Gestures express thoughts, ideas, and feelings and enable communication. They also signify different things in varied cultural contexts. This is the power of body language.
The thumb up gesture is perceived differently in various countries. While in India, it means terrific or everything is fine, it has negative connotations in Australia, Iran and Nigeria. In Japan, it means five, and in Turkey, it refers to the right-wing political party.
Now bring the thumb and the index finger closer, joining them together. While in India, this gesture traditionally means it’s perfect, in France, it means worthless; in Japan, it refers to money; in Germany, it is rude; and in Malta, Greece and Brazil, it is an insult.
Body language consists of gestures, touch, body movement, gaze and facial expression.
It is found that communication consists of 93 per cent body language and paralinguistic cues, while only 7 per cent consists of words. Interestingly, body language takes shape as early as the time when the foetus is in the mother’s womb.
Development researchers infer the foetus’s gestures such as yawning and kicking the mother as signs of happiness and joy.
Understanding body language can help us move ahead in our working lives, not just because we may look the part, exude confidence, and act assertively, but because we can look beyond what people say and what they really mean.
Body language plays an important role in day-to-day situations such as appearing for a job interview, giving presentations in college or giving a viva in school. Here are some do’s and don’ts:
Don’t cross your arms and legs: Never cross your arms and legs since this makes you look tense. Putting your hands behind your head is a sign of overconfidence.
Make eye contact: While engaging in a conversation, look the other person in the eye. Lack of eye contact may signify that one is insecure and not attentive.
Work on body posture: Relax your shoulders and lean forward to show that you are interested or backward to show you’re confident. Leaning forward too much indicates that you are desperate; too much bending back means you are arrogant and distant.
Be an attentive listener: Nodding when others are speaking indicates that you are attentive.
Don’t fidget: Avoid nervous movements such as shaking your leg or tapping your fingers on the table.
Relax: Smile when someone says something funny. People will be a lot more inclined to listen to you if you seem positive.
The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity & Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’