Written by: Ashley Tulio, Communication Specialist
Body language is the use of physical behaviour, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate non-verbally. Non-verbal behaviours can allow people to be at ease, build trust and connections with others. However, they can also confuse others, generate tension, and even create an uncomfortable environment. Being able to understand one’s body language has always been interesting for me personally, as I have been in situations where, despite what one person says, their body language communicates something different or vice versa. Non-verbal communication can affect our words as it can reiterate our message, contradict our words, reinforce our statement, substitute the meaning of what we are trying to say, and complement what we are trying to say. Body language is something that is usually natural and is often done instinctively rather than consciously.
As humans, we express ourselves in different ways, including verbal, vocal (This refers to the tone, pace, and inflection. The tone of one’s voice can indicate various emotions including sarcasm, anger, affection, confidence, fear, etc.), and nonverbal. Non-verbal communication constitutes the majority of our overall communication.
A few examples of nonverbal communication include:
- Facial expressions
There are six universal expressions in which individuals use facial features to convey basic emotions, including surprise, happiness, anger, fear, sadness, and disgust. Facial expressions play a prominent role in conversations, as individuals can perceive facial expressions, helping them to read the situation.
- Body movement and posture
Your body movement and posture include aspects such as sitting, walking, standing, bearing, stance, and even subtle movements.
Gestures include actions such as waving, pointing, and even using hands when speaking. Personally, I talk with my hands quite often, especially when I am talking about topics for which I am incredibly passionate. For me, it helps me get my ideas across as it helps process and express my thoughts more effectively. Whenever I talk with my hands, I can think from thoughts more clearly, and at times, my hands help me get my point across more than my vocal features.
- Eye contact
The visual sense is an imperative type of non-verbal communication as you are able to see a lot through one’s eyes, including honesty, hostility, attraction, and affection. Eye contact also plays an essential role in maintaining conversations, as they can show an individual empathy, concern, and even how engaged they are in the conversation.
The pandemic has made it more challenging to communicate with non-verbal actions, as everyone needs to take protective measures, including wearing masks and social distancing in order to stay safe and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The rise of videoconferencing has also increased dramatically both within individuals’ lives as meetings, conferences, and educational activities have been shifted to applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.
Masks have also limited our ability to interpret emotions and communicate, as the two main organs that help read other’s faces are the eyes and mouth. Although the mouth is covered, there are some ways to enhance communication while staying safe and wearing face masks; a few include:
- Utilizing and recognizing the upper face through eyebrows, eyes, and upper cheeks during interpersonal communication.
- Using your whole body during communication, this includes gestures and body movements.
- Paying greater attention by practicing active listening and facing the person you are conversing with directly.
- Relying more on videoconferencing for interpersonal interactions.
The use of videoconferencing has increased exponentially due to the pandemic; unfortunately, it has its limitations! However, there are many ways that we can still convey positive body language during online communication, including:
- Straightening our posture.
- Leaving room to express ideas through our hands and upper body movements.
- Always making and maintaining eye contact!
- Being able to recognize and use facial features to increase expression.
- Using vocals to convey different emotions!
In conclusion, body language plays an essential role in all forms of communication as it can help break the barriers as well as form a better connection with other individuals. Due to the nature of the pandemic, there have been various limitations regarding human touch; however, there are ways to tackle these challenges while staying safe as outlined above!