Body Language History: Early Pioneer
Adolf Hitler spent many hours looking in the mirror. Someone may think that he admired his reflection as there were no doubts in his narcissism and egoism. Nevertheless, his goal was more pragmatic. He tried to learn the peculiarities of correct body language. Adolf Hitler understood that lion’s share of success in communication belongs to nonverbal factors. He did not make a mistake. His perfect gestures, posture, movements made people follow his devastating ideas without any hesitations. He used body language for achieving negative objectives.
Nevertheless, it does not mean that nonverbal factors can be helpful only for it. If to take into consideration the sphere of business, it becomes clear that gestures, posture, space, eye contact, time, appearance are responsible for the successful result, because they create certain atmosphere, reveal the hidden message and give the opportunity to read between the lines.
The most meaningful type of non-verbal communication is gestures. They can be defined as physical movement of some parts of the body such as arms, hands, legs, shoulders, and a head.
- The first role of gestures is to create the overall opinion about a speaker. There are many societal stereotypes and prejudices about gestures. For example, it is generally believed that people who tend to gesticulate actively are warm, energetic, and agreeable. However, those who tend to seat or stand strict without any movements are regarded as less approachable, analytic, and logical. In addition, people who like to use the same gestures during the conversation, on unconscious level, perceive each other in friendly terms (Chaturvedi, & Chaturvedi, 2011, p. 102).
- Secondly, gestures are responsible for conveying certain messages. For example, fidgeting indicates that a person is bored or tired. Pressing fingers together in the form of a “steeple” shows assertiveness, interests, and determination. Rubbing eyes or touching the nose emphasizes discomfort, or may even stand as a sign of dishonesty. A hand to the back shows the desire of a speaker to escape from a communication (Verma, 2005, p. 5).
- Thirdly, gestures can reveal even hidden motives and feelings. It has been proven that gestures indicate when the people lie. Such lie-revealing gestures are known under the names “speak no evil”, “see no evil”, and “hear no evil”. “Speak no evil” is associated with the movement of hands and especially fingers, which a liar puts to his mouth, even though he wanted to block the words. “See no evil” occurs when a speaker rubs his eyes in communication. “Hear no evil” can be noticed in the form of covering ears by hands or fingers in the process of speaking.
However, it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that gestures may harm the development of career as well as to help moving up the career ladder. It is so, because business is worldwide domain, while gestures are nationally oriented. In other words, every country has its traditional gestures, which may convey offensive message in other parts of the world. For example, the “thumb-up” gesture, which, in the United States, means that everything is ok or the thing is approved, is regarded as rude sign in Australia and West Africa. That is why it is necessary to be careful while using gestures in order not to reveal negative information and offend the feelings of other people.
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It is a physical structure of the speaker, is also a powerful tool, which helps to make an impression on other people. As it is less controlled than gestures, it can be a clue to emotional states. Accordingly, the researchers define two types of postures – high power pose (a well-knit person), low-power pose (a bender). Powerful pose in the business setting indicates that the speaker is confident in his or her abilities. In addition, it is associated with such emotional state as happiness and satisfaction. In contrast to it, low-power pose reveals that the speaker has many worries or difficulties (Kushal, & Ahuja, 2010, p. 131). Moreover, it presents him or her as a dependent person, who cannot make important decisions on his or her own and be responsible for them. The secondary function of posture is to create an atmosphere of interaction. For example, open postures with arms at sides rather than crossed in front of a speaker emphasize that a person is ready for friendly, open and fruitful communication. Closed postures with crossed arms, which do not allow much exposure of the body, indicate the unfriendliness or hostility. In addition, they reveal such emotional states as discomfort, anxiety, and fear. Due to it, it is necessary to mind one’s own posture during communication in order to create all conditions for successful interaction.
The result of business collaboration also depends greatly on such nonverbal factor as space – the size of the physical area, obstacles between speakers, and proximity to another speaker. According to anthropologist Edward T. Hall, there are three types of meaningful space.
- The first one is feature-fixed space. It deals with the structure of business office. The sequence of rooms and position of walls in the office play a great role in creating the assumptions of a speaker about himself. It has been found that speakers who present the ideas in a room with a lot of open space feel confident and transfer this emotion to others.
- The second type of space is semi-fixed feature space. The arrangement of furniture such as desk, chairs, and bookcase is referred to this type. Exaggeration of furniture creates a limited space and makes speakers feel a little bit pressed and worried. In addition, the correct order and quality of furniture speak nonverbally about the high status of businesspersons. Nevertheless, the most important type of space is personal space. It deals with the distance between speakers.
This spatial dimension can be divided into four subtypes:
- The first one is intimate zone – physical contact at a distance to 18 inches from another speaker. It is appropriate for the interaction with family members and close members, but not with business partners, as the main meaning of such close space is love, trust and some intimate feelings.
