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Expert Speak – Non Verbal Communication: Your Body Speaks

Jun 21, 2018 14:50 IST

    Most people don’t worry about gesturing while they are chatting with friends or conversing with co-workers. But when they are communicating in front of colleagues or seniors, they start to fret or are not focused on their nonverbal cues.

    What do we get so nervous about?Many clients say we get conscious about getting our message across effectively; making sure we appear confident and competent; and wondering what the future consequences of our presentation might be. Will I get what I want? Will I appear foolish? Will everything work out the way I intended?

    Your body responds to speaking in a very physiological way: Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your breathing becomes shallow, your legs become wobbly, your mouth gets dry, and your palms get wet. When you are nervous, your hands and arms tend to pull up close to your chest. A tight, closed body position not only makes you appear defensive and nervous, but it makes your audience feel uneasy and doubtful. These natural tendencies get in the way of confident, competent and connected speaking.

    So what can you do to counteract your innate tendencies? To begin with, your arms need a base—a place from which to start and return. Allow your arms to hang from your side as if a tailor was measuring you for a new jacket. You can gently rest your thumbs along the side of your leg. This position can feel quite awkward, but looks very comfortable and commanding. When you see a CEO or politician waiting to be introduced, that is how he or she stands.

    Another base position is to lightly clasp your hands at the level of your belly button.

    Avoid squeezing your hands too tightly or holding them little up; either of these actions cause your shoulders to rise and your elbows to touch your body, both of which make you appear tense.

    When gesturing, you want to raise your gestures above your waist. Imagine you are submerged up to your waist in the shallow end of a swimming pool— all of your gestures need to be above the water. When you gesture this way, your audience feels comfortable, because they can focus on your face and still see your gestures in their field of vision. If you gesture too low, the audience feels compelled to look at the movement rather than watch your face. This makes your audience feel uncomfortable and distracts them.

    Additionally, when you gesture, extend your arms away from your body. This reach most often will extend out at a 45-degree angle. Imagine each gesture is reaching outward as if to shake someone’s hand. This extension allows you to fully use your gestures as well as connect to your listeners. Communication scholars call this connection “speaker immediacy.” You are immediately present and engaged with your audience.

    When it comes to gesturing, there are a few habits that we should avoid-

    1. Pointing at your audience - Use an open hand with fingers extended. This is the Disneyland approach to gesturing. Employees of Disneyland are taught that pointing with a finger is rude and that in certain cultures, specific fingers have offensive connotations. So Disney employees gesture with open palms.
    2. Gesturing too much–Use gestures whenever required. After you have completed your gestures, return your arms and hands to one of your two resting places for a brief break.
    3. Using only one hand - Mix it up—use the righthand and left-hand gestures alternately. You can also gesture with both hands.

    So go ahead and make conscious use of these suggestions in the next few communication scenarios.

    Soon you will start using these non-verbal communication tips naturally and will no longer have to remain conscious about using them.

    About the Expert:

    Piyush Mahajan is a certified life coach and soft skills facilitator. She has over 11 years of experience in the GeoSpatial industry where she worked as a senior data specialist. Having found her life’s calling, she gave up a promising career as a Data Specialist and decided to become a life skills coach.

      DISCLAIMER: JPL and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.

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