Body Language: Expressions Speak Louder Than Words

Have you ever watched a newborn contort their faces into all sorts of unusual expressions? What do you imagine the baby (pictured above) is thinking?  This is the stuff that memes (pronounced “meemz”) are made of!  A meme pairs a humorous image with a funny caption.  See my meme example below (shut-eye is slang for sleep).

Grant meme body language

This post is about non-verbal communication.  Scientific studies have shown that body language has a major impact on communication. Tone of voice and body language (posture, gestures, and facial expressions) can even change the meaning of a message.

Look at the picture of the baby again.

Eyebrows which are lifted high enough to wrinkle or crease the forehead usually indicate surprise.  When one eyebrow is lifted higher than the other it indicates incredulity, like the little guy in the picture; it is the nonverbal equivalent of “are you serious?!”

During my teacher’s training, we used the textbook, Teaching by Principles by H. Douglas Brown. In the Classroom Management section he discusses the importance of voice and body language for people working in their second language.  This is because what people hear (or think they hear) may have more to do with what they see than what is actually being said.

Tips from professor Brown:

• Let your body posture exhibit an air of confidence.

In Western culture this means standing, or sitting straight: with head up, making direct eye contact,  with shoulders back and balanced equally over the hips.

• Your face should reflect optimism, brightness, and warmth.

• Use facial and hand gestures to enhance meanings of words and sentences that might otherwise be unclear.

image via Cheapflights
image by Cheapflights on

CAUTION!  Not all gestures have the same meaning across cultures click here to see the Global Guide to Hand Gestures

• Do not plant your feet firmly in one place…

Use movement purposefully.  When speaking to a group, make eye contact with ALL the members of the group.

• Be aware of cultural expectations for proximity (how close you should stand to others) and touching (how, who, and when you should touch someone).

Westerners’ personal space extends from two to four feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters).  Only lovers, family, and close friends are allowed inside this bubble.  I like what Sinay Tarakanov wrote on his site, Study Body Language

 “…treat personal space as the property of other people – respect it – and you will gain their favor, invade it or stand too far – and you will automatically lose…”

Communicating effectively in another language requires careful observation and respect.  Like the saying goes, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”  This means when you are in an unfamiliar environment, use the behaviors of others (who are familiar with the environment) to guide you.

He says, She says*

Men and women speak differently and have different expectations of each other’s communication. Here is a short video where I explain how eye contact, and tone of voice can affect the meaning of your message

Did you know that men and women give “listening feedback” differently?  Women make more supportive sounds like: uh-huh, yeah, or mmm.  According to author Deborah Tannen, in her 1991 book You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, these differences can even interfere with successful interactions.

Additionally, women tend to touch others to communicate friendliness and support, whereas men touch to communicate power or authority. Read about this research on proximity and touch here. 


Understanding Body Language (for business and work)

Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG Thank you!  Michele

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