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50 Shades of Body Language


Mon Jul 20 2015

50 Shades of Body Language-87b63dd25ad598130bce31145d770449183fb51ef4ba661817c8b59bd484447f

Nonverbal communication is an essential part of every skills repertoire. We can manage it well, and make a positive impression, or we can scramble the frequencies and leave our teams, colleagues, and managers with any number of confused or negative reactions. 

Body language experts Allan and Barbara Pease suggest that our nonverbals account for at least 60 percent of a speaker’s impact on a listener. Similarly, UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found in his 1981 research that the visual aspects of a speaker’s delivery account for 55 percent of the message being conveyed. 


Your reaction to those numbers may be “Whaaat…..? How could my hand gestures or posture be more important than the words I speak?” Let me explain. 

Your nonverbal communication is certainly less important when you are standing at the counter at McDonald’s ordering your favorite meal. It matters much less than your words do when you yell to someone who is about to step into oncoming traffic. But if your goal is to inspire, motivate, persuade, or educate, then attention must be paid to your silent signals. 

According to Dr. Mehrabian in Silent Messages, “Generalizing, we can say that people’s implicit behavior has more bearing than their words when communicating feelings or attitudes. It could be like-dislike, pleasure-displeasure, dominance-submissiveness, arousal-nonarousal; or it could be even very specific feelings like joy, anxiety, hurt, anger, depression, curiosity, or depression. Obviously…implicit expressions are not always more important than words. In fact, implicit cues are ineffective for communicating most referents such as, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow at 2:00 pm.’”

Fast forward 30 years to the current research in neuroscience and we have another reason to care about body language. Scientists have uncovered a brain function known as mirroring, which is the brain’s ability to help us empathize and experience the same emotion expressed by another person. Did you ever yawn after seeing someone else yawn? That’s what we’re talking about.  

Consequently, if your nonverbals are conveying something different than your words, then the audience will feel the dissonance and leave with an overall negative impression. If you love the nerdy brain science as much as I do, then you will enjoy this New York Times article on the discovery of mirror neurons. 


So, here’s the big question: Do you know whether you are communicating effectively on all three channels—verbal, vocal, and visual? There’s only one way to find out, and you may not like it: the video camera. Ask someone to videotape you in low-stakes settings so you can see for yourself. The camera doesn’t lie. And for having put yourself through that pain and misery, you get to become a better communicator.

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