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Everyone uses body language
People can not live without each other, we are social beings. As soon as we
are in contact with others we are communicating. For this we can make use of
spoken and written language. In these ways we make the content of a message
clear to each other. However we can also communicate without words. This
kind of communication tells us something about the relationship between
people. Often this is more important than getting the content of the
The communication about this non spoken communication, which tells us
something about the relationship between people, is called
Meta-Communication. Communicating about communication!
Words are inadequate
When we connect with a person, we also have to make it clear to each other
how the content of a spoken message needs to be interpreted. How we do this
says something about the relationship we have with the other person, or
think we have anyway.
Often words are inadequate for this purpose. For instance we do not tell
each other that easily how we feel about each other, or how the words of a
message need to be interpreted.
To make the meaning of our words clear we use body language. Body language
is a language without spoken words and is therefore called non verbal
We use body language all the time, for instance looking someone in the eyes
means something different than not looking someone in the eyes. In contact
with others it is just not possible to be not communicating something.
Usually body language occurs unconsciously. Yet the body language we use
decides to a large extent the quality of our communication. It follows
that therefore it would be good to become conscious of our own and others'
We can learn to use our body language for a purpose. As well as learn to
understand and interpret body language of others.
It is important to note that body language has different meanings in
different cultures. How we can interpret body language depends on the
situation, the culture, the relationship we have with the person as well as
the gender of the other. This means that there is not one signal that has
the same meaning all over the world. If you do not take this into account
you may get yourself in some serious trouble!
Body language is also interlinked with spoken language and a whole pattern
of behaviour from a person.
As well as that, various body language signs can complement each other to
make a particular meaning crystal clear or strengthen the meaning of what
we communicate. Some groups have developed a whole specific body language
which can be very explicit in its meaning and is used to communicate where the
use of words may otherwise be difficult or dangerous. Examples of this are
mostly groups, such as gay people, people in slavery, prisoners, etc.
who have a history of prejudice against them from the
Used to express feelings
Body language is used especially to express feelings. For instance if we do not like someone, it is often difficult to say that directly to the person. However we can make it clear either intentionally or unintentionally through body language. The opposite is also true. We may say that we ARE angry through words yet our body language may be saying loud and clear that we are NOT. This can be very confusing for the receiver. This is usually described as giving out double messages - one message in words and an opposite message in body language. It is also difficult to lie or cover up our feelings through body language. People may give their true feelings away by not being aware of their body language. Research has shown that most people pay more attention to, and believe more readily, their impression of how a person acts through body language than what is said through words. As a consequence we tend to doubt, or put a question mark behind, the spoken words if they do not correspond with the language of the body.
The importance of knowing how we communicate
How we come across to someone is decided only for a small part by the words we speak.
To leave a good impression behind, say at a job interview, it is important that we know,
and to a certain extent can control, our body language. The person on the receiving end
of our body language will have a feeling or impression that is often difficult to
describe - difficult to put into words or difficult to prove what actually was
communicated. Haven't we all said at times: 'I have a feeling he/she likes me',
or something like: 'I doubt if what he/she is saying is really the truth'. This type of
feeling is called intuition. Body language plays a big role in intuition as it gives us
messages about the other person that we can interpret at an intuitive level. It is
therefore necessary to get to know our own body language first. We should learn about it
so that we can recognise it in others as well as in ourselves. For this purpose, all the
different aspects of body language that we can learn something from will be described next.
text: Frank van Marwijk.
translations: Josje v.d. Steen and Suzanne van Leendert
© Bodycom Lichaamscommunicatie, The Netherlands
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