It’s been estimated that body language accounts for as much of 55 percent of human communication, so being able to understand these nonverbal cues is essential in all kinds of interpersonal dynamics.
Various forms of body language include postures, eye contact, facial expressions and gestures which convey the emotional subtext beneath the spoken words. For instance, a closed stance with arms across the chest might reveal tension, while an open stance with hands clasped in front can send a more positive message.
Effective body language can help you resolve conflicts in relationships, make a strong first impression in job interviews, smooth over negotiations in board rooms, and show tact and poise in any interaction. It teaches you to read between the lines of speech.
Awareness of your own body language, as well as the ability to perceive and interpret someone else’s, is a valuable skill for any communicator. Here are practical, actionable ways to hone this technique in all aspects of your life.
Teach Yourself Poker and Learn to Read Tells
At a poker table, body language acts as an indication of an opponent’s hand, as well as a tactic to reinforce the strength of a bluff. These are referred to as “tells” in a poker game, and they can take the form of any behavioral cue, from a smirk or frown, to a body twitch, to a change in posture, to eye contact or lack thereof.
Most tells are involuntary, but some are deliberate and strategic, so as you learn how to identify tells in other people, you also will become more conscious of the message your own behavior communicates. For instance, poker tells such as a fluid vocal tone, deep breath, smile or direct gaze can help you project confidence.
Similarly, insight into another person’s tell can help you decipher the intention or context behind their actions. The more you practice both reading and exhibiting tells at the poker table, the more it translates into other arenas over time.
Start the Morning with a Power Yoga Sequence
Research shows that certain yoga poses can increase your sense of empowerment, openness, self-esteem and balanced mood state. This, in turn, enables you to demonstrate those qualities in your interactions with others.
In particular, standing poses—such as warrior, mountain, eagle or tree—will improve body alignment and posture to communicate energy, power, dominance and expansion within a given space, indicates Frontiers in Psychology.
These poses lift and open the chest, straighten the back and shoulders, and root the whole body in spatial awareness which sends the message that you are at ease and in control. Incorporate a yoga flow into your morning routine and be mindful of how each pose impacts the various nuances of body language, both on and off the mat.
Observe Body Language in the Top 25 TED Talks
Many expert communicators have worked to hone their body language over the course of long career trajectories. So you can learn all kinds of useful, applicable techniques from watching their mannerisms, expressions and movements.
For inspiration, start with these 25 most-watched TED Talks of all time. Pay close attention to both the overt and subliminal meaning these speakers communicate through nonverbal cues, then practice imitating those actions in a mirror until they look and feel natural. You can also compare and contrast how different speakers might use the same element of body language to express their own unique ideas.
For instance, author and researcher Brene Brown employs broad, sweeping hand motions to reinforce empathy and connection. Whereas psychologist Angela Duckworth utilizes similar gestures to inspire tenacity and perseverance. As you learn to detect these subtleties, it teaches you how to adapt body language to fit within the context of your message.
Understand What Body Language Says about You
Human beings draw conclusions about each other through the visual clues they exchange back-and-forth. Someone might determine whether or not you seem intelligent, attentive, relaxed, trustworthy, approachable or confident based on how you present to the world.
Body language is nuanced and complex—even just a smile can imply a number of meanings, from compassion to sarcasm. You can sometimes express more with the quirk of an eyebrow or the placement of your arms than with a rehearsed speech full of impressive-sounding words. Therefore, t’s crucial to be aware of how your own body language comes across to the various people you interact with in all facets of life.
This is how you secure clients, retain customers, land jobs, close business deals and strengthen relationships. When you learn how to interpret body language, the potential for conflict and miscommunication will decrease, and you will be more perceptive and attuned to the feelings of others—sometimes without even uttering a word.