We hear that communication is all about body language, but what does that mean?
Studies conducted by academic Albert Mehrabian in the early-1970s found that only seven percent of communication was verbal. The two non-verbal contributors to communication, body language and tone of voice, contributed to 55 percent and 38 percent of communication, respectively.
It may be nice to know that 55 percent of body language is non-verbal, but what does that mean? Furthermore, how can you improve your body language? How does it connect to rapport?
This post will discuss all things body language and rapport— what they are, how to use them to communicate with others, and when you should be most conscious of them.
What is Body Language?
According to Psychology Today, body language is simply any type of “communication without words.”
This includes everything from leg twitching and crossing arms to microexpressions.
While not all signs of body language will be picked up by others, it is important to be well aware of how your body language communicates anything that your words may not.
As body language is often very complex— habits can come from a variety of sources, and a single individual can have multiple expressions of body language— it is quite often misunderstood.
This is precisely why many politicians, CEOs, and other individuals in the public eye do extensive training with trained actors— they realize that their words often don’t hold as much weight as their mannerisms.
When meeting someone for the first time, being able to predict their body language and non-verbal communication preferences can go a long way towards establishing rapport.
For example, people from certain areas that are crowded, such as Tokyo, will likely feel most comfortable speaking at a very intimate distance— often less than a foot.
On the other hand, people from most suburban or metropolitan areas will choose to speak at arm’s length. Lastly, those from rural regions are likely to speak to others from areas of considerable distance.
However, there are ways to penetrate personal space: a simple way is to approach from an angle, so that you’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
Understanding personal space and other norms and signals that regulate body language is imperative in the professional world.
To shift gears, many use their body language to assert their dominance or expertise with a matter. It is an unspoken custom that one’s shoulders should square with their legs when standing or speaking to another person.
Those who have significant authority and confidence— including cops, security guards, and successful businessmen— will often stand with their legs spread, which signifies how they perceive their importance.
If someone of power puts their arm over a chair, it typically means that they feel as if they have claimed that given area— sitting in that chair would encroach upon their personal space.
When this same type of individual spreads their hands over the edge of a desk while speaking, it typically means that they are dead set on the issue at hand. The more exaggerated this posture, the less likely they will accommodate or be kind during a discussion.
There are also a number of body language expressions that point towards a lack of confidence. Crossing your arms or legs is one of the prime examples of body language that points to a lack of self-confidence.
Excessive hand movement while speaking hints at nervousness and a lack of confidence in what you’re saying. Your head should remain straight while speaking— not leaning down or to either of your sides.
You should sit straight, not leaning forward or playing with your hands. You shouldn’t adjust your sitting position too often, as this hints at low self-confidence.
Posture as a whole is key in reading body language. For example, if someone puts their hand on their chin, it often means they’re lying. Someone putting their hands in their pocket usually means that they are bored and disinterested by that point.
What is Rapport?
Rapport is quite simply the establishment of a “close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings of ideas and communicate well.”
Put another way, it is used to describe people who are “in sync” with one another.
Rapport is important because we have evolved to feel most secure around people whom we can connect with. We are social animals by nature, and we feel most comfortable around people who make us feel safe, welcomed, and respected.
Body language is often interconnected with rapport because we tend to mimic the movements and actions of those with whom we’re in sync. This applies to not only conscious actions, such as how we walk or stand, but to unconscious actions, like how we blink or breathe.
People in sync with one another are often able to intuitively feel each other’s pain and struggles, whether these problems are something physical or psychological. Wanting to relate to others, we have an innate desire to imitate and understand others.
Obviously, not every two people— or group of people— have the same levels of rapport that they do with others. Rapport should be thought of as being on a continuum; rarely is there a person we have absolute rapport with, or an absolute lack.
Rapport works with body language and non-verbal cues in that it can help signal status or respect.
Head honchos at companies may very well find that the employees who respect and connect with them will make shifts in their body language when they do.
Rapport seeking is expressed from childhood; children who do not feel that their parents are providing them enough attention may very well act out.
It should be noted that having excellent body language is only a single way in which to establish rapport. In addition to some of the other methods mentioned, maintaining eye contact, finding common ground, and giving full, undivided attention can lead to great rapport.
Establishing rapport is even more important in client-facing roles; research shows that up to 90 percent of success in sales come down to rapport.
Exercises for Establishing Rapport
While interpersonal skills come naturally to some, they don’t come naturally to everyone. You might be able to get away without having great rapport in certain industries or positions, but why not make an effort to improve? It’s free, after all.
As a first step, it’s good to smile. Since the other people involved will likely mirror your actions, smiling gives off the impression that you’re happy and want to communicate with them.
Another tip is to try to practice the gait and head movements of an individual you don’t know, whether this is someone on the street, or a TV personality.
When you meet someone for the first time, they’ll likely make a gesture when they initially say “hello”, whether this is a tilt of the head, moving of the eyebrows, leaning, or pursing of the lips. To better establish rapport, try imitating these gestures.
With friends, you can try rapport exercises of a different variation.
For example, you can try breathing in a complementary manner— inhaling when they exhale, and vice versa.
A more risky, but interesting, experiment is trying to break rapport with friends. You can see how long it takes for rapport to become reestablished, and monitor if saying certain things can help mend any distance that was created.
A similar exercise can be saying or discussing something with which the individual in question can’t relate. This approach should be taken with caution, as you don’t want to sever the ties of a strong friendship.
Explaining that you are experimenting with rapport levels is an often advisable approach.
As body language and rapport are often a confusing topic for people to understand, both conceptually and in terms of how to improve, hopefully this post provides some guidance.