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The Role of Body Language in Communication

By: Julie-Ann Amos - Updated: 18 Nov 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Body Language And Communication

The role of body language is intricate to say the least. It works in conjunction with verbal aspects of communication to create a sometimes blunt, sometimes nuanced message. The sender and receiver each have a role to play, and if their interpretation or perception of each other’s message differs at all, the communication becomes muddled at best and downright conflicting at worst.

The Functions of Body Language Within Communication
As difficult as it is to prise apart the functions of verbal and non-verbal communication, researchers have over the years been able to identify some basic functions of body language within the communication process. These functions generally fit within one of several general categories:
  • Regulating
  • Substituting
  • Conflicting
  • Accenting/Moderating
  • Complementing
  • Repeating
The categories may seem very formal and even scientific, but once you look at them in a little more detail they begin to make much better sense.

A Closer Look at Each Category
Regulating – Body language serves the function of pacing and regulating communication. For instance, in a group of people, there are a number of non-verbal cues that are used to indicate when one person is finished speaking and it is another person’s turn.

Substituting – Sometimes body language is used to replace verbal communication. For instance, if you are caught in a conversation with someone who just keeps talking and talking, it’s difficult to come out and tell that person you’re tired of the conversation. Instead, you might substitute body language such as glancing away, stepping away, etc.

Conflicting – Your body language may say something different from your verbal communication, and when that happens it’s said to be conflicting. For instance, if you tell your boss her presentation was terrific but you have trouble making eye contact when making that statement, your body language is saying something opposite from your words. Most people tend to believe body language over verbal communication when the two are in conflict.

Accenting/Moderating – This type of body language emphasises, accentuates, softens, or otherwise enhances your verbal communication. You might point your finger to direct attention to the subject of your words, or you might reach out and touch the hand of a child whom you are correcting or disciplining.

Complementing – This category is similar to conflicting, but with a few slight differences. You might use body language in an effort to support or add credibility to your words, and if that body language is seen as genuine then the overall message is strengthened. If the body language is perceived as fake or misleading, however, then it moves into the category of conflicting.

Repeating – This kind of body language is used to repeat what you’re saying verbally. For instance, if you tell your child to open up the door, you might also point to the door as a way of repeating the verbal direction.

Body Language and Communication in the Real World
It’s easy to pick apart specific examples of body language and communication in ways that clearly demonstrate one particular element or component. However, in the real world it is seldom that clear cut or precise.

Think about the last time you went on a date, or went shopping, or attended a wedding ceremony, or participated in a parent/teacher conference. Body language has a huge influence in all of these real world situations, and in many different ways. The best way to become more attuned to the role of body language in communication is to constantly observe, both yourself and others, paying close attention to the cues that communicate louder than words.

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