Body language like a foreign language

Katarzyna Lawera

The subject of body language was viral some time ago and used to occupy much space in communication and soft skills training. Afterwards, it became a bit quiet, as it turned out that it is not as simple a tool as it may seem at first glance. However, it is worth knowing how body language affects our communication. Not to manipulate people, but to make your message clearer.

In the age of the pandemic, more and more people are working remotely. I assume we already know how important it is to conduct online meetings with the camera on. I’ve said many times how much information is lost when we can’t see each other and how this can hinder communication.

But there is another aspect that is worth paying attention to. How we position the camera is not insignificant. And it’s not about presenting your better profile. It’s about the message sent to the other person’s subconscious mind through the positioning of our body.

Suppose I position the camera to present me in a standard straight shot at the height of the recipient’s eyes. This is the most natural position of conversation with an open addressee. However, suppose I position the camera on the side (because for various technical reasons this is more convenient). In that case, I look at the other person’s image straight ahead, but what the other person sees is the person turned to the side. The subconscious of the person looking receives the message: “I am positioning myself sideways to you, to what you are saying and proposing”. And although I may not have this intention, subconsciously, my partner may feel uneasy or even irritated, perceiving the signal of distrust or negation that comes from such an attitude.

If I position the camera to film me slightly from below, I look down at my partner. This body positioning can subconsciously trigger a competitive response, a need to negate what I am saying and to push my point. All because the subconscious mind gets the signal: “this person is superior, he thinks he is better”.

Do you think it does not matter so much? Do an experiment. Ask a friend to help you and tell you a story while standing to your side and not looking at you. Check how you felt about it. Did you want to continue the conversation?

The same is true if the other person doesn’t make eye contact, just looks at the phone or the screen of some device. He may assure us that he is listening. Still, our subconscious mind receives the message: “it is not important to me what you say”, or worse: “you are not important to me”, and we stop feeling like speaking or explaining, even if we were just bursting with enthusiasm.

We have to be aware that our body sends signals to the subconscious mind of the recipient. Sometimes it reveals what we don’t want to show, and sometimes it adopts a habitual posture that can create a false impression.

Try to observe how you judge what people say depending on how their body is arranged. Are you more likely to trust the professionalism of someone who stands upright, in a natural, relaxed pose and speaks with a calm but firm voice, or someone who hunches their shoulders, bows their head and mumbles under their breath?

This is an exaggerated image, but we send out much more subtle signals every moment. That’s why I encourage you to observe yourself as part of your self-discovery. Please take a moment each day when it occurs to you, and see how your body is arranged. Think about what it wants to communicate. You can go a step further and consciously take care of your posture when you want to convey something to another person or reinforce a message, e.g., your interest, empathy, and professionalism.

Beware if you are tempted to use this tool manipulatively and through body posture convey something that is not true. It’s not that simple. Our subconscious minds are very sensitive to such dissonance and pick it up quickly. That’s probably why the body language trend passed so quickly.

However, it is certainly worth thinking consciously about what I show with my body. If I use it carefully, I can avoid pitfalls and misunderstandings in communication (at least some of them).