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English Language
Anthropology
Sociology

What is the importance of body language?

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August 24, 2010 8:53PM

Many animal species use body language. It is a key element in their communication and survival.

BIRDS

Courtship rituals for many species of birds appear to be an essential initial step in the mating process, thus playing a vital role in the perpetuation of the species.

FISH AND MARINE LIFE

It is believed that sea creatures which are able to change their skin colors or can display different sequences of flashing lights are somehow communicating, although the exact meanings of the messages have yet to be fully understood (by humans, that is!)

ANIMALS IN GENERAL

Animals invariably use body language to signal aggression, caution, fear, warnings and contentment. Many a conflict or fight has been averted by one animal backing off from another which is showing signs of dominance and/or aggression.

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HUMANS

Introduction

Social studies indicate that most human communication is non-verbal. In other words, most of what is communicated is not by words but by body language.

Definition

Body language means the way we communicate by using our body. This often involves the use of the face, and sometime hand gestures, but also involves posture.

Examples of Body Language

Smiling

A sincere smile uses many muscles around the mouth, eyes and cheeks, and conveys a positive and pleasant message.

An insincere smile, perhaps where only the mouth is smiling, conveys something quite different. It can mean that the person is trying to humor you, or that they are actually unhappy but do not want to reveal this emotion to you.

Eyebrows

Moving the eyebrows in different ways communicates different messages, e.g. surprise, interest, deep concern, concentration, doubt.

Hands

Often used to emphasise a point. Hands/arms are also used to say 'stop' or to indicate a dismissive attitude, or shock, etc.

Head

Nodding, shaking, jutting the jaw, pulling back the head and jaw, tilting the head to one side etc., all these movements send powerful messages.

Eyes

e.g. Rolling the eyes, narrowing the eyes, opening the eyes wide, winking, staring, etc. Each 'eye gesture' has its own meaning.

Posture

Pride or humility, confidence or fear. ... all conveyed by putting the body in different positions.

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Social Uses of Body Language

1. To communicate culture, social status and personal state:

Body language conveys much about a person's social and cultural background. It also conveys the attitude, and the physical, mental and emotional state of the person.

In a society that has class distinctions, a person's 'class' is often signalled by posture, bearing and manner of speaking.

An anxious person reveals their concerns by tell-tale body language, in contrast with the body language of someone who has inner calm, and is who is perhaps comfortably confident and competent ... or maybe they just don't worry about anything!

2. To attract the opposite sex:

In subtle ways (and often in less subtle ways!) boys and girls, men and women, signal to each other that they are attracted to the other person. At the same time, the cultural heritage and social status is also being signalled, thus making it clear to the other person where they are 'coming from', as it were!

Of course, much of the signalling is done subconsciously because it is already part of our heritage, whether we know it or not.

3. To reflect occupation, and/or role in life or in a particular situation

A security guard conveys different body language to that of an uninvited 'party crasher'. A company director often displays different body language to that of a manager or an ordinary member of staff.

The individuals in a team often fulfill different roles. Different body language is used by entreprenurial leaders, evaluators, planners, facilitators, organisers and those whose key role may be that of giving encouragement and support.

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Interpreting body language

There is far more to body language than has been outlined above. More often than not we subconsciously already 'know' what a person is 'saying' to us, simply by noticing their body language, even though, at times, their words may be telling us something different! However, even 'conflicting' body language is

still sending us a message.

How important is body language?

Body language 'completes' the message. Therefore it is vital that we are aware of and understand other people's body language because they are communicating to us with that special language, body language. Our lives are enhanced by an appreciation for it. We ignore it at our peril!

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  • For more information about body language, see Sources and Related links below.