
- Clusters. Experts suggest that body language signals, common gestures and other forms of nonverbal communication can occur in “groups” or clusters — which may reinforce a theme.
- Congruence. People may offer body language signals that aren’t congruent with the facial expressions or other common gestures that they are using. You might consider this and observe the congruence element closely next time you’re evaluating someone’s body language signals.
- Consistency. Similar to congruence but not the same, this measure compares a person’s body language signals and facial expressions with their baseline common gestures and behavior. Is it consistent for them? What could this mean for them?
- Culture. What is accepted in one's culture may not be in another. For example — overseas, it can be customary to give a light double-cheeked air kiss in formal situations, such as a job interview or at a social gathering. This action is less common in the Western United States. Consider cultural implications of someone’s body language signals and facial expressions for a deeper understanding of their communication style.
What is a shy person's body language?
Humans are all unique creatures — so one person’s body language may vary from someone else’s. However, someone who feels shy may show certain facial expressions (such as ones that indicate hesitation, insecurity, or fear). They may also show different elements of body language, such as shrugged or lowered posture.
What is 1 example of body language?
One example of body language could be when a star employee is receiving a helpful report on their performance. They sit erect in the chair, with alert eyes that make eye contact with the manager. The employee has straight posture without being too stiff and sits comfortably and confidently. These body language elements generally indicate confidence, comfortability and capability.
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