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Why is Body Language So Important

Interview with Body Language Expert Terry Vaughan

With all of the changes in technology and digital media these days, there are more ways than ever to communicate with people, but there's one form of communication that's as old as humanity itself. Actually having face to face conversations, unless you're someone like me who sits in a 10 by 10 windowless room all day, you need to be able to communicate with people in person. You need to share your ideas and yes, to tell your stories.

And a big part of that communication is body language. It's central to who we are as people, but it remains a mystery to many of us. So a little while ago I sat down with an expert on body language to learn about its importance in business communications.

My guest today is Terry Vaughn. Terry Vaughn is a body language expert, speaker and author and has created and presents workshops and keynotes including things like mastering body language for leaders and dangerous individual recognition training and authentic public speaking and communications.

Terry, just tell me a little bit about yourself. People are gonna find out pretty quickly that you talk a little bit different than the rest of us. So why don't you tell us where you come from and all of that?

Terry Vaughan: So I am originally from England, although I've lived all over the states. My interesting body language started at a very early age while man was prone to violent outburst. And because of that volatility, although I didn't realize it, I was getting a good in house training, on paying attention, watching for signals. Because if I missed any, the repercussions were often scary, especially as a kid.

Then I got into the military, did a little good as opposed to put it down. I did a little more body language training while I was in the military, more courses when I got out. And then a hobby turned into a passion, which is teaching all this, how to recognize certain signals and read people in order to improve communication in a plethora of other things.

Thank you for that introduction. The reason I wanted to talk with you today is this podcast is about storytelling and most of the time it talks about communicating through marketing channels or other channels like blogs or websites or advertising and things of that nature.

But there's also an important part of business communications, which is face to face or interpersonal communications, whether it's in a sales situation or a presentation or even just, being around the office and, and sharing your ideas.

So I thought that having you, having you come in would be an excellent addition to the podcast.

So I guess tell me a little bit to start things off. What is body language?

Terry: Body language is the I would manifestation of internal emotions, attitude, state of mind. Basically it's everything that you're probably feeling on the inside being prominently communicated outwardly.

Body language is the only form of communication that doesn't stop. Even if you're not talking, you're still giving away information about yourself or about your state of mind. It's such a fascinating area of study because in someone is trying to be guarded or they trying to share certain information, perhaps not other information.

If you can recognize what they're doing and how they're doing it, you can decode them in a very short period of time and find out more about them, which of course in any situation, business or otherwise is always advantageous.

Okay, so what makes it so difficult for people? Why is body language such a challenge?

Terry: Because there's so much information coming at you all at the same time. We speak, we have our verbal message, we have our nonverbal message and what we're essentially always doing is subconsciously trying to figure out whether they can grow and do they match and the overload on the conscious mind is amazing.

The conscious part of the brain handles about 40 bits of information per second, which sounds really impressive. It's like all right, that's pretty good except it's the subconscious that carries the bulk of the workload when it comes to processing, not only communication, but a multitude of other things and it processes 11 million bits of information.

So if we go into a situation or a communication with someone and we have a preconceived idea about what we want the outcome to be, we're talking to this individual and we want to extract a sudden response or let's say we want to make a sale.

We're often caught up in the trap of thinking about what we want to say next. Where are we trying to steer the conversation? And because of that, we tend to become a little bit more self centered over the communication.

We're not present, we're not really immersed in what the other person is really telling us, whether it's verbally or nonverbally. And so if all of that is mixed up together, it's such a lot of information and we basically overpower our own train of thought. We don't separate ourselves from what we thinking inside our own horns long enough to look at the other person and go, oh, I think I know where you're coming from, or I'm really hearing what you're saying, or I'm really seeing what it is that you're telling me.

Let's shift gears here and talk a little bit about why body language is so important in, in a business environment.

Terry: In business communications, we have never in in human history have we had more information and more data available to us than we do now. So our tech gadgets become a crutch. We can lean on them for just about anything.

Because there's so much data and because we can escape so easily to out any bit of information that we want there, we've become disengaged from the people around us. And those relationships now are even more important I think than perhaps they used to be because we used to have to rely on other people and their knowledge to learn things.

Because of our ability to just isolate ourselves with our gadgets, we now are not as fluid. I think at actually the human aspects, the human elements of interacting and learning from one another and every interaction that we have is an opportunity to learn something.

