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Why Is Body Language Important? & How to Read it Like a Pro

Read Time: 13 mins

Whether you realize it or not, body language makes up a large part of our daily communication. These nonverbal signals tell you a great deal about what someone is thinking and feeling at that moment.

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Understanding body language can be important in business communication. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Most of us don't even realize we're giving off signals through our body language. But according to an article from the National Library of Medicine, body language can account for up to 65% off all your communication. 

This makes it an essential language to learn and understand for not only our daily lives, but also in our jobs. If you're giving a presentation, you may also want to study how to use body language in presentations:

We'll talk some more about body language and public speaking later.

In this tutorial, we'll provide a guide on body language for you. We'll cover what body language is, how to read body language, and how to project certain types of body language in business settings.

What Is Body Language?

In this body language example, one person is attempting to comfort the other. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Let's first cover what body language is before we dive into how you can read it and implement it in a business setting. 

Communication is much more than just words. Body language is the unspoken form of communication that gives off your true feelings. These nonverbal cues include your posture, bodily movements, gestures, and tone of voice. 

A few examples of body language include a tilt of the head to show your thinking, a cross of the arms to show you aren't interested, and a slouch in posture to show you're disappointed. 

Body language research began in the 1940s with studies that focused on facial expressions. This work was inspired by Charles Darwin's studies of emotions in man and animals. 

The latest research shows that within the first four minutes of meeting someone for the first time. A study conducted by Albert Mehrabian found that our facial expressions account for 55% of the impression that we make. Shockingly, only 7% of the words that are spoken account for our impression and the other 38% is the voice tone. 

Our earliest human ancestors didn't have a complex verbal language 100,000 years ago. Humans relied more on interpreting each other's body language to communicate. Rufts University Psychology professor Nalini Ambady said that it's because of this long rooted form of communication, we make snap judgements in the first few seconds on anyone we meet. 

When you can understand body language, you can understand the true meaning of someone's message. It's important to note that words don't tell the whole story. Imagine if your colleague is telling you that they're okay with a certain situation and when they speak, their voice tone is very grumbly. Chances are they aren't really okay with the situation even if they said they're okay. 

Subconsciously, we give off body language tells. Speaking is a much more conscious decision. By being able to interpret body language, you'll be able to get a more accurate idea of what someone is saying and will be able to take the appropriate action. 

Everyone projects body language. It is important to understand how we project it and how we can use this to our advantage. That is what we'll be covering later on in this guide, so don't miss out!

How to Read Body Language

Knowing how to read body language is an incredibly important skill to learn. Whether you're negotiating a raise, dealing with a difficult client, or are at a garage sale, being familiar with body language is very helpful. 

In this tutorial, we'll look at five specific types of body language and provide some body language examples:

1. Facial Expressions

When learning how to read body language, you'll want to start with the facial expressions. Facial expressions are a good indicator of our true feelings. 

The smiling facial expression conveys happiness or agreement. The smiling facial expression conveys happiness or agreement. The smiling facial expression conveys happiness or agreement.
Often smiling can mean agreement as well as happiness. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Here are a few common facial expressions and how you can interpret them: 

  • Smile. A smile indicates happiness or agreement
  • Frown. A frown indicates disapproval or happiness
  • Slight rise of the eyebrows and a slight smile. This conveys friendliness and confidence. The is considered one of the most trustworthy expressions. 

2. Eyes

The eyes are often referred to as the "windows to the soul" as they can reveal what you're feeling or thinking. 

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By looking into the eyes of the person you're talking to, you'll show your interest in the conversation. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Here are a few types of eye related body language cues and what they mean according to an article in Verywell Mind:

  • Highly dilated eyes. This indicates desire.
  • Rapid blinking eyes. This signals distress or discomfort. 
  • Looking into eyes. If someone looks into your eyes during conversation, the other person is interested and paying attention. 
  • Breaking eye contact. This can mean they're distracted and uncomfortable. 
  • Dilated eyes. If someone's eyes are dilated this shows interest.

3. The Mouth

The mouth is another great indicator to how someone is truly feeling and thinking. Here is a list of some mouth and lip movements and their meaning:

 In this body language example, a woman is trying to hold back a smirk by covering the mouth. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Here's a list of some mouth and lip movements and their meaning according to Verywell Mind:

  • Biting lip. People do this when they're worried, stressed, or anxious
  • Covering mouth. If someone is trying to hide an emotional reaction such as a smile or smirk, they might cover their mouth.
  • Tightened lips. Pursed indicates disapproval and distrust.

4. Arms & Legs

This type of body language is often forgotten about as most people focus on the face. But there's still plenty of information given through the arms and legs. 

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You can expect this man to be feeling defensive with crossed arms. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Here are some body language signals you may be communicating through your arms and legs (according this article from Healthline):

  • Legs crossed. This shows that a person isn't open to communicate. 
  • Arms crossed. This is often a sign that they're feeling defensive and protective. Or they could be feeling confident.
  • Foot tapping. If you notice that someone is tapping their feet, they could be feeling nervous or restless.

