A Research Paper By Mai Dyab, Coaching Stay at Home Mothers, Life Coach, JORDAN
Humans and Animals Used Body Language Prehistorically
According to Wikipedia Body language[i]is a type of communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey information. Such behavior includes facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch, and the use of space.
Humans and animals used body language prehistorically. It was the first way of communication, many years before we started communicating verbally. Developmentally speaking anthropologists believe that body language emerged out of the need to be able to understand and trust each other in a group.
Nonverbal communication can play five roles:[ii]
- Repetition: It repeats and often strengthens the message you’re making verbally.
- Contradiction: It can contradict the message you’re trying to convey, thus indicating to your listener that you may not be telling the truth.
- Substitution: It can substitute for a verbal message. For example, your facial expression often conveys a far more vivid message than words ever can.
- Complementing: It may add to or complement your verbal message. As a boss, if you pat an employee on the back in addition to giving praise, it can increase the impact of your message.
- Accenting: It may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline the importance of your message.
Source: The Importance of Effective Communication, Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D.
Body language is powerful and reliable unless the person expressing it knows how to manipulate it.
Types of Body Language:
Facial expressions: Countless emotions can be expressed using facial expressions. Uniquely, facial expressions tend to be universal. For example, the facial expressions for happiness, sadness, or fear are the same in all cultures.
Body movement and posture includes all of the following:
Posture: the position during which someone holds their body when standing or stetting.
Bearing: the particular way you find natural to hold your body or its orientation.
Stance: how someone stands.
Body movement: the change in the position of a body part concerning the whole body.
Gestures: a movement of a part of the body, especially the hand or head, to explain a thought or meaning.
Eye contact: the state where two people are conscious of looking directly into one another’s eyes. This type of nonverbal communication is especially significant. Minimal changes in the way you look at someone or something can give different signals like affection, attraction, interest, or hostility. People would use eye contact to sustain a conversation or to assess acceptance, trust, and sincerity. In many eastern cultures, prolonged eye contact is considered disrespectful.
Touch: based on the Body Language Project, haptics is the study of touching and how it is used in communication[iii]. Handshakes, holding hands, kissing, back-slapping, high fives, brushing up against someone, or pats all have meaning. Touching is considered the most developed sense at birth and formulates our initial views of our environment. Touching can be used to soothe, for amusement during play, to flirt, to express power, and maintaining bonds between people such as with baby and mother. Touching can carry distinct emotions and show the intensity of these emotions. Touch absent of other cues can signal anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy. The length and type of touching performed will indicate the emotion behind it. Many factors also contribute to the meaning of touching like the length of the touch and the site on the body where the touching takes place.
The use of touch in communication is also hugely influenced by culture, religion, and social norms. For example, strangers of the same sex meeting for the first time in Arabic culture might greet each other with a kiss, while North Americans prefer to handshake. In Muslim communities, men and women do not greet each other with a kiss unless they are first or (in some cases) second-degree relatives. Even a handshake is considered to display some degree of affection and is still not preferred by many Muslim women as a way to greet strangers of the opposite sex.
Space. The study of special relationships is known as Proxemics. The measurable distance between people when they communicate is divided by Edward T. Hall into four main categories; intimate distance, personal distance, social distance, and public distance. This is also influenced by culture, religion, and social norms.
Voice. You can say the same thing 5 times with different meanings every time. When you speak, people interpret what you say and how you say it. Things that make the difference include timing and pace, how loud you speak, the tone of your voice, and what sounds you make to convey agreement or otherwise.
We can go on and on to describe different nonverbal cues and their interpretations. There has been a lot of research on this subject. Maybe, originating from man’s endless need to figure out the unknown, in this case, the unspoken.
Why Is Body Language Important in Coaching?
Paying attention to body language in coaching is a crucial skill. When the coach is attentive to body language, she is more able to notice what is being said. Being able to read non-verbal signals can improve dramatically your communication skills. Just as important as actively listening to your client, picking on those non-verbal signals builds rapport and uncovers what lies beneath the surface. Another important benefit of being knowledgeable in body language is that it helps you show empathy, which is essential in building and keeping a strong relationship. In addition, being aware of your body language will help you avoid misunderstandings, build your image and enhance your impact.
It is believed that 50% of human communication is nonverbal, and it happens on a subconscious level. When the spoken language is aligned with the body language, the messages we are receiving are clear. This contributes to effective communication and stronger relationships.
Building a Connection:
Expressing the proper body language can help you build a strong relationship with your client.
