When I was 18, I asked my parents if I could go to the US for a few months to learn how to speak English. I’m from Venezuela, and at that point in life, my knowledge of English was very limited to what I had learned in High School.
When my parents agreed to send me overseas, I was ecstatic about the possibility of going to LA, NYC, Miami (although I probably wouldn’t have learned much English there). Instead, I ended in Wichita, Kansas!
Why do I give you this backstory? Because for the first 3 months in Wichita, I couldn’t find anybody that spoke Spanish. And I didn’t speak English. Yet, I was able to communicate with people around me; non-verbally.
It is said that when a person loses their sight, their hearing becomes enhanced. Almost like a superpower. The same thing happened to me, but with my observation skills. I found myself not only paying attention to what people were doing with their bodies when talking to me, but also, I paid attention to what MY body was doing when I communicated. I started minding my body language.
What is body language?
According to the definition, body language is the process of communicating nonverbally through conscious or unconscious gestures and movements.
But body language is so much more than that. Yes, we communicate using our hands, our head, our face, our feet. But we also send a message nonverbally with the clothes we wear, jewelry, hairstyle, smell.
Nonverbal communication is also our choice of words when we talk; and the words we don’t say.
You’ve probably heard that body language makes up 93% of our communication – PLEASE FORGET THIS FOREVER! This number is based on a misquoted study that Dr Albert Mehrabian conducted back in the 60s where the conclusion was “7% words used; 38% tone of voice, volume, rate of speech, vocal pitch; 55% facial expressions, hand gestures, postures and other forms of body language.” The problem with this study, and why it shouldn’t be used out of context, is that the study was focused mainly on the communication of emotions as it pertains to “liking” and “disliking.”
Try watching a foreign film and see if you understand 93% of it only observing the body language of the actors. You can’t.
We use body language even when we are not saying anything. When you are listening to a speaker during a presentation, your posture, your hands, your head, your feet, they are all sending a message to the speaker and to the people around you.
Why should you care about your body language?
The internet is flooded with articles and videos about body language, but the majority of these focus on how to read others. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great skill to have. But until we understand what our OWN body language is doing, we should not attempt to decipher others.
For me, minding my body language allows me to communicate and connect better with people. I’m constantly scanning myself from top to bottom. Paying attention to what my hands are doing, which direction are my feet pointed, what my face looks like.
Our brains control everything we do, and it does it in an effort to keep us alive and safe. We can’t control the involuntary micro-expression of disgust when we see somebody picking their nose, but we can be mindful of it and change it.
When we are at a party and Uncle Bob is going on and on about some boring story we’ve heard a hundred times before, our brains will tell our feet to get ready to run and you’ll find that one of your feet starts pointing away. We can’t stop it from happening, but we can be aware of it and change it. Point them back to Uncle Bob.
That’s what minding your body language is. It’s about giving people attention, connecting better, communicating actively, making a great first impression.
I am an international keynote speaker and workshop facilitator who helps teams enhance their communication, connection, influence, and impact skills.
Creator of the body language cards “Clues & Qs.” http://leocardenas.com/bodylanguagecards