Discuss the importance of body language as an aspect of communication

Discuss the importance of body language as an aspect of communication

Blowing a kiss, waving, winking, giving an OK sign, thumbs up or thumbs down, giving the peace sign, and staring- all ways of communicating. Words weren’t spoken, but actions were noticed. These channels of communication are called body language or nonverbal communication. Everybody uses body language. As soon as we are in contact with others, we are communicating.

Body language is used when words are inadequate. We don’t tell each other that easily how we feel about each other, or how the words of a message need to be interpreted. In order to make the meaning of the words more clearly we use body language.

Body language is used to express feelings. It can be very difficult to lie or cover up through body language. People can give away their true feelings by not being aware of their body language. For instance, if we don’t like someone, it may be difficult to say that directly to the person. Instead, we can make it clear either intentionally or unintentionally through body language.

Kinesics is the study of motion and how people use them to communicate.

Kinesics follows into five categories:

  • Emblems– directly translate words or phrases. Examples are an OK sign, hitchhiker’s sign, and a “come here” wave.
  • Illustrators– cues that accompany and literally “illustrate” or add meaning to verbal messages. Examples are pointing when talking, hands far apart when talking of something large, and circular hand movements when talking of a circle.
  • Affect displays- facial expressions communicating emotions and feelings. Examples are pouting, winking, and eyebrow movement.
  • Regulators– cues that monitor, maintain, or control the speaking primarily of another. Examples are head nods and body shifts.
  • Adaptors– behaviors that satisfy some need and help you adapt to a situation. Examples are scratching your head, restless movements, and personal nervous actions.

The most revealing feature on your face is your eyes. The eyes are the “mirrors of the soul”. Smiling can give insight into how someone is feeling. A smile can have multiple meanings.

Physical appearance plays a role in our evaluations of others. Physical characteristics get noticed by other people. People might express themselves in terms of body language, like staring at an attractive person. Body artifacts, such as clothing, body piercings, make-up, and tattoos also get noticed by other people.

Haptics, or touch communication, is the most primitive form of human communication.

Touch can send different messages:

  • Positive emotion
  • Playfulness
  • Control
  • Ritualistic- which is a handshake to say hello or goodbye
  • Task function- a dentist or hair stylist
  • Hybrid function- to greet a person or show affection
  • Accidental- done without apparent intent

The elements of your environment can affect how a person feels and acts which contributes to body language. These elements include: sounds, smells, colors, temperature, architecture, designs, lighting, and furnishings. An example is the dentist office. The environment in the dentist office affects my body language. The elements of sound, smell, and furnishings affect the way I act and feel. I have a terrified and anxious look on my face until I leave the dentist office. While I am in the dentist chair, I tightly grip the chair arms. The dental assistants know from my body language how I feel about going to the dentist.

Body language is extremely influential in everyday life. It influences how relationships are established, maintained, and dissolved. It influences marital satisfaction and stability. Body language can help in the diagnosis of health-related problems, such as autism and how babies show emotional distress.

Body language can also by very distracting. When a person is communicating with another, they may tend to focus more on your nonverbal displays than on what you are saying. This will likely have the meaning to be unclear or little meaning will be exchanged in the interaction. Remember to keep in mind the relationship between verbal and nonverbal messages, “actions speak louder than words”.

Jill McClure, IUPUC student

Source:  West, Richard and Turner H. Lynn. Understanding Interpersonal Communication: Making choices in changing times. 2nd ed. Massachusetts: Wadsworth, 2006. Print.


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