What is your body language saying? Probably a lot more than you think!
The work of Dr Albert Mehrabiam suggests that our body language accounts for 93% of how we communicate. I’m sure modern foreign language teachers can attest that students are still unlikely to understand a foreign film by just watching for non-verbal clues. What it does suggest, however, is that non-verbal forms of communication can open a door to our true emotions or feelings regardless of what you are trying to say.
Have you ever received positive feedback from a line-manager but left thinking it was patronising or made you feel worse? It probably did not help that your leader’s arms were crossed or that they were frowning.
Or become frustrated with a disinterested class even though they may have been mirroring your body language?
Obviously, in both cases, there be a more simple underlining reason but the impact our body language can have on colleagues and students is more than most of us would expect. It can clutter our true message. Ralph Waldo Emerson may be right, “what you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
And research says what we do can be very loud. At our disposal we can demonstrated 700,000 physical signs, pull nearly 250,000 facial expressions, make 5,000 hand gestures and form over 1,000 different postures. That is far too many to consider and to even remember, however, becoming more conscious of our body language could help build relationships in the classroom.
There are a thousand and one ways to improve body language articles out on the internet, but here are four quick and easy tips that can work now to help build trusting relationships, foster positive student interactions and make you more approachable as a teacher and colleague.
First, keeping a relaxed posture whether standing or sitting says that you are comfortable with your surroundings and you are relaxed. While having slumped shoulders or a firm stance can show uneasiness or wariness which can lead others to wonder if we are hiding something.
Second is to show your palms. It is an ancient gesture to show trustworthiness (mainly because you are showing that you don’t have a weapon!) but it shows openness and trust.
Third is to maintain good eye contact. This does not mean staring through the person without blinking. That can be unnerving. But good eye contact, occasional looking away can show that you are interested in what they are saying or genuine in what you want to say.
Fourth, is to smile – genuinely that is. A fake smile can be seen a mile away but a sincere smile is more than showing happiness it says that you are welcoming, friendly and open.
Body language is one of the most important forms of communication that is imprinted upon us from a very early age. What are bodies, eyes, faces and hands communicate to other will be read by others long before we start speaking words.