Bodies Talk!

I just returned from several weeks of travel in different countries. Something stuck me midway through the journey: how frequently our words say one thing and our bodies and faces another.
Take the example of Dodie. After almost every sentence, regardless of the topic, she would throw back her head ever so slightly and laugh. “Going to the store now.” (Laugh) “Aunt Josie’s been in the hospital for six weeks.” (Laugh). “Jim got a speeding ticket last night.” (Laugh) At first, out of habit, I found myself smiling with her, but I soon realized that the content of what she was saying was often very serious. After just a few minutes with her I had this vague feeling of confusion and fatigue. I quickly realized that I needed to refocus and respond to her words just to keep myself feeling o.k. In truth, I had to work hard to hear what she was saying because her body language and laughter got in the way of what she was actually trying to communicate. I’m sure not everyone is willing to do this with her or for her…
My interactions with Dodie made me reflect on how we all do this in one form or another, particularly if we are nervous, scared, uncertain of the context, audience, or likely response of the listener. How often do we see politicians or other public speakers blink excessively, fold their arms in front of them (at the very time they may be expressing policies of openness and honesty), smile unnecessarily as if to reassure us and so forth? How often do we do this, utterly unaware of what we are truly communicating?
A good personal habit is to practice your own presentations in front of a mirror or ask a friend or family member to video you. I have no doubt you’ll be surprised! Remember, we all send mixed messages at at one time or another–we let our bodies talk, almost independently, sending far different messages than our words. Being aware of what your body communicates and minimizing contradictions is key to effective communication. It’s also an intrinsic aspect of the art of people.

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