I remember reading a very popular book about body language in the 1970s. If you crossed your arms in front, it meant you were being defensive. If you crossed your 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 non-verbal 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 both in-person AND virtually with these simple keys for success:
Consistency. 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 non-verbal messages we continually send to our fellow team members. As you become more conscious of your body language (especially on Zoom!), 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 his eyes might mean that he is tired, Zoom fatigued, or 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 your assumptions before you leap to 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 minds. 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 context-setting professional or personal issues which may be affecting team communication.
Variation. Everyone has a unique and predictable pattern of non-verbal 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 the person is tired of sitting and wants to stretch! Take advantage of these shifts and draw that person into the team’s work.
For more information about how to lead your team in the virtual environment, use these resources.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action. Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.