- The second subtype of personal space is personal zone, starting from 18 inches to four feet. The main desired participants of this zone are friends, colleagues, visitors, associates and well-known acquaintances. This subtype is also characterized by intimacy, relaxed and casual atmosphere. Due to it, such distance is appropriate for spontaneous personal communication.
- The most helpful for business is social distance – from four feet to about twelve feet. The main feature of it is an official tone. It gives an opportunity to concentrate the attention not on emotions but on arguments of speakers.
- The last subtype of personal type of space is public zone – from 12 feet to the limits of hearing and visibility. The official atmosphere characterizes the communication in this zone. That is why, it is not appropriate for making important decisions within the circle of business team, because the speaker spends a lot of effort on his voice but not on actual reasons (Sehgal, & Khetarpal, 2008, pp. 77 – 78). In addition, space as nonverbal form of communication as well as gestures includes the cultural aspect. For example, Americans tend to have more personal space than the citizens of Eastern countries (China and Japan) do. Due to it, it is necessary to organize the space, according to the purposes of communication and national peculiarities of the people with whom the interaction is planned.
Eye contact also adds some extra meaning in the business conversation.
- Firstly, the style and pattern of gazing provide the information about person’s feelings. For example, the excitement is revealed with the help of dilating up the pupils to four times their usual size. The sign of frustration and depression is the contraction of pupils.
- Secondly, eye contact is an important factor to decide whether the speaker is honest or not. It is generally believed that those, who tell the truth, prefer direct eye contact with minimal eyewink. Moreover, eye contact helps to define the professional competence of the speaker. For example, if the person has formal gaze (looking at the imaginary triangle on the other person’s forehead above the area between the eyes), he or she is perceived as a professional specialist. Due to it, this style of eye contact is appropriate for boardrooms, job interviews, business meetings, public speaking, and project presentations. On the contrary, if the person treats his colleagues with informal gaze (looking at other people’s zone between eye and chin) during formal meetings, he or she immediately loses the credibility and respect. However, some approaches of informal gaze are appropriate for business communication. For instance, informal raising the eye-brows is a helpful tool to indicate the interest (Kushal, & Ahuja, 2010, p. 132). In general, it is necessary to control the movements of eyes carefully and choose the appropriate styles of looking, according to the purposes of communication.
From the first glance, it seems that such category as time has nothing to do with body language. In fact, it is an important nonverbal factor, which influences the business results in a great way.
Punctuality – the ability to organize own mental and physical forces on time, conveys a nonverbal message. A person who is always punctual is regarded as being reliable and well organized. On the contrary, if the speaker is late for a meeting, the nonverbal information is that he or she cannot be trusted. In addition, it is necessary to take into consideration that time has also a cultural aspect of meaning. For example, the Unites States and almost all European countries appreciate time greatly and being late has an offensive meaning for them. The main rule for these people sounds “time is money”. However, Latin Americans treat a 30-minute delay as a normal and common thing. Asians want others to be punctual but for themselves they allow to be late for 5-10 minutes (Sehgal, & Khetarpal, 2008, p. 80). That is why business requires organizing time perfectly and being late only in the cases, where the culture of other speakers allows or even prefers it.
The last but not the least factor of nonverbal speech is appearance. As well as in the case of time, it can be difficult for some people to understand why appearance is referred to body language. On the one hand, they are right, as appearance is given to people by their personal nature and cannot be accustomed to the demands of business environment. Nevertheless, if to treat appearance as clothing, hairstyle, cosmetics, and accessories, it becomes clear that they convey additional information about the speaker. For example, people who attend formal meetings using the style of teenager (e.g. short dress, dreadlocks, bright makeup, and big chains) are not perceived as serious partners. In addition, apperance is closely related to other types of body language such as eyes, face, gestures, and postures. For instance, some types of clothes may make a person slouch and, in such a way, receive the status of unconfident personality (Kushal, & Ahuja, 2010, pp. 134 – 135). That is why it is necessary to choose clothing, hairstyle, cosmetics, and accessories according to the format of meeting and habits of movements and posture.
However, body language should not receive the status of the main source of information in communication. It can only complete the meaning of words but not reveal the sense without them. The proof of it can be found even in common experience of many people – watching foreign films without appropriate knowledge of this foreign language. The person will not be able to understand the sense of all conversations in the film, if he or she does not know the language and relies only on nonverbal factors. That is why gestures, posture, space, eye contact, time, and appearance should be analyzed in business communication only after the analysis of actual verbal arguments.
To sum up, body language, in the form of gestures, posture, space, eye contact, time, and appearance, is an essential aspect of business communication. The main functions of it are to convey additional meaning, reveal the hidden feelings, show emotional states, indicate the competence of a speaker, state his or her attitude to the object of conversation, and create the preconditions for the successful interaction and collaboration. Without it, the business meetings will turn into the dull list of facts and numbers. Nevertheless, it is incorrect to regard nonverbal language as an ultimate source of information. The real meaning will never be understood omitting verbal arguments. That is why it is necessary to analyze the combination of information received from the nonverbal language and actual words.
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