The language everybody speaks.
Nederlands Fotoshow: 50 postures in the meeting
Meeting without the use of words
During a meeting people are communicating continuously, and not only the people who are speaking. Everybody who is present expresses non-verbally how he or she feels during the meeting. They continuously show if they think the subjects for discussion are interesting and if they agree with the speakers.
The people that are present can determine, without words, how the conversation goes and who gets the floor. It often seems that the people who talk the most have the most influence on the course of the conversation and on the eventual decision-making. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes people who do not have much to say can change or disrupt the course of the conversation just by their presence.
When you are the chairman of such a meeting it is important to be able to interpret the body language of the people who are participating in the meeting. As the chairman, you can use body language techniques to guide the conversation.
When the people who are participating in the meeting are discussing a subject, their involvement can be seen from their attitude. The people who are not that interested sit back in their chairs, and often draw the nicest doodles, while giving others the idea that they are taking notes. The people who are really not interested at all stare idly into space or just keep looking around them. When everyone adopts this pose, then it's possible that the meeting was scheduled for the wrong time of the day or there is little interest for the subject. In that case such subjects do not need to be discussed for very long.
People who are participating in the meeting and are of the opinion that the subject is important follow the speakers in a non-verbal manner. When they agree with the speaker, they nod a lot. They take on an open, attentive attitude whereby they often lean forward a little. It is also striking how often listeners adopt the same attitude as the speaker that they are in agreement with. By paying attention to the attitudes of the people present, you can get an idea about the division of opinions. Maybe half of the listeners adopt the attitude of the speaker and the other half is sitting in a defensive attitude. The people who are in disagreement with the speaker hardly move their heads. They sit backwards and adopt a glassy, closed attitude. Often they fold their arms or they cover their mouths with their hands. When they start shaking their heads they are probably about to say something.
Who gets the floor?
It is the chairman's task to ensure that everyone who is participating in the meeting all gets the floor proportionally, and that the different points of view as regards a subject are heard. You can also use your knowledge of body language here. When someone wants to say something he shows this through his breathing. A deep breath is often a sign that someone wants to interrupt the speaker and wants to take the floor. As a chairman it is important to recognise this sign. Eye contact and small gestures with your head and hands are often sufficient to guide the course of the conversation; body contact is screaming. However, sometimes it can be useful to touch someone for a moment to interrupt him or her.
It is important to involve everyone in the meeting. People who are silent also have an opinion, and it is important to hear this opinion during the meeting. It often happens that people are silent during the meeting and only express their opinion afterwards in the corridors. However, the people who are silent do react, in a non-verbal manner, on what is being said during the meeting. A good way to involve them in a conversation is by reacting on their body language. You can address the non-verbal behaviour and link a question to it such as: "I see you are nodding, why do you think it's important that this meeting is carried on?" or "What a deep sigh, do you have a problem with this statement?".
Content and relation.
Communication also takes place on a relational level during a meeting, besides the discussions relating to the subjects. It is not so much about what a speaker says exactly but more about what he "actually" means with what he says. An underlying message can be given for example about the relation with another person in the meeting. The meaning of a comment sometimes becomes clearer through the body language of the speaker than through the words. Especially through variation in intonation and mimics, a statement can have a completely different meaning. As the chairman, knowledge of body language can help you recognise this in time and react on it.
Emotional aspects in the meeting.
In communication between people, our feelings as well as our thoughts are involved. What we think is usually expressed verbally, and what we feel and want during a group activity is usually expressed non-verbally: through blushing, raising your voice, an angry face, surly silence, banging your fist on the table, walking away from a meeting, etc. It is important to recognise the emotional involvement of people and to take into account the influence this can have on other people in the meeting. When a subject of discussion becomes too emotionally charged, sometimes it can be better to defer this point to another meeting. There are people who are quick to react emotionally. Other people can show enormous emotional expression during a meeting, but only with the objective of achieve something. Talking about awareness of body language....(!)
text: Frank van Marwijk.
translation: Suzanne van Leendert
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