The importance of body language

People can not live without each other, we are social beings. As soon as we are in contact with others we are communicating. For this we can make use of spoken and written language. In these ways we make the content of a message clear to each other. However we can also communicate without words. This kind of communication tells us something about the relationship between people. Often this is more important than getting the content of the message across. The communication about this non spoken communication, which tells us something about the relationship between people, is called Meta-Communication. Communicating about communication!

Words are inadequate

When we connect with a person, we also have to make it clear to each other how the content of a spoken message needs to be interpreted. How we do this says something about the relationship we have with the other person, or think we have anyway. Often words are inadequate for this purpose. For instance we do not tell each other that easily how we feel about each other, or how the words of a message need to be interpreted. To make the meaning of our words clear we use body language. Body language is a language without spoken words and is therefore called non verbal communication. We use body language all the time, for instance looking someone in the eyes means something different than not looking someone in the eyes. In contact with others it is just not possible to be not communicating something.


Usually body language occurs unconsciously. Yet the body language we use decides to a large extent the quality of our communication. It follows that therefore it would be good to become conscious of our own and others' body language. We can learn to use our body language for a purpose. As well as learn to understand and interpret body language of others. It is important to note that body language has different meanings in different cultures. How we can interpret body language depends on the situation, the culture, the relationship we have with the person as well as the gender of the other. This means that there is not one signal that has the same meaning all over the world. If you do not take this into account you may get yourself in some serious trouble! Body language is also interlinked with spoken language and a whole pattern of behaviour from a person. As well as that, various body language signs can complement each other to make a particular meaning crystal clear or strengthen the meaning of what we communicate. Some groups have developed a whole specific body language which can be very explicit in its meaning and is used to communicate where the use of words may otherwise be difficult or dangerous. Examples of this are mostly groups, such as gay people, people in slavery, prisoners, etc. who have a history of prejudice against them from the dominant culture. on.

Used to express feelings

Body language is used especially to express feelings. For instance if we do not like someone, it is often difficult to say that directly to the person. However we can make it clear either intentionally or unintentionally through body language. The opposite is also true. We may say that we ARE angry through words yet our body language may be saying loud and clear that we are NOT. This can be very confusing for the receiver. This is usually described as giving out double messages - one message in words and an opposite message in body language. It is also difficult to lie or cover up our feelings through body language. People may give their true feelings away by not being aware of their body language. Research has shown that most people pay more attention to, and believe more readily, their impression of how a person acts through body language than what is said through words. As a consequence we tend to doubt, or put a question mark behind, the spoken words if they do not correspond with the language of the body .

The importance of knowing how we communicate

How we come across to someone is decided only for a small part by the words we speak. To leave a good impression behind, say at a job interview, it is important that we know, and to a certain extent can control, our body language. The person on the receiving end of our body language will have a feeling or impression that is often difficult to describe - difficult to put into words or difficult to prove what actually was communicated. Haven't we all said at times: 'I have a feeling he/she likes me', or something like: 'I doubt if what he/she is saying is really the truth'. This type of feeling is called intuition. Body language plays a big role in intuition as it gives us messages about the other person that we can interpret at an intuitive level. It is therefore necessary to get to know our own body language first. We should learn about it so that we can recognise it in others as well as in ourselves. For this purpose, all the different aspects of body language that we can learn something from will be described next.

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Frank van Marwijk
Bodycom Lichaamscommunicatie (Body Communication)
The Netherlands

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