The genuine smile and warmth that emanated from Barack Obama always helped him stand firm as a formidable presidential candidate. But there was a small gesture that many feared could have worked against his election to the seat – his nodding to acknowledge what Republican challenger Mitt Romney was saying during the presidential debates!
Simple bodily action with a deeper implication feels Amy Cuddy, faculty member and Assistant Professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at the Harvard Business School, who says nodding may passively indicate agreement and have a range of psychological impacts on the people viewing him on TV, indicating positions of relative strength or weakness through movement rather than words.
That’s how important body language is. About 70 per cent of our waking time is spent in a group or a social circle which accounts for only a fraction of time that we use verbal communication to express ourselves as against the majority of time that is spent in non verbal communication or through body language. What’s in the mind is interestingly revealed by the subconscious gestures or postures our body takes.
As a facilitator why should you care at all about body language?
You ought to because that’s one of the most important means to measure the energy level in a room – degree of interest or excitement participants have in the subject that’s being facilitated, the temperament or the attitude. The manner in which a participant holds him/herself talks a lot about atmosphere you can expect in the room.
Following are some of the common positions which we take when we are thrilled, stressed, fretful or intimidated.
- Hands on hip indicates preparedness to plunge into action. Participants in such postures are more often than not assertive in nature with a mind of their own.
- Thumbs tucked into pants indicates an intention to attack other participants or even the trainer. Also known as “cowboy stance,” this is a position that specifies aggression. The facilitator ought to know how to diffuse too much of intensity if that’s impacting the room negatively.
Hands on head indicates participants who are ready to share their thoughts or add a point to view to the subject. It indicates a high level of self-confidence and the facilitator should be ready to respond appropriately.
Tapping a pen on a desk or table indicates frustration
- Leaning forward while sitting says the participant is all set to plunge into the conversation going on in the room. It indicates enthusiasm. This is a great cue for the facilitator to engage more people in the room.
- Positive and negative arms: While a closed arm indicates a barrier beyond which a participant will not let others move, transformation to open arms indicate affability.
- Nodding is usually slow when participants are contemplating on something. It gets faster when in complete agreement to what the participant hears.
It’s the entire context that a person is in that comes in to play while decoding a bodily gesture. The culture we come from, our backgrounds, the equation or the relationship that we started to strike with the participants as the meeting begins – all play a huge role in forming a practical and unbiased opinion about a particular gesture.