A difficult discussion was before me. I knew a colleague took action to intentionally decrease the integrity of our project. She denied it but welcomed a meeting to discuss this issue.
My goal was to get her side of the story but also to communicate that I was on to her and this type of action was not going to be met favorably in the future. This said, it was going to benefit both of us to be able to get along and work together amicably. I decided to focus on my nonverbal communication to gently send a firm message.
She greeted me openly and welcomed me into her office. I smiled genuinely, looked her in the eyes, and kept my shoulders open and squared with hers so she could sense that I had nothing to hide. I sat down calmly and sat up confidently. My body language was calm, confident and open. She, on the other hand, crossed her legs and started to nervously kick one leg. While I smiled through the conversation, my words were strong, respectful and to the point. My nonverbal communication was purposefully orchestrated to convey confidence and openness. Soon, this woman took off her suit jacket signaling she was warm. Her nonverbal communication told me that she continued to experience nerves as she tried to recall the details about which I was inquiring.
Based on her nonverbals, I gained control over this conversation and soon acquired the upper hand in the interaction.
We often hear about the importance of nonverbal behavior also known as body language. We learn that the majority of a person’s message being communicated is nonverbal, via their movement, gesturing, facial expressions and tone of voice. Research states that the majority of message effectiveness is attributed to nonverbal or body language.
Learning about nonverbal communication can help you assess others, like witnesses, jurors, judge and defense attorney. You can also take inventory of what your body communicates to others in the courtroom.
Let’s say you are arguing a case in front of a jury. You take notice of three jurors whose body language is strikingly different than the others; one is clenching a fist which is tucked into her opposite elbow, another has crossed his legs and is leaning away, the third juror has crossed her arms high on her chest and furrows her eyebrows. Their bodies might signal disagreement. You then decide to tweak your persuasive argument and nonverbal communication to offer more attention and openness to these three jurors.
“Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and posture all convey information to an observant juror. Other forms of nonverbal communication, such as dress and appearance, the relative proximity of counsel and litigant to the jury, paralanguage (speech rate, volume, variations in pitch) and the presence of spectators in the gallery, may also affect jurors’ impressions. The use of eye contact, higher vocal volume and synchronized hand gestures are a few factors that have been associated with persuasiveness and confidence.” Oregon State Bar- Litigation Journal Fall 2013 Vol. 32 No. 3
Those three jurors communicated their view to you without saying a word. Without a good grasp on nonverbal communication, you would not know how to leverage the situation for your benefit.
Law is not the only profession that can be greatly affected by body language. Physicians who were better able to communicate emotion nonverbally with patients, had more highly satisfied patient interactions in the “art of care” than those who were less effective … And in higher education, studies found that racial bias can be uncovered by evaluating the teacher’s tone of voice and body language. Thin Slices of Expressive Behavior as Predictors of Interpersonal Consequences: A Meta Analysis by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, Harvard. Psychological Bulletin 1992, Vol. 111 NO. 2 256-274
I find that paying attention to body language and other’s nonverbal communication is one of the most undervalued skills in a vast array of settings. However, in a situation where the stakes are high, nerves are present or the need for message effectiveness is great, utilizing every tool you have, simple or not, will only increase your chance of having the upper hand. Why stay in the dark and ignore the messages being sent to you nonverbally or those you are sending?