A popular saying goes like this. “The face is the index of the heart”. Whatever we feel deep within ourselves is at once reflected in the face. It is very important in any face-to-face communication event. We convey such a lot without speaking a word. For example, let us consider the facial expressions generally associated with happiness, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, bewilderment, astonishment and contentment. Let us also consider a smile, different kinds of smile, a frown, corners of lips, the position of the eyes brows, the cheeks – whether drawn up or back or dropping, the jaw, nose/nostrils and the chin. We can easily mark all the signals sent through these parts of the face by others and observe our own expressions by looking at ourselves in a mirror. The thoughts and feelings conveyed may be positive or negative. It follows, then that we can change our behavior/expression by changing the inner nature. But it is not easy. Much depends on how deeply motivated we are and what constructive efforts we make to stay calm and relaxed and send out positive signals to make the best of every given situation. Every facial musical is an instrument of communication.
Everyone knows that eye contact is of paramount importance in all face-to-face communication. When we look at somebody’s face we focus primarily on his eyes and try to understand what he means. The eyes, along with the eyebrows, eyelids and the size of pupils convey our innermost feelings. Eyebrows and eyelids raised and combined with dilated pupils tell us that the person is excited, surprised or frightened. On the other hand, eyebrows with upper and lower eyelids closed and combined with constricted pupils tell us that the person is angry or in pain. These are the most familiar eye patterns.
Along with these eye patterns, eye contact and eye movements are also meaningful. Looking at somebody for a long time shows the intensity of our interest in him. If the eye contact is brief, or we take our eyes off the person very soon, it indicates nervousness or embarrassment on our part. Of course, eye contact and eye movements convey-their meaning in combination with other facial expressions.
In addition to facial expressions and eye contact, other parts of our body move in a very meaningful manner. These movements are called gestures – i.e., the physical movements of arms, legs, hands, torso and head. They play a very important role in conveying meaning without using words. For example, pounding fist on a table shows ‘anger’ , a fore – finger held high above the head shows ‘Number I’ and a fore – finger and a thumb touching to form a circle stands for ‘OK’. In the same way, arms spread apart convey the meaning of ‘wide’, shuffling from one leg to another means ‘nervous’ and a torso erect and extended, slightly forward, has been interpreted as ‘intense’.
It is important to note that gestures are not used individually but in relation to another person, and acquire meaning at particular times. That particular time, in an interpersonal situation, may be at the beginning, middle or end of a communication event. Speaking for example, seems to be necessarily linked with gesturing. It has been observed that intensity of speech is directly associated with the size of a gesture. The greater the gesture, the louder the speech. Speech and gestures go together, and, therefore, have to be properly co – ordinate. In the absence of speech – gesture – co – ordination we experience confusion and discomfort.
In any face – to – face communication or meeting or interview the way we hold our head is very important. Everybody is aware of the age old saying, “Hold your head high”. It is a sign of honor and self respect, confidence, integrity and interest in the person/persons before us. A head bent low, depending upon the situation, would show modesty, politeness or diffidence. On the other extreme a head drawn too far backwards or stiffly held straight up indicates pride or haughtiness. Head jerks indicate insolence, rejection or agreement, depending upon the context and personality of the person concerned. Nodding the head sideways or back and forth conveys the intended meaning more eloquently than words.
Behaviorial scientists have studied the shapes of our bodies and have broadly put them in the following three types:
- Ectomorph: thin, youthful and tall.
- Mesomorph: strong, athletic, muscular and bony.
- Endomorph: fat, round and soft.
We cannot do much about the shape of our body, but we can no doubt put it to effective use. Both our body shape and posture affect what we think about ourselves, how we relate to others and how others relate to us or respond to our moves. Mostly we act spontaneously, whether we meet a friend or participate in a meeting. But we do become self – conscious while appearing for an interview or making a presentation. On such an occasion we try to make the best possible impression. The effort itself may make the posture awkward. Learning forward or backward, standing or sitting erect, slouching haphazardly or bending sideways – All these postures make an immediate impression on the other person’s mind.
Appearance, for our purpose, includes clothing, hair, jewellery, cosmetics etc. all these may seem unrelated to body language. But on having a closer look we find that they are very meaningfully related to our face, eyes, gestures, posture etc.
A famous writer has said that a man is recognized by his “dress and address”. “Dress” does not need any explanation. By address he means the way a person speaks to others. Every occasion has its own particular type of dress. It may be formal or informal. It is normally a part of an organization’s work rules to have a formal suit or combination of jacket and trousers for the working hours. Certain organizations have a uniform for all levels of workers. If one changes from the formal dress to informal or casual he is easily noticed, and his dress speaks volumes about his attitude to life, to work, to his colleagues and his own feelings. That is also the reason why invitation cards to formal occasions like cocktails, receptions, and dinner’s etc. convey instructions regarding the dress the guests are expected to appear in.
It is not just the dress or clothes that are important for any occasion but also shoes, hair style, perfume etc that convey ‘meaning’ in nonverbal form.