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My friend and neighbor, Mary Beth, is a professor of pharmacology at a local university and has been teaching her classes remotely online since the Covid outbreak in 2020.  I asked her how virtual teaching differs most from teaching an in-person class.  

Here are some of her observations:

Students aren’t required to use video, so there is no way for her to know if they are participating.  When they do use video, as you may know from virtual meetings, you only see the face.  It robs her of the ability to know if she’s being effective.  “It’s so much about body language,” Mary Beth says, “and without in-person communication, you lose that perspective.”  She says she tends to over-gesture with her hands to compensate for the lack of visual cues.  

Why is body language more important than words?

Body language is something that communicates but is not a word.  It is known as non-verbal communication. We can learn a lot from body language-sometimes more than with verbal communication.  Researcher Albert Mehrabian’s famous 7-38-55 rule states that spoken words, tone of voice, and body language respectively account for 7, 38, and 55 percent of the meaning we communicate to others.  

Posture can reveal much about how someone feels, as well as hints about personality characteristics, such as if a person is confident, insecure, or submissive. Sitting upright, for example, may show that a person is focused and paying attention to what’s going on.  

Hand signals, such as where the hands are placed, if one or both hands are in pockets, if they’re dangling, or balled into fists.  This reveals much about how someone is feeling, like an emotional barometer.  

Arm position says a lot as well; folded across the chest firmly, outstretched, and open, tightly at your side.  

A talented communication professional will have the ability to express meaningful body language through still imagery, video or animation.  This tactic helps the audience better identify with the brand, making them more likely to have trust in the service/product, make the purchase and then usually, have long term brand loyalty as well. 

The 4 Types of Body Language

Take a look at the 4 Types of body language and see if you can understand each meaning. You may see yourself in several of them—but which one stands out predominantly to you

  • Type 1 Energy 

             Upward, light, animated

You walk with a buoyant, bouncy spring in your step. You use a lot of movement when sitting and standing, shifting your position quite often. You sometimes appear to be restless and fidgety to others, as you do not like to sit or stand still, focusing on one thing for too long. You often sit with your legs crisscrossed or very comfortably on the floor.

  • Type 2 Energy

Fluid, flowing, soft

You have a balanced and graceful walk. You have a longer stride and keep your feet close to the ground. There is no pep in your step, rather a very fluid, flowing movement. You sit and stand with a relaxed bend, often holding your head to the side.

  • Type 3 Energy

Active, reactive, substantial

You walk with a determination in your step, with a curt, quick movement.  People can hear you coming. Your abrupt way of sitting from standing can alert folks to your presence. You create a bit of a stir when you sit and stand. Legs crossed, one leg pulled up under you, head cocked to the side, hands propped on the waist or folded across chest, or your body bent at the waist.

  • Type 4 Energy

Bold, constant, still

You walk in a very upright, still, regal manner, with little movement in your body, specifically your arms and/or legs.   You sit very upright as well, with a straight spine, both feet on the floor, hands folded or hanging at your sides. Your sitting and standing could be called respectful with a dignified look.

Most runway models express Type 4 Energy—naturally upright stature, head up, poised, and contrived in their movement, with straight shoulders and dancer-like posture.

I think I’m closest to type 2.  How do you see yourself?

Why is body language so important?

Body Language in Law Enforcement

One of the most important things you learn in law enforcement is how to read body language.  To be able to interpret facial expressions, posture, and other body gestures is extremely important and at the forefront of training for police officers and anyone in law enforcement. This ability helps to defuse potentially dangerous or deadly situations and gives police officers the means to determine whether people are telling the truth or being deceptive. Let’s take a look at why this aspect of law enforcement is so vital.

Preventing and Managing Violent Behavior

People rarely ever act without giving some kind of clue or cue to their intention. Discerning someone’s state of mind can mean the difference between life and death in many volatile situations. If a suspect makes a sudden move, law enforcement has to make a split-second judgment if he or she is grabbing a weapon and react appropriately.

Recognizing Deception

Law enforcement professionals need to develop a sense of whether or not people are being truthful. There are many signs that can identify whether someone is honest or deceitful. 

Professionals in law enforcement and public safety agree on the number one lie detector: Eye Contact. Lack of direct eye contact could indicate deception.

Tone of Voice

The range of a person’s voice can get lower or higher when answering certain questions. The enunciation can change as well. So can the timing. People may answer questions quickly or slowly. If someone takes too long to answer a simple question, for example, this may indicate deception.

Physical Behavior

This can include posture as well as movements such as nervous squirming and jiggling.

The Response Itself

The content of the response should also be considered, of course. 

Understanding body language is a very complex science and certainly not something you can grasp by memorizing a few simple rules. Experts spend hours upon hours learning and verifying principles. With the right kind of training, anyone can learn these principles and apply them to everyday situations. 

To sum it up-Pay attention and use what you’ve just learned to understand a little more about those you encounter.  It’s a fascinating process.   Now go out and practice!

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