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We can tell something about a person when we notice his or her body posture, the way people hold themselves gives important information. For instance a lot of people feeling down, will give that information by the way they hold their shoulders. Not only do we see it in their body posture, shoulders sagging and head down, but also in the way they have very little eyecontact. They say to the world in fact that they are not interested in their environment nor the people in it. Compare that to someone who walks straight and looks at the world and immediately you will have another impression of how this person is feeling. Our body posture often reflects quite well how we feel. Try walking upright and looking around next time when you are feeling a bit low and you will notice that such a simple thing already influences your mood positively.
Another feeling we can communicate with our body posture is one of interest and respect for someone else. Turning your body to someone when they are talking to you indicates that you are interested in hearing what they have to say. It is an act of friendliness and respect and often rewards itself when you get it back from the other person. A small effort in this way can make the difference between being accepted by others or not.
A body posture can be closed or open. Someone who does not feel too comfortable when they are with someone else will often assume a closed position. He or she will possibly have crossed arms or legs or will hold an object such as a bag in front. The bag as well as the crossed arms and legs provide a bit of a barrier and protection for feeling vulnerable. Trust has a lot to do with it and it is often natural to begin the contact with someone you do not know with a bit of a closed body position until you have established some level of trust and comfort that goes with that. Or in other words have established a level of intimacy. Intimacy can be anything from feeling good in the company of a person to being intimate physically. There are all sorts of levels of intimacy, also described as feelings of closeness. More about this when you read on. And remember, trust gets established by our body language interactions as well as what we say.
For a while now the importance of body language has been recognized. Nowadays there will not be a training for sales people and management in which the study of body language is absent. In 1970 Julius Fast wrote his famous book body language. In there he writes about the study of the language of the body and called it: kinesica. More recent developed theories on human functioning have given life to Neuro Linguistic Programming. NLP uses body language as its main source of information to tell more about the way we operate as people, by ourselves or when we are together. For instance, we adjust our body position all the time to our environment when we are in company or in a public place. It has been researched that we have a higher success rate of getting our message across to another when we take on a similar position as him/her. Unconsciously we copy the others’ movements like crossing and uncrossing legs, turning our bodies this way or that. In NLP this process is called modeling.
We are often not conscious of the kind of body language signals we send out, yet unconsciously we are able to interpret the body language of others. We rely on our intuitive feelings with this process of interpreting. Movement also belongs in body language. All movements, in our face, with our head, our legs, our feet and all body parts, our gestures, combine to make our body language congruent. Gestures, combinations of a series of smaller body movements, can be learned. Take for instance the gesture when we want to say ok: our thumb and index finger make a circle and our other fingers stretch upwards, while our facial expression compliments what we are signing with this signal. It is often funny how young children learn these signals and do not always get them right. It can also be funny, as well as cause difficulties, when a gesture means one thing in one culture and another thing in another culture. So pay attention when and where you use them. These kind of gestures have of course nothing to do with the learned sign language of deaf people, even though that language is made up out of series of gestures. Some of the principals of body language do not apply in the same way for deaf people when they are sign-talking.
text: Frank van Marwijk.
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