Look who’s talking!


Learning Language –

Can a language be learnt? We all would say yes.  Of course, if you are willing, you can learn it. Very commonly I get a request from my clients that they want to learn body language.  When we interact with people, they observe our non-verbal’s or our body language and interpret a meaning. Since it is a way of communication we call it a language and believe that it can be learnt.  So, what exactly do we mean by learning body language? Why do we want to learn it? How does it help us in our communication? What do you think?

A few years back a parent had got his son to meet me with a request to teach him body language.  The son who had just finished his engineering was preparing for a job interview. When I asked what was it that he wanted to learn in body language, their response was how to walk, sit, keep the hands, how to place the legs on the floor while sitting etc.  I noted that sincerely in my notebook and pointed out that he is already doing that. His father replied, “I want him to learn correct body language so that the interviewer finds him impressive “Fair enough. Further in the conversation he explained, what he really wanted for his son was to be confident, carry himself effortlessly and look as someone who is in control of himself.  The young man seemed very unsure in his disposition. Is this only about someone who has not learnt correct body language? Can learning body language be the solution or could there be more?

Yes, we all can learn body language at the external physical level such as practice to stand, sit or walk in a way so that we appear confident and be respectful. But is that all that is required? I will say no. Even though we can learn body language, just doing that is not sufficient to achieve the desired outcome which in the case of this young man was to come across as self- assured.

Meaning – What is body language

Body language is referred to the silent messages our body conveys about our mood and emotions.  Even when you sit like a statue and not move at all it signals something, or more appropriate to say would be that the viewer will always decode a message. Everything right from our posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye movement, stride, handshakes, the physical distance we maintain and even our voice is interpreted. This is one language which can be spoken and read differently by people. There is no dictionary to refer.

Can we learn Body Language? Yes

We all have a certain way of moving our head, standing, walking, sounding, using our hands. Did we learn it?  Yes, we did, as babies we did that by observing others and still do. Then over time muscle memory set in and we all adopted a certain way of carrying ourselves. Some of us stand with our feet slight apart, some like to gesture while speaking, maybe tilt our head forward slightly while listening or keep a hand on the chin while thinking.

There is a sea of research done by experts that explains the connect between the body and mind.  So, if you wish to learn to stand or move in a way that seems respectful, empowering or even stop doing certain movements, you can do it with heightened self-awareness and sufficient practice. Similarly, you can train your voice to sound in a way you want or learn to keep an appropriate distance between people. Core exercises at the gym will certainly give you a good stance and posture.

Is just learning the external language sufficient? No

A few years back I had a client who was taking sessions with me to improve his interpersonal skills. This gentleman who was quite assertive and extremely polite in his conduct had a habit. He had a practice of rapidly moving his hands (wrist onwards) continuously in rhythm while speaking. Since he had a feedback from his senior that it was distracting he wished to overcome it. I also observed his rate of speech was very fast.

Now, the sensible thing to do was to ask him to stop moving, keep his hands down and speak. We did try that. But now he could not speak in a continuous flow and began filling his forgotten words with “umms “and “ aaa’s “ ! So, what was it that was stopping him from learning what we say the “right body language”?

Similarly, a person can be told to hold his shoulders well, pull out his chest a bit and walk straight, yet he may look uneasy and stiff.  I have seen people have an extremely assured gait yet they look more arrogant than confident. Our thinking creates our world and that gets communicated to our body. We don’t even realise it! Hence working only at the physiology/bodily level only may not give us the desired results. 

The gentleman with the moving hands had a habit, a body and mind tuning. What we did was replaced the habit of moving his hands. He practiced to visualise as he spoke, and that softened the hand gestures and his rate of speech. We then went on to practice varied rates of speech so that he sounded engaging. So, working at various levels is very important to have a desirable body language.

When I stepped into the training world I had great difficulty in speaking with people that I perceived to be high in authority and intelligence. I remember clearly that I used to have a sense of choking in the throat, people told me that they could see fear in my eyes and that I came across as a worried person. I knew the right way to stand and conduct myself, and though that gave me courage, I still did not seem poised. I realised that there was some deeper work needed and decided to address it. I worked with a coach who coached me on my self -perception and ability to think with clarity and that helped me to have even better body language.

I have a similar experience while working with my clients on their presentation skills.  While practicing presentation skills, I encourage my participants to be open, stand upright and use the space well. But almost always, the awkwardness remains, and the tension in their body is evident.  Something is incomplete in how their energy seems when they begin to present. But as we begin to have conversations around their fear, their self-image, or conflicts within their mind, I notice they begin to be comfortable with who they are and there is a very notable shift in their body language. Then with practice and by exploring different techniques of presenting, their body language just flows.

Understand and then Learn

  • So to have a confident body language get to know what constitutes good body language. It will help you to polish certain areas of how you present yourselves. A simple tip of not pointing a finger at someone, instead, using the entire hand while gesturing to the others can help you to appear respectful. Watch you own video; it will be a good tutorial to help you change your body expressions.
  • Our body stance and posture does affect our feelings. Keep the body slightly open and straight as it will help you to get into a good emotional state. We look attentive and self-reliant too. Remember in school how our teachers used to remind us to sit straight?
  • Similarly, working on our thinking, emotions and being aware of the trigger that sets our body immediately into a response would also be a wise thing to do. When we resolve those inner conflicts and are self –assured, the body just follows. And of course, we have our good old muscle memory too.

“The Limits of my Language are the Limits of my World”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein


Keep smiling



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