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When bees want to tell other bees where they will find a new source of nectar, they do a little dance in front of the hive. Enlightened by this, the other bees then fly off in the direction they’ve been ‘told’ will be useful. And not a word is spoken – or buzzed.This is body language par excellence.But, even as mere humans, we have used body language all our lives to communicate what words alone cannot. We are programmed to use it well, and communication with our parents sets us on the road to achieving that expertise. So how does it work?

In our daily interactions, we are constantly monitoring body language signals – ‘tells’ – while listening to what others are saying. As a result, communication depends on body language more than words. Someone has actually measured this. The percentage is believed to be between 80% and 90%. And, they say, body language does not lie.
But it can be actively manipulated.
In discussions about truth, lies and fiction with my writing and communication clients, I often break the ice by asking the group to play a story-telling game. When the group has divided into pairs, each member of the pair tells the other one element of truth and one element of fiction – without identifying which. Their partner listens attentively, decides which is the true and which is the false of the two pieces of information and introduces his/her partner to the group using this. If they get it wrong, their partner is allowed to correct them and we discuss why. The ice is well and truly broken by then. In this game, the decision about truth (non-fiction) and lies (fiction) is largely based on intuition fed by an unconscious understanding of body language. And upon the ability of the story-teller to manipulate their own body language – otherwise known as Acting.

But body Language is not a trick. It is a fundamental of human communication. As a result, for a variety of business and professional purposes, conscious awareness of body language is a useful tool – for occupations such as law enforcement, recruitment and sales. And this consciousness can be raised by training.
However, sometimes when we are communicating with others, we need to be aware how the body language we have learned and used since birth can work against us. In greeting rituals, for example, usually, we use body language to build relationships. But whereas westerners may appreciate direct eye-to-eye contact and a firm handshake from both men and women, sensitivities may be offended by this in other cultures. Similarly, South Americans like to be physically close to the person they are in conversation with – even in formal situations. And Americans and Brits may prefer a desk between them.
This is why, whatever the situation, the implicit messages of body language merit attention.

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