Body language is a vital method of communication – more so than we might realise. Well documented research tells us that in 1:1 communication about an emotional subject 55% of what is communicated is through body language, 38% of what is communicated is done so through the tone of voice and 7% of communication is the words that are said.
Now, while not all communication is 1:1 about an emotional subject, professionals agree that the statistics don’t differ wildly for other contexts. Take a moment to consider that. Over half of what you communicate to another person is through the way you hold your body. Over a third is the tone of your voice. And less than 10% of what you convey to another person is the words that you say.
Now imagine a teacher is receiving some difficult feedback about their planning. Their pride is wounded, but they wish to communicate resilience, determination and dedication. The words they chose to say to communicate this are “I am going to reflect on this and apply your advice immediately”. Sounds simple, right? However, this teacher is feeling that their pride has been wounded, and their unconscious physical habits dictate that when they feel like this they develop tension in their shoulders and neck, their hands clench into fists on their knees and they start avoiding eye contact. The tension in their neck can also be heard in their tone of voice, which starts to sound a little strained and snappy.
In fact, while the words are direct and confident, the overwhelming picture that this person communicates in this moment is someone angry, emotional and defensive. Because the vast majority of what we put out into the world is through this non-verbal communication: the physical and tonal habits that are governed primarily by our emotions.
Therefore, it’s useful to start to pay attention to your physical habits. We all have different habits, formed by the different contexts of our lives: no two people will respond in exactly the same way to the same thing. Therefore it takes personal reflection to understand your habits and how they impact your communication. Begin by:
· Noticing patterns – what are the non-verbal habits that crop up repeatedly which aren’t supporting the message you want to be communicating (eg fiddling with lanyard/pen/clothing when wanting to communicate calm authority in class).
· Noticing context of behaviours – does this habit appear when you feel a certain way, or are in a certain place or with certain people?
· Taking away the words – try not to focus on what is being said with words, and instead focus on the body language and tone alone to identify what they are communicating.
· Being specific – what area of body language / tone is the issue? Look for the smallest possible change to make the biggest possible impact. You don’t need to change everything, and should only focus on specific small changes at a time!
by Sarah Bedi, co-Artistic Director of BAZ Productions
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