article written by Tim Dingle MBA Chief Development Officer AVPTGLOBAL
Training is about to undergo a revolution and the understanding of body language will be crucial for those undertaking training. Speaking at a conference in Birmingham last year, a leading HR director observed that there was nothing as important as understanding the language of business. That must mean the non-verbal as much as the verbal expressed language. Non-verbal communication is commonly known as body language and I spent a lot of time studying the basis of this and its importance in training and interviews. So the question is can it be read and used by individuals, managers and directors- or indeed in their wider professional or social lives?
Body language is a broad term for forms of communication using dress, body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. It is part of the category of paralanguage, which describes all forms of human communication that are not verbal language. This includes the most subtle of movements that many people are not aware of, including, for example, a discreet smile or a slight movement of the eyebrows. Such messages can be communicated instantly and silently through gesture; body movement or posture, facial expression and eye gaze.
Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle would not have recognised it, but just watching an accomplished politician, actor, or shopping channel salesperson can give you some insight into the power of gestures or facial inference. Such gestures can add to the stagecraft, amplify the message and can provide surprisingly magnetic assurance about what you are being told. Have a look at the courses we offer at The Academy of Vocational and Professional Training.
Can the use of these non-verbal signatures be imported into the business, training and HR arena? It can be a risky strategy to attempt to read and rely upon body language signatures without some training and practice. Should individuals be aware of the power of non-verbal communication and seek to harness this aspect in negotiation? If our desire, as individuals in business, training or HR, is to produce our optimum performance then we should employ all of the communication and interpersonal skills with which we individually have been gifted.
We may well consider investing our time to improve our oral questioning and language skills, but very few individuals seem to give much thought to developing the skill of both reading and transmitting non-verbal clues. We can help! Developing those reading skills would be much easier if all our clients were between three and nine years of age – this is rare of course, even if sometimes a negotiation has something of a playground quality about them. Children wear their emotions on their sleeves and are, except perhaps to other children or their doting grandparents, pretty easy to read.
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Tightly crossed arms, a screwed-up face and a stamped foot quickly clues you into the internal voice of the child, even if their response to the question, “Are you OK” is “Yes”. A parent’s sixth sense is often nothing more than a demonstration of the superior body language reading skills that child carer’s, of necessity, have learned to develop. The older we grow the more we learn how to mask our true feelings, which unconsciously includes the toning-down of our body language as well. Whilst we can try and make our non-verbal communication less obvious, very few people can completely mask it.
HR directors, business people and individuals, might want to learn to look for those more subtle, but tell-tale, signs of stress, hope, agreement, confidence, resistance, and fear in the body language of the clients, and indeed their own clients. Picking up on these signs could allow us to make progress in a situation of stale-mate and could save a negotiation that is about to crash. These skills can allow us to zero-in our questioning, to know when a private meeting or a break is essential, and to see the evident bridges and agreements, even when the other side have yet to verbalise them. How too are we at listening to clients, staff and business partners when they speak to us? Are we fully engaged with them, having turned our chair, and thus our whole body towards the speaker, leaning forward and maintaining good eye contact? If you want to be heard in your turn, you need to be seen to be listening.
People will usually only tell us what is really on their mind if they believe that we are really listening. Do we really listen? Taking notes whilst staring at out iPad or mobile phone as the person tells their story, does nothing to build confidence in us or the process. Active listening skills such as reflecting back a summary of what has just been said by the speaker may just persuade, non verbally, a client to listen to you and thereby facilitate success. HR directors, managers and individuals should be encouraged, therefore, think about using their body language positively to enhance the oral skills that they already have, allowing them to maximise their potential as conflict resolution practitioners.
I know what you are thinking. You need to start training, now.
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