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Breaking Down Body Language Barriers

We often speak about language barriers. We go on a vacation in a foreign country and have trouble asking for directions. We go into an important business meeting and sit there wondering what the associate across from us is really saying. Sometimes when we talk to our children, it's like talking to someone from a different planet.

What about body language, our facial expressions, our posture, how we touch someone, the way we move our eyes, and how we establish space between each other when we talk?

Understanding how to read body language is a useful tool when trying to figure out what someone is communicating, especially since it's thought that language makes up 55% of the message, and only 7% is verbal.

However, you can also run up against a body language barrier that can complicate the communication process even more.

Misleading Body Language

As astute as you might be in reading body language, if the person with whom you are talking uses body language contradictory to what he or she is saying, you have to decide what is being communicated. A client who says your story sounds great, but is slouching, sitting with arms crossed, and occasionally glancing at his or her watch, may be sending you mixed signals.

Paralanguage is another potential barrier in the communication process. Paralanguage includes our tone of voice and how we use silence.

At the same time, body language can act as a barrier or a challenge that separates and prevents people from different cultures communicating clearly and appropriately. A handshake or distance between persons speaking, for example, can lead to misreading body language and may cause misunderstandings of the non-verbal messages. This could lead to destroying relationships between people of different cultures.

Breaking Down the Barriers

Here are several helpful suggestions about dealing with body language barriers.

Be aware of the importance of body language, paralanguage, and that there are cultural differences that play a role in the communication process, which includes a speaker, a message, a medium, and a receiver. If a breakdown occurs in any of those, the communication can be misread.

Educate yourself regarding the messages various methods of non-verbal communication can send, many of which are done unconsciously. Then watch how body language and paralanguage affects the way you understand what a person is communicating, and how you communicate nonverbally. If you communicate often with someone from another culture, school yourself on differences.

When you recognize there is a breakdown in communication and your ability to understand what someone is saying, look beyond the verbal to the nonverbal. Ask him or her for clarification. Paraphrase what you think they are saying and repeat it back to them.

Whether you are communicating with family members, friends, or total strangers, remember more than half of the process is nonverbal, and you need to break down any barriers by looking, as well as listening.

In a similar way, the Holy Spirit helps us understand the wisdom of our heavenly Father and how he communicates with us, through his Word, but often nonverbally through our actions, the actions of others, and our daily experiences.

In God's Words

"The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction." (Proverbs 16:23)

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body." (Ephesians 4:25)

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." (James 1:5)

Also read: Psalm 19:14, Luke 6:45, 2 Timothy 2:16

In the Words of Others

"Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing." Rollo May

"Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall." Oliver Wendell Homes Sr.

In Your Words

  • Can you recall a time when a person sent you misleading body language signals that contradicted his or her words? If yes, what was your reaction.

  • Recall times when on vacation in another country or meeting someone from another culture. Were there occasions you had to use body language? How often?

  • Have you ever watched a silent film movie? Were you able to follow the story, even without subtitles?

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