5. Posture

Simply put, posture refers to how we hold our bodies. There are two types of posture that people project. Those two types are an open and closed posture. 

open postureopen postureopen posture
Here's a body language example of a teenager with an open posture and is projecting friendliness. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Let's go over what these types of postures mean and what they look like (according to SkillsYouNeed)

  • Open posture. If someone is keeping their legs and arms out in a more exposed way, then the person is projecting friendliness and openness. 
  • Closed posture. If someone is hiding the upper half of their body and has their legs closer together, the person is indicating they're unfriendly, anxious, and potentially hostile. 

Let's now go over how you can project certain types of body language. 

How to Project Certain Types of Body Language

Now that you know how to read body language, you can use this information to your advantage. It's time to learn the importance of body language in communication. You can use body language to help deliver your idea more clearly. 

This becomes very important when you're in a business setting. There are three main business settings where you can use body language to communicate more effectively. Let's cover each one of these settings and how you use body language to be a more effective communicator:

1. When First Meeting Someone

First impressions are everything in business. They can easily make or break a deal. As mentioned, we form our first opinions of someone based mostly on their body language within the first four minutes of meeting them. 

Here are a few body language tips that you can use to make a great first impression. 

These two people are using a firm handshake to show they're engaged in the conversation. (Image source: Envato Elements)

1. Have a firm handshake. A firm handshake signals to the other person that you're confident and engaged in the conversation. Make sure not to grip too aggressively though. This sends the wrong message. 

2. Keep a relaxed posture. A relaxed posture is more inviting and shows that you're receptive to meeting and engaging with someone you've never met. Make sure not to slouch here  Your hands are also a big part of this. You'll want to keep your hands by your sides and not on your hips or folded. 

3. Maintain eye contact. When speaking with someone for the first time hold your gaze on them for a few seconds. This also shows that you're interested and engaged. Avoid holding this gaze for too long as it might come across as creepy.

4. Don't touch your face. This conveys dishonesty. This also includes your hair. Remember to just be relaxed with your arms and to not fidget. 

2. Public Speaking

Public speaking is feared by many people. Just the thought of speaking to a group of people can make someone nervous. This makes it that much more difficult to deliver a clear message when you're presenting to a group of people. 

Public SpeakingPublic SpeakingPublic Speaking
This man is using all three positive public speaking body language tips. Head level, posture, and open hand gestures. (Image source: Envato Elements)

We'll now go over a list of positive body language that can be used when speaking in public. By practicing the tips below, you'll look confident, gain your audience's attention, and deliver your intended message:

1. Head level. Your head should be level and squared away with the audience. If you dip your head when speaking, this can make you seem aggressive. If you raise you head, you could come across as conceited. 

2. Posture, posture, & posture. Posture is everything if you're public speaking. You always want to sit or stand upright. Like when you're meeting someone for the first time, you want to have your arms by your side. Avoid touching your face and putting your hands in your pockets. 

3. Use positive and open hand gestures. You want to come across as friendly and acceptable. By having your palms facing slightly toward the audience, you show that you're open to sharing ideas. Avoid moving your upper arms as this will appear over excessive. 

3. Negotiations and Interviews

Interviews and negotiations are another area where people can get quite nervous. When we get nervous, it's much harder to get our message across. Body language can not only help you convey your message in these situations, but it can also calm you down. 

This man looks engaged and interested with this posture and facial expressions. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Here are some body language tips for interviews:

  1. Control breathing and your hands. This tip is a big one. If you can breathe slowly and keep your hands from fidgeting, you'll signal to your body that you're in a relaxed state. 
  2. Mirror. Mirroring is simply copying the gestures of the person you're talking to. By doing this, you'll build a connection with the other person. But don't copy every move they make as this undoubtedly makes them uncomfortable. 
  3. Look interested. By keeping eye contact and showing an open posture, you can show that you're engaged in the conversation. 

Have a video conference call coming up? Find out how to project positive body language in these calls in the next section. 

Body Language in Video Conference Calls

Conference callConference callConference call
There is a well light space and clean background in this woman's conference call. This leaves a positive impression on the people interacting with you. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Video conference calls have been the new normal for the past two years and will continue to be used. So how do we project positive and confident body language when we're no longer meeting face to face? 

Thankfully, many of the body language tips work with video calls as well. You'll just have a little less of your body showing in the camera. Here are a few body language and conference call tips:

  1. Use a clean and quiet workspace. Using a messy conference call space can have a subconscious negative effect on the person you're talking to. Tidy up your workspace and make sure it's in a quiet area.
  2. Get a good camera angle. To find a good camera angle, make sure you aren't too close or far away from the camera. Also, make sure that the camera isn't too low or too high. 
  3. Look at the camera. While this may seem strange to stare into a camera, this is where you need to be looking when you speak. Looking away from the camera can make you seem disinterested. 
  4. Use hand gestures and facial expressions to your advantage. Your face is front and center, so smiling and raising your eyebrows shows engagement. Just like in public speaking, you can use open hand gestures to invite open communication. 

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Start to Use Body Language Today

In this tutorial, we covered everything you need to know about body language. You know what body language is, how to read it, and how you can use it in various business settings.

By following the guide, you're sure to improve your communication with others. You'll also have an understanding of someone's true feelings in social situations by being able to read their body language. Now get out there and start projecting positive body language!

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