For Meeting of Minds, You Need a Body of Knowledge

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 5, 2009

I remember reading a very popular book about body language in the 1970’s.  If you crossed your arms in front, it meant you were being defensive.  If you crossed you legs toward a person, it meant you were open and receptive to their ideas.  And the list goes on.  The idea was simple: “read” common gestures and “interpret” them.

Kinesics, the science of nonverbal communication, has evolved beyond “you do this, it means that.”  Body language complements our spoken language and provides the depth and feeling behind the words, both on a conscious and subconscious level.  We act out our state of being with a wink of the eye for intimacy, the lift of the eyebrow for disbelief, a nod of the head to show agreement, a shrug of the shoulder for indifference, etc.  You can enhance your team communication through your body language with these simple keys for success:

Be Congruent. What you say should be consistent with how you say it.  You signal your intentions through your facial expressions, eye contact, physical touch, stance, posture, movement, gestures, and closeness to the other person.  We have all experienced the incongruency of someone saying “yes,” but shaking their head side to side, signaling “no.”  It makes us confused and we are not sure what to believe…the yes, no, or something in between.

Awareness. Just as you are conscious of the words you are saying, be aware of what your body is saying.  We typically don’t even notice the nonverbal messages we continually send to our team mates.  As you become more conscious of your body language, your words and actions will become more congruent.

Context. Examine what is going on in the environment around you.  If your teammate has crossed her arms in front, it might be that she is cold, not defensive.  A teammate rubbing their eyes might mean that they are tired, or they just got a new pair of glasses!  We typically try to “read between the lines” and make assumptions based on our own reactions and history (or what we read in some book).  Test these assumptions before you draw your conclusions.

Try starting out your team meetings with a quick “check-in” – a word, phrase, or statement which allows team members to say what’s on their mind.  It provides an opportunity to share with the team whatever might be keeping them from fully participating in the discussion.  A check-in allows each team member to voice professional or personal issues which may be affecting their communication.

Variation. Everyone has a unique and predictable pattern of nonverbal communication:  the way they sit, hold their arms, and listen to people.  Watch for changes in others’ body language – a shift in posture, a sudden movement, an arm outstretched.  Ask yourself:  “What is causing this shift?”  It may be a good indicator of readiness – to talk, to agree, to object, to intervene.  It also may be that they are tired of sitting and want to stretch!  Take advantage of these shifts and draw that person into the team’s work.

Question:  What do you project through your body language?

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