Whether it's to learn something about the person you're talking to or the topic that you're trying to improve, especially in business and maybe a change of direction or a new way of doing something. We have to, we have to come back, I think, and reconnect to each other in order to improve how we perform the tasks that we're charged with in a business environment.

But look at how many people get distracted these days. You can't, it's very hard to hold a conversation without somebody jumping off the phone. I had one the other day, it was a maintenance guy, a great guy. But he had his iPad up the entire time and each time we were talking about a new topic, he would go back to his iPad and I'm like, hey, up here, where you at?

But he said, Oh, I'm just researching really quickly. But this was in the middle of a conversation. But I'm finding myself like, no, no, no, no. Come back. Let's, let's keep it here. We can discuss it. We can research later.

So it's finding a way to keep that human element, that human connection, I think and escape the trap of always going into our devices for all the things that you know, you look for your research.

Give me some examples of um, uh, of some business situations where body language has shown itself to be important.

Terry: I think every interaction is important if you go into it with a mindset of is this going to be beneficial for us both, but a job interview would be a great example. That's one of the most stressful things I think any of us can experience.

And being able to connect as well as you can using body language is going to be beneficial. But getting up to communicate and presents an idea. We've kind of, I think in a lot of instances lost the sale or perhaps don't commit as much time as we should to getting up and putting a human spin on a new idea, a new concept, being proficient in rhetoric and presenting an I an idea or an argument.

And so you run into a situation where people are not watching the other person as avidly perhaps as they should, and taking cues from them. And any interaction, whether it's in an official capacity or just meeting someone around the water cooler, we're not as attentive I think, as we should be. And that's a lost opportunity to learn something either about them or anything else it might you.

So what are some problems or challenges that people can have? If they're not paying attention to? I guess either their body language or the body language of the people they might be communicating with.

Terry: At any point you're communicating with somebody and you're having an interaction. Your body language can either support what you're saying or it can weaken what you're saying or it can completely undermine it.

And because we're very instinctive animals when it comes to breeding other people, the person that you're talking to, if they feel like there's a disconnect between what you're saying and what you're really feeling, they'll come away with, with a gut reaction of, I'm not sure if I trust that person or I'm not sure if what they're saying was being completely honest or trustworthy or whatever it may be.

You just become unsettled and then that individual goes away feeling like they didn't connect with you. That maybe is as well as they could walk away, just not liking either that interaction or you. So if your body language is not congruent with what you're saying, you're undermining everything that you are delivering verbally. And if people are faced with a choice between what they're hearing and then what they're seeing, they'll go with what they're seeing and not believe what it is they're hearing.

Is it possible for people to use their body language to their advantage?

Terry: Yes. But you have to ask yourself what is the advantage? I think if you go into an interaction asking yourself, is this going to be beneficial for both of us? If this is this a means for us to build trust, build rapport, get better communication going on between us, that it should be advantageous to both of you.

I know body language can be used somewhat manipulatively but I think most people are good enough instinctively to know if they're being fed a line or sold something. But if you go into any interaction, being a genuine, honest, authentic version of yourself and just ask the questions or present the information in a way that's genuinely how you would present it, that's a good opportunity to improve a relationship or to keep a relationship going.

I met with a woman the other day at the beginning of the time together we can grab a coffee. She said, tell me about Terry and I'm like, what kind of questions is that?

You know, first of all it is so open ended, what am I supposed to say to that? But I'm like, if you want to know something about that person, ask a specific question. If you had said, where are you from? The conversation would have started.

But I felt myself as soon as she said, tell me about yourself. And it was such a contrived question that I immediately responded with, am I going to tell you anything? All right. So I'd asking her questions and I asked specific, just open ended, tell me about yourself, questions that brought us back to a more authentic place rather than sitting down with this, don't have a preconceived idea, like a script. I need to ask you eight questions and this is one I'm starting with.

I'm like, no, let's just talk. Like people you want to know something, ask. So it's kind of keeping, I think the flow of information and the question is authentic.

So let's talk about some tips and some strategies that you can offer to people to improve their, or be conscious of at least, their body language and improve their ability to successfully communicate and share their stories and share their ideas.

