There are a lot of messages that a person communicates besides with the words that they say. If you pay attention, their body language can be a significant source of information.
However, if you’d really like to have the master list of what all the possible nonverbal body languages signs (eye contact, crossed arms, slouching, etc.) may mean, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Most “answers” and generalizations are just not true.
People act differently and communicate differently based on a lot of things, not only what they are feeling at the moment. Not that there is not good information in those nonverbal signals, there is just not one list of the “right” answers that apply to every person in every situation. Here’s a few examples:
- Lack of eye contact means they are lying. Well, the amount and nature of eye contact can be telling, but the exact moment it breaks may not be significant.
- Folding arms means defensiveness. Maybe. Or maybe they are getting comfortable, or thinking, or relaxed. I’ve personally seen them all, and done them all.
- Tone of voice is not the same for everyone. Some people use tone to their advantage. Others purposely avoid changes in tone and pitch. Others have their natural tone that follows them everywhere.
- Squaring up to you. Might mean they are becoming aggressive or simply interested.
- Feet/shoulders away from you. They could be getting comfortable or disinterested.
- Nodding. I’ve always said that when the employee nods, it means nothing. They are probably just trying to get you to stop talking because you believe they agree. They may want you to stop talking because they are confused, bored, uninterested, or just have other priorities at the moment. A nog can also indicate agreement, politeness, “Go away!”, or “I get it!”
- Hands closed. They could be withholding information or maybe they just naturally sit that way.
- Leaning forward could mean aggressiveness or disinterest.
- Leaning back could mean they are thinking or they are disengaged.
Keep in mind that you can think about four times faster than someone naturally speaks. That is why it is so hard to listen. Your brain has so much excess capacity. Therefore, when you speaking to someone, what they do nonverbally may or may not be directly related to the conversation.
What can nonverbal communication tell you? Most importantly, nonverbal communication patterns must be learned.
What are the common patterns for the people with whom you are communicating? What makes them change? How do they hold themselves most of the time? How do they feel most of the time?
- Are they often nervous and defensive? Then a change in body language may mean you are relieving their stress and opening up dialog. That’s a good thing.
- If they are often participative and productive, a change in body language may mean you have said or done something that has closed the conversation and lost their buy-in. That needs to be addressed.
Determine what triggers them to change tone, posture, eye contact and movements and decide if that change is a good thing. Then, you can adjust your communication in the moment based on their body language and achieve your desired results from the conversation.
And, by the way, words are important too, so brush up on your listening skills, and spend more than 25% of your energy listening to the words in order to gain insight on the entire communication message that the other person is saying!