Making proper eye contact with the client will pay towards a trusting relationship. Alternating your gaze between the left eye, the right eye and the mouth will send the message that you are confident and trustworthy without having to stare at the client weirdly.
Always initiate the handshake (if appropriate), match the client’s grip, smile, and say their name.
Sit up in an open body position; do not cross your arms or your legs. This will give the impression you are open and engaged. Also, lean forward from the waist, this will give the appearance to the client that you are interested.
Stay calm, focus on your breathing, and do not fidget too much, this is distracting and can through the client off, or give the impression you are lacking confidence.
Mirroring is another very effective way of building rapport. Mirroring means to simulate or copy the other person’s gestures and moves, or even their language and tone of voice.
Mirroring someone’s body language happens naturally between friends, family members, and spouses. It sends the message that we are the same, or we think alike.
Professor Joseph Heinrich from the University of Michigan found that the urges to mirror others are hardwired into the brain because cooperation results in more food, better health, and economic growth for communities.
Mirroring your client’s body language is a skill that can enhance your coaching, and build rapport. Choosing to sit in the same way and using similar gestures helps your client feel comfortable, open and they might even say something like “I feel like I’ve known you for a long time!” However, don’t mirror their negative cue, and be aware of seeming offensive.
On the opposite hand, when the body language between a coach and a client is too different, the client will most likely feel uncomfortable, lacking chemistry, and distant. She would probably want to get out of the conversation. She is less likely to open up and will probably leave the meeting feeling awkward or tense.
During a coaching conversation, notice where your client is looking, what gestures she is making, the way she is sitting, her tone of voice, and the energy level she is expressing. All these nonverbal cues will help you uncover the real feelings she is having.
Jessica has moved to the United States recently, she was a teacher for the last 30 years in her home country; she is seeking a life coach that can help her transition into a new job in the United States.
After a brief conversation, she seemed ready to start applying for a new job. She expresses her excitement verbally, saying that she can’t wait to find out what is there for her and what the new experience might look like. Yet her body language was saying something else. She seemed distracted, looking down, touching her face, her tone of voice and energy seemed low.
When the coach noticed that, she shared that with Jessica, asking her what is on her mind. It turned out Jessica was not confident about rewriting her CV. After all, she was in the same job for the last 30 years and feels outdated.
The coach then discusses with Jessica possible ways that can enhance her confidence in rewriting her CV.
In this study case, we see the importance of paying attention to body language. Were the coach not attentive, she would have missed the real issue and Jessica would still feel stuck and unable to move forward.
Being able to interpret nonverbal signals is like being a cryptanalyst, it gives you superpowers to read what your client is experiencing. Sometimes the client herself is not aware of her feelings towards the subject in discussion and oftentimes is surprised by the way she expressed those feelings using body language.
In addition, the best approach would be to describe what you see and ask your client what it means. They are their experts, and making assumptions does not support the coaching conversation or your client.
This method of simply describing what you see and letting the client explain what is it and how it is relevant to her is like holding a mirror in front of your client and letting her see what you see. In many instances, this will lead to eye-opening aha moments or learning opportunities.
Fake it till you make it! As Amy Cuddy mentions in her Ted Talk“Research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions and perhaps even our body chemistry simply by changing body position”[iv]
In her Ted Talk scientist Amy Cuddy argues that our body language will shape how we feel about ourselves and not only how others see us.
Her research shows that not only do we feel and act more powerful when taking on an open robust body stance, but also our bodies respond by releasing more testosterone, which is the dominance hormone. At the same time, our bodies have a drop in cortisol level, the stress hormone.
This hormonal change was found to be evident after 2 minutes of taking on a powerful stance. Powerful people tend to be more assertive, more confident, and optimistic. They also tend to think rationally. These qualities were replicated in persons who intentionally tried to look more powerful.
In a coaching context, noticing the client’s stance and posture can give you clues on their inner feelings. Depending on the situation, if appropriate you may want to dig deep and uncover what is lying beneath.
In addition, sharing the power of body language with your clients may help them overcome mental and emotional blocks in certain situations. By simply adopting a powerful stance or posture for 2 minutes, they can overcome their insecurities before a job interview, a college presentation, etc.
Being Knowledgeable in Body Language
Nonverbal communication constitutes a big portion of human communication, and in most cases is subconsciously expressed. Knowing how to interpret those nonverbal signals greatly improves your coaching and opens many opportunities to explore underlying beliefs.
Being knowledgeable in body language helps you present yourself in the best way possible, be attentive to your client, and gain their trust.