Terry: Well, first thing with body language, it, you can't just pick up on reading someone to think, oh, I'm going to be accurate. You've got to have some at least some defining guidelines and principles in which to steer, how you assess somebody.

The first three are baseline context and clusters. You want to take note of what is the behavior, what is the baseline signals that you get from that person under normal conditions, normal being everyday run of the mill conversations. What do they normally do in that context with those emotions that gives you something to base all of your other readings from.

If you don't get that, chances are you'll end up starting from the wrong place and you won't be as accurate as you could be. Context is okay, what's the situation? There's a big difference between having a conversation in the hallway with someone or only way to the water cooler and being called into the boss's office.

Suddenly you know your guard goes up or context has driven a change in baseline behavior and then as with all things body language, the more clusters you get the better because one signal doesn't give us all of the information. Prime example would be most common mis-interpretation if someone folds their arms they’re closed off. No, they might just be comfortable thinking, thinking, and sitting in that position would you're in a conversation. There are plenty of people who do that while they're contemplating what they're hearing.

It just because they fold her arms doesn't mean the closed off. It could perhaps you've had four other topics covered and no unfold and then suddenly they do so maybe it gives you a clue that something changed.

But we're really looking for groups of signals that give us a guideline that the true emotion is, whatever. If someone's sad, you're seeing maybe a drop, an intonation, the low vocal varieties, down eyes maybe down our eyebrows, knit together in the metal. That's true sadness and that's a cluster.

Well, we've got information we can kind of make an accurate assessment on. The next thing is ask yourself three questions. Going into any interaction that you have with someone, what do you expect to see?

What do you expect to see in terms of their body language, their gestures, and their facial expressions? If somebody you've just met says it's nice to meet you, wouldn't it be great if that person actually reflected that “It's great to meet you” on their face.

You see a little smile as a little enthusiasm, you think great, they're really feeling it. So asking yourself, what do I expect to see? Then seeing it means, okay, great. We’re on the same page.

The next question is what do you not expect to see? Perhaps that individual says the same thing. It's great to meet you, but as they're saying it, they knit their eyebrows together and they dropped down and now it looks more like anger and you're okay, well I didn't expect to see that.

Why am I seeing you can start asking questions and you can decide at that point whether you want to follow up to find out more. Or is this just a superficial meeting? Then you're going to move on, but you've got the choice.

And then the last thing is what if anything is missing? What signals are not there at all? Because it's much easier for people to omit information to omit, giving you signals of tool rather than they try to fake something, put on the facade or be enthusiastic when perhaps than not.

And if you are having an interaction with someone and you suddenly go, there was no, there was no correlating gesture or facial expression during the context of the sharing of that particular particular information. And it was emotional. It should have had some emotional component. And there's nothing that you ask yourself. Why were they not genuinely feeling the emotion?

Perhaps they weren't being as truthful as they should be. Maybe they were trying to mask it. There's a multitude of things, but those three questions, what should I expect to see? What do I not expect to see? And what's missing in terms of reading someone helps keep you anchored in that communication for the it's entirety, you're less likely to find yourself wandering off in your head thinking about what you're gonna say next or not say as the case may be. And that keeps you actually focused during the exchange, which is one of the biggest issues with trying to be accurate with someone in the first place.

It's actually exhausting to read someone really accurately to be totally immersed in that conversation. But if you are, the person you're communicating with is probably going to feel it. Wow. They are genuinely here and interested in what's going on. So that kind of improves the relationship and the communication at the time

The last few questions I want to ask you about, let's start with the overall benefits of using your body language to communicate in business environments. Talk a little bit about that and why that's important for people.

Terry: Well, whether it's business or personally, everything's about relationships. Everything's about improving and getting the most out of each interaction, learning as much as you possibly can.

Your ability to read the other person, of course it’s always going to be beneficial. That gives you more information, which could be construed as an advantage but only if you're using it in the terms of trying to improve the totality of the exchange.

But the other thing is when you stop learning about body language and reading other people, you become a little bit more sensitive to signals. You also give off. And self awareness means that we tend to perhaps soften our edges somewhat, perhaps get a little bit less emotional when we're talking about something that's close to our heart and it becomes more of an exercise in how do we find the middle ground, how do we improve as standing with each other?

