The Body Language Tool

People think of communication as talking and listening; however, there is much more to this than just what we say. Our body language gives people extra information about who we are and what we are thinking and feeling. From birth, we naturally look at how people are acting to give us information. Without even knowing it, most of us constantly watch other people’s expressions and take in body language – and use these to make assessments about what they are thinking, feeling or doing.

This includes:

  • Posture
  • Facial expression
  • Eye contact
  • The tone and pace of voice
  • Non-verbal sounds or short words like hmmm, yes, uh-huh
  • Personal style, clothes and hair

Here are some suggestions on how to use your body language to improve your communication skills.

Make eye contact

Most people naturally look at the eyes to understand someone better, to sense their mood and to engage someone’s attention. When we are talking, we naturally glance at our listeners to show we are interested in their reactions. In a group conversation, people look at the person speaking. When someone else starts to talk, people will move their gaze to look at the new speaker. Think about what you do when someone is talking to you, where do you look – are you making eye contact?

Although you may feel shy or apprehensive, not looking someone in the eye during a conversation may leave them thinking you are not listening or you are disinterested; or they may not understand you. Although you’re avoiding eye contact because you are worried or shy, unfortunately, the person you are talking to might interpret your behaviour to be unfriendly or aloof.

Top tips for making eye contact

  • Practise lifting your head and looking around you
  • Practise gradually building up eye contact talking to people you know
  • Progressively try practicing with people who are less familiar – look away and then look back if you need to
  • If you feel anxious, try looking at the bridge of the person’s nose, this can look like making eye contact.

Looking at the bridge of the person’s nose – this is an excellent tip and one that I use all the time (on a daily basis).  I deal a lot with students and external visitors to an organisation – and when I am meeting and greeting – this tip works every time!!

Linda

Facial expressions

Our faces often reflect our true feelings (although it’s possible to hide our emotions sometimes too). To give the impression you are open, friendly and want to talk, it may help to be aware of some of the feelings that might affect your facial expressions. For example:

  • If you are nervous, you might frown or look worried or look away
  • If you are wary or uneasy, you might look guarded or defensive or cross your arms
  • If you feel shy or unsure, you might cover your mouth or face with your hand or look at the ground.

Try to work on recognising these feelings – think about your face and what it might be saying to the other person – then make a conscious effort to try to relax, look interested and smile. It’s not easy but practice helps. Smiling is a particularly important communication tool. It is one of the simplest ways of encouraging people.  A smile says that you are warm, approachable, and open to talking.

Hold your head up and stand tall

If you bow your head or turn away, the other person will feel you are less engaged with the conversation or avoiding talking to them. However, if you lift your head up, and look at them, this shows interest and confidence. Tipping your head to one side can show you are thoughtful or absorbed by the conversation.  

It is not just your face that is important. Communication involves your whole body and the way you stand tells other something people about you. If you stand with your shoulders bent over and your head down, you may convey the opposite impression. If you stand with your head up and your shoulders back you will look welcoming, confident and assertive.

Try to think about your body language and how you might appear to people. Perhaps focus on one thing to start off with and then try to practice changing this. Gradually you can build up to practicing other things too and they will become second nature to you.

You might also find it helpful to look at the Talking confidently tool

The talking confidently tool

Read

Communication if your vision or expression is limited

Read

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