Body Language—What Is It And Why Does It Matter?

Updated January 19, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever heard that 93% of communication is nonverbal? This is a statistic from the book Silent Messages by Albert Merabia, which was published in the early 1970s. Social psychologists have been studying body language for years, and research shows it can play a significant role in how effectively we communicate. 

Explore Various Types Of Body Language And Their Effects.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the definition of body language is "the gestures, movements, and mannerisms by which a person or animal communicates with others." Communication is more than just verbal. The way we use our bodies to express ourselves is a large part of how we communicate. 

Why Our Body Language Matters

It's possible for our words to be saying one thing and our body language to be communicating something completely different. To have effective communication, our words and body language need to match, as does our tone of voice. When we put all of these things together and carefully choose our words to express what we mean, we may communicate more effectively. However, when we aren't careful about our body language, we can send mixed signals to the person that we're talking to. This can make it difficult for them to understand the point that we are trying to get across.

Common examples of body language include crossing your arms over your chest, biting your nails, resting your cheek on your hand, drumming your fingers, lifting your eyebrows, tilting your head, rubbing your hands together, stroking your chin, having good posture, slouching, and squirming around. Body language includes every way that your body communicates, both positive and negative.

How To Correct Bad Body Language

Body language is something that we often demonstrate without even thinking about it. It consists of our body's natural responses to a situation. This is one of the reasons why sometimes our body language doesn't match what we are trying to say or trying to portray in a situation.

Below are some of the common forms of unhelpful body language and what you might do instead.

Leaning Backward

If you want to show someone that you care about what they're talking about and that you're engaged in the conversation, you might avoid reclining backward. This relaxed and reclined position when sitting can give the impression that you are not interested in what they have to say. It can give the appearance that you are bored or that you simply don't care.

Suggestion: If you want to show you are engaged in the conversation, you might consider leaning in toward the person talking. This gives the appearance that you are actively involved in the conversation. It also helps you to focus your attention on the person that is talking and not be distracted.

Crossing Your Arms

Many people cross their arms over their chest because they don't know what else to do with their hands while they are standing up. While you might not think this is bad body language, it can communicate that you are angry, defensive, or in disagreement. It can also indicate to people that you are not interested in what they are talking about. 

Suggestion: You might want to find something else to do with your arms. If you are sitting down, try keeping your hands in your lap. If you are standing up, you might practice allowing your arms to hang by your side. Alternatively, you might try holding something in your hands while talking, such as a folder, a purse, or a coffee mug. This gives you something to do with your hands and arms that you don't need to think about.

Lack Of Eye Contact

When you avoid making eye contact with people, you may inadvertently give one of a few impressions:

  • It may look like you are uninterested in the conversation or are thinking about something else.

  • You may look untrustworthy because you will not look them in the eye. This can give the impression that you are hiding something.

  • Lack of eye contact can give the appearance that you are anxious or lacking in confidence.

Suggestion: If you want to show that you are confident and trustworthy, try to make steady eye contact with people. However, you might avoid staring into their eyes. This can come across as intimidating and make people feel uncomfortable. Instead, you can make eye contact with them and then break away after a second or two before making eye contact again.

Clasping Your Hands Together

When you clench your hands together, it can come across to others that you are angry, frustrated, or anxious. This action can make it look like you are trying to restrain yourself. However, some people mistakenly think that this action shows confidence. Many people instinctively clasp their hands together in front of them when they need to act confident. However, it can often have the exact opposite effect.

Suggestion: If you are sitting down, you can rest your hands together. The potential problem is not your hands being together; the problem is what you are doing with your hands. If they are relaxed and at ease, it's much different than when you are tightly holding them together. The former can show confidence, and the latter can show nerves and anxiety.

Fidgeting

If you’re fidgeting while someone is talking to you, it may show that you're bored with the conversation or that you're nervous and feel uncomfortable talking with them. Fidgeting includes actions like bouncing your leg up and down, drumming your fingers on the table, or messing with your hair.

Suggestion: You might try to focus on sitting still even when you are nervous. This may be difficult at first, but you will likely get better at it the more you practice.

Explore Various Types Of Body Language And Their Effects.

Good Forms Of Body Language

Your body language should ideally support the words that you are saying. If you are angry, then your body language should support that. However, if you are going to a business meeting where you need to appear calm and confident, then your body language should support that as well.

Tips For Effective Body Language

Nodding Your Head

Nodding your head is a simple way to show that you are listening to the person, and it can sometimes also convey that you are in agreement. However, you need to make sure you do agree with what they are saying, or else your body language isn't going to match your true opinions.

Smiling

Smiling can be a great form of body language that communicates positivity, happiness, and confidence. When you smile, you may appear approachable to others. Smiling may also boost your mood, improve your immune system, relieve stress, and help make those around you happier. Just by smiling at someone, you may help bring their tension level down and connect with them more effectively.

Psychologists have also found that your smile doesn't have to be genuine to make an impact. Even if you don't feel like it, just by choosing to smile, you can boost your mood and possibly communicate in a more compelling way.

Watch The Body Language Of Others

When you are working with other people, you might also try to observe their body language. There are times when this can give you a true indication of the situation. If they are sending you mixed signals between their words and their body language, then you might ask additional questions to clarify their opinion. Body language can be complex in that there are so many forms of it and ways that it can be interpreted.

Takeaway

If you have questions or concerns about your body language and communication style, you don’t have to navigate them alone. It may help to talk to a therapist with training in this field. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with an online counselor with experience helping people improve their body language and communication skills. Research has found that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy, and you can talk to a BetterHelp counselor from your home, your office, or anywhere with an internet connection.

Effective communication requires your body language and words to match. Having good communication skills can improve all your relationships, both in your personal life and work life. Take the first step and contact BetterHelp today.

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