It becomes less argumentative when we're sensitive to our own body language and others. If you see somebody starting to get a little bit worked up and you know it's something that's pushing their buttons, you see it earlier, perhaps you can change tact or change topic or you can make adjustments on the fly. And that's one of the biggest aspects I think with communicating successfully across the board business or professionally.

So how can I help you get your message across?

Skillful communication is all about an amalgamation of a multitude of different skills. I need to be able to read all the nuances of the other person's providing all of the bits of information that they're sharing, whether they want to or not. Your ability to make the other person feel heard without marginalizing there, where they s that, what their arguments is or that point of view means that each person, regardless of whether you, you find a happy ground and said, okay, well we agree to disagree or we really do, but we are happy.

And what we've, what we ultimately discovered about each other, everybody gets hurt and everybody who has a voice feels valued. And then that value definitely I think helps people feel happy. Or even if nothing changes, it's when we don't have a voice, when we're not heard. And particularly if it's by leaders, that's when we start to feel like, well, we're not valued. And I think value is one of the most important aspects of good communication.

So how does body language rank versus the actual content of what you're trying to say? I mean a lot of what I talk about on this podcast and just through my work is about the content is about shaping the message and so forth. But how does body language kind of rank in amongst that?

Terry: Well, I've heard the body language is the majority of any interaction or any communication. I think it's more, honestly it's more 50-50.

What you say is still important. How you say it is still important. The words you choose, where you choose to say them, the order of the words, the pauses, the vocal intonation and, and variety, all of that has a compounding effect on the effectiveness of what you're saying.

But if your body language doesn't support it, if you happen to be, and this is something that guys have, they have a blank stoic face. They all listen. They are not in their heads. They are telling you that they'll listen.

But there's no other affirmation that what you're saying is making it in. You can feel like they're nodding their heads, but I think they just basically do it lip service for their body language.

You want to see some sort of response. And so if you are able to incorporate effective body language along with the verbal message, I think you ultimately appeal to the posting you're talking to on many more levels.

So between the verbal and between the body language, the nonverbals that encompasses the entirety of an effective interaction or an effective exchange of ideas or information. So they rank for me, I think they're ranked equally. We choose the words we use within a thousandth of a second.

My body language can be controlled to some degree. So you know, this whole notion that was aren't really important. No, they're very important. But let's have corresponding and supportive body language that tells the person that you're talking to that emotionally you believe what you're saying. You really are being honest and authentic about what you're sharing.

So the last thing I wanted to ask you about is, body language is a big topic of course. And nobody's going to come out of listening to a 28 minute podcast and knowing everything there is to know about, about body language or even attending one of your sessions and so forth.

They're not going to be an expert after that. So what do you recommend for people to continuously, I guess be conscious of it and to continuously improve

Terry: Read as many books as you can get your hands on the longer and the more expansive and the more immersive the training that you do, the better because it's like any new skill that you can't possibly learn. It offers such a short space of time as you said, but reading about it and taking classes and getting training will certainly help.

Honestly, the biggest thing with people is to anchor themselves in the actual interaction at that exact moment and asking yourself those three questions will certainly help bring you back so that you're present at the moment that you're having that interaction.

So get those questions, use the guiding principles of baseline context and clusters to learn more about someone when they're not under pressure, not under stress, but then ask yourself those questions. When you are having that interaction, what do I expect to see, what do I not expect to see and what's missing? And stay present and anchor it in that moment in that communication. You'll learn more doing that. And I think just about any other way.

Well thank you very much for your time.

In terms of the volume of people we reach through marketing, internal communications, sales and other business disciplines, digital and social media far outstrips interpersonal communication. And in those channels, body language largely doesn’t come into play.

But I think body language and in-person communications is far more important than that proportion would indicate. For two main reasons. First, just about every communication strategy and tactic starts with an idea. An idea that needs to be communicated to someone who needs to be persuaded to pay for that idea to be executed. So being able to tell stories and communicate ideas in person is vitally important.

Second, there are a lot of parallels between in-person communication and mass communication. In person communication is all about appealing to the human element. As Terry said, it’s about engaging with someone, exchanging ideas, and learning. It’s about being empathetic to your audience so you can communicate more effectively.

All of those things make mass communication more effective, too. The better you are at communicating in person, the better you are at reaching your audience on a human level. And that’s precisely what we need more of in our mass communications.

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