We have all heard the common statistic that body language communicates about 80% of what we are saying and feeling, and our actual words only contribute 20% to getting our point across. Much has been said about how “body language sends messages to your date or partner that you may not even realize”, and how you can have a whole conversation with another person across the room without uttering a syllable. There is truth in the power of body language, and I feel that it is most prominent when two people are interacting and other factors are prohibiting them from honestly communicating. For example, when a partner or friend is tired, stressed out, or if it is a person that you are just getting to know, the most authentic and direct way of communicating how you are feeling is through the way you approach them — are you open and welcoming to connection? Are you scared or frustrated about revealing your feelings to the other person? Or do you not even realize the types of messages you are sending to the recipient?
A popular body language blog gives some examples about what might truly be going on in certain body language interactions. Avoiding eye contact, in this culture, can mean a sign of insecurity or disinterest. In other cultures, such as Asian cultures, avoiding eye contact can be a sign of respect. I would note that in any type of body language-reading situation, the cultural context of the individuals and society involved must be considered, as body language messages differ greatly across cultures. In my therapeutic practice, I take special interest in getting to know the way that my client defines his or her culture and I take an open stance to understanding the cultural undertones of their actions and words. This is another reason I wanted to write about body language in this post: it can often be misinterpreted due to lack of cultural awareness, or due to preconceived notions or feelings of the individuals communicating.
A client once expressed to me how she and her partner often get in conflict because they seem to be “in different emotional states” at the end of the day and cannot connect authentically. I asked her to describe the words, actions, and feelings that she perceives in these situations. She admitted that they don’t often talk about it but that she feels her partner is angry or upset with her because he physically turns away and slumps his shoulders as if he is closing down. I encouraged her to talk to her partner about the feelings she was expressing to me, and she came back to report that things are much better because her partner was not aware of the signals he was sending. Body language and the messages it sends have now become a regular conversation topic for the couple, and they have been able to deepen their relationship through understanding each other’s intentions and feelings.
Not only can body language be a third party in a relationship, it can be a bird on your shoulder as you move throughout your day, processing your own internal feelings. Notice what your face is doing right now. If you cannot tell, look in the mirror. Are your eyebrows tense? Is your chin locked? What are your shoulders and arms doing? Counselors and psychologists note the power that your own body language can have over the way you perceive yourself and how your day is going. I believe that if you make a conscious effort to inhabit an open, accepting stance with your body language, you can influence the course of your emotions throughout your day. Try it — be active, engaging, relaxed, and natural with your body today and see how you feel at the end of the day.