What message is your body sending?

Most of what you "hear" doesn't come in through your ears. In fact, some experts have found that up to 90% of what we communicate is often transmitted by tone of voice and movement of the face and body.

Frequently, in business, words are carefully chosen, agendas are often hidden, bodies are tightly controlled and corporate masks are snuggly in place.

If your nonverbal antennae aren't fully operational on the job, you are likely to be missing what's really going on around you.

Conversely, if you are unaware of your own nonverbal messages, you may be at a distinct disadvantage when communicating with your boss, subordinates and others with whom you work.

Interpreting body language is a tricky business, as any researcher is quick to point out. For example, your arms crossed across your chest can just as easily signify a chill in the room as it can a closed mind or defensiveness. Each must be considered within the total context of the entire behavior pattern and the circumstance, or it becomes a naive interpretation. With this caution in mind, let's tune in to some of the subtle signals experts have identified as the way we "talk" to each other.

Eye Contact
People don't look at the person they're speaking to very often. When they are listening, they look at their partners a lot. Most people have a distinct pattern when conversing.

When women are talking, they tend to look at their partner much more often than men do. A person who is looking away while speaking may not be finished and doesn't want to be interrupted.

If the person to whom you are speaking suddenly looks away, it may mean he or she isn't completely satisfied or has some qualifications about what you said.

Some speakers look away when they're exaggerating or unsure of themselves. When fingers that are interlocked are turned inside out and pushed away it may be a signal that the person wants to avoid the subject.

"Steepling" the index fingers (like an inverted "V") indicates confidence in one's position. Hands together behind the back can signify authority or self-control.

Hands' clasped behind the head could mean aggression or a feeling of self-importance.

Body Positioning
A key to group status may be found when a group is arranged in a line on a couch, along a wall or at a conference. The most important members will tend to be at either end.

When a group is in agreement or in general congruence with one another, their body positions will often be copies of each other, in some cases, mirror images. If one member shifts, the rest will tend to shift with him.

If a group has two points of view, the advocates of each viewpoint will take different positions. When old friends are in disagreement, they will tend to take similar body positions to show that, in spite of the discussion, they are still friends.

Individuals of higher status tend to take position at the head of a table. If the table is round, as the distance from the leader increases the status often decreases.

Whether you agree or disagree with any of the above situations, the fact remains we're communicating nonverbally in every interaction.

Learning to read the signals can help you to interpret and react accurately to what's really being "said."

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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