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How To Decode Body Language and make Lasting Connections

    What You are not Saying Speaks Volumes

    Body language is essential to communication, as it often conveys more meaning than words alone. During a conversation, nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures can help to express emotions, attitudes, and intentions.

    Nonverbal cues’ primary function is to reinforce or contradict spoken words. For example, if someone says, “I’m fine,” but their body language and facial expressions suggest that they are upset, the nonverbal cues denote that the person is not okay. Attention to nonverbal cues can help us better understand what someone is trying to communicate.

    Unhappy teenage girl holding sign , "I'm fine," but body language and facial expressions suggest that they are upset.

    Body Language Help Teens Connect

    • Pay attention to the other person’s nonverbal cues. By paying attention to the other person’s body language, facial expressions, and gestures, you can better understand their thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Paying attention will also help you respond more appropriately and effectively to what they are saying.
    • Show interest and engagement. Nodding your head, maintaining eye contact, and leaning in can indicate that you are listening and interested in the conversation.
    • Convey empathy. Facial expressions such as smiling, frowning, or making eye contact can help convey understanding and support.
    • Establish rapport. Mirroring the other person’s body language, maintaining eye contact, and smiling can all help to create a sense of connection and familiarity.

    Nonverbal cues are essential to communication and can significantly impact how a conversation unfolds. We can better understand and connect with others by paying attention to and using nonverbal cues.

    Body language can differ between Genders

    There are differences in the nonverbal cues that people identifying as men or women tend to use. These differences are inconsistent across individuals and can vary based on both cultural and individual differences. Here are a few generalizations:

    • Men tend to use more direct eye contact and are more likely to initiate handshakes.
    • Women tend to use more eye contact when listening and may use more facial expressions to convey emotion.
    • Men tend to take up more physical space and use more dominant body language, such as standing with their arms crossed or occupying a large amount of space.
    • Women tend to use more open, expansive body language and may take up less physical space.
    Happy family mother and teen daughter talking using body language to convey joy

    Body Language can Differ between Cultures

    Nonverbal cues can also vary across cultures. Being aware of these differences will help avoid misunderstandings. Here are a few examples of cultural differences in nonverbal cues:

    •  Eye contact: In some cultures, such as those in the United States and Europe, direct eye contact signifies honesty and openness. In other cultures, such as those in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, direct eye contact may be seen as aggressive or disrespectful, and it is more common to use indirect eye contact.
    • Gestures: Different cultures may use different gestures to convey the same or similar meanings. For example, thumbs-up in the United States generally means “good job” However, this gesture is considered rude and even vulgar in countries such as Australia, Greece, and the Middle East.
    • Personal space: The amount of personal space that people need can vary significantly across cultures. In some cultures, it is common to stand close to others and touch them when speaking, while in other cultures, try to maintain a greater distance and avoid physical touch.
    • In some countries, people shake their heads slightly to show disagreement. However, in India, this means yes, or a more exaggerated shake means maybe. 

    These cultural differences make nonverbal more tricky, but they are also easy to use. When meeting people from different cultures, use curiosity to learn what gestures mean and share some of the gestures from your own culture.

    How to Teach Teens Appropriate Body Language

    People-watching is a great way to talk about the importance of Body Language. While waiting for the train, or sitting for a coffee in a busy mall, look around and quietly and respectfully talk and ask your teen about the people around. Are they sad, mad, happy, or in love? How can they tell?

    Watching old movies is another great way to play this game. Watching a game, notice the difference between the players. Can you tell who is winning and who is losing without looking at the score? How about old tv shows versus modern tv shows? How has the body language changed over time?

    For teachers, often at the end of a term or on a hard-to-teach day like Halloween, movies are incorporated into the curriculum. This is a way to take something you are already planning and turn it into a discussion – non-graded, which is even more fun for us kids.

    Now that the dialog is open, you can practice with your teen, role-play, or even sign them up for an acting class. These are all great ways to incorporate body language into their lives.

    Before any presentation, have your teen practice as if they were in the classroom. Many of my friends practice sitting or even lying down, they just practice the words. Presenting is partly what you are presenting, partly how you speak it, and a whole lot of what you say with your hands and the rest of your body.

    Do you have a fun story about curiosity – I’d love to hear it. Connect with me below.

    Connect with C A B L E

    The third skill set from the mnemonic is Body language. Connecting with C A B L E. Find out more about the five conversation skills every teen should master.

    Our Next Skill (fourth letter) is active LIstening. This article reviews three important conversation habits when practicing Active Listening. These include paying attention, showing interest and providing feedback, and paraphrasing to ensure understanding.

    Active Listening is the art of staying focused and giving the speaker your attention, showing interest, and providing feedback while they are talking.