Body language can be considered one of the most important methods of communication. It includes body movements such as gestures, facial expressions, eye movements or posture, which can tell others about the sender’s state of mind. They can also signal us whether a receiver is paying attention or agrees with what the sender has communicated to them. However, the signs we send through body language are not universal, some can vary in different cultures. Moreover, we are not always conscious of all the signals we send through our bodies.
Body language is crucial in combination with spoken language. Through posture you can express your level of interest in the conversation and gestures can be used to create emphasis. When you touch someone while they talk to you, they will see this as encouraging or as a clue to use caution. Crossing one’s arms can signal that there is a barrier between the speakers, that the listener is cold or that he or she is lost in thought. Eye contact can be used in several ways: Keeping eye contact may express approval or distrust. When there is no eye contact, this can mean negativity. However, many people simply find it hard to keep eye contact or to look someone straight in the eye. Moreover, norms in this area are very diverse, depending on the culture you live in. If we mirror the body language of our partners in conversation we can make them feel more comfortable and understood.
The field of proxemics studies the distances between people. By analysing the distance between interacting people we can detect if they are in a close relationship with each other or in what kind of social setting they find themselves in. The most intimate zone is a circle around you that may only be penetrated by lovers or close family and children. The next zone is reserved for friends while the third zone is the social space which includes work colleagues and people you meet frequently. New acquaintances would be at the outer end of the social space circle. The fourth and last zone is called public space which would include theatre performances or people you are not familiar with. When someone comes too close, this is often seen as inappropriate and uncomfortable.