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Body Language In Different Personal Interactions

By: Julie-Ann Amos - Updated: 19 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Body Language Interaction Non-verbal

One of the most practical applications of knowledge about body language is in the context of different personal interactions. The way you communicate through body language has a huge impact on the tone length, and outcome of every type of personal interaction.

Body Language and Interacting With Someone New – First Impressions

Up to 90% of the first impression created when meeting someone new is a direct result of non-verbal interactions and general body language. These messages, both conscious and unconscious, convey a great deal of information about you, so it’s just common sense to do everything possible to maximise your positive impression.

The first step is to check your appearance; this might include combing your hair, smoothing your shirt, straightening your tie, and generally making sure you appear neat and tidy. This may seem a bit vain, but it’s rooted in a very practical fact: Most people will form an opinion about you within just a few seconds of seeing you, even before you’ve uttered a single word.

Next comes the way you carry yourself and greet the other person. If you frown, appear stern, or act aloof, the first impression you create is bound to be quite negative. Instead, you should smile, shake hands, and maintain a pleasant look on your face. Also, don’t stand facing the other person directly, as this is perceived as an aggressive posture; make a point of standing just a bit sideways and with a good distance between yourself and the other person.

These general suggestions should be adjusted as necessary depending on the situation – formal, informal, business, social, etc.

Interacting With Someone You Know – Rapport, Trust, and Intimacy

When you interact with someone you know, body language influences three key areas of the interaction – rapport, trust, and intimacy. Depending on the nature of the relationship between the two of you, each of these areas will take on different levels of importance.

Using body language to build rapport is much like performing a dance with the other person. It is a process of negotiating your way through a series of movements and steps, with each one bringing you closer and closer to common ground and understanding. The main elements of this negotiation are:

  • Mirroring – the degree to which you both reflect each other’s body language.
  • Listening – the degree to which you both ask open-ended questions and show genuine interest in the answers.
  • Reciprocating – the degree to which you both select similar body language that is perceived as being of similar value to the interaction.

Using body language to build trust is simply an expansion of the rapport you’ve already established. The biggest difference is that trust takes more time to develop than rapport. It still includes the three main elements (mirroring, listening, and reciprocating) but each takes on a deeper meaning as you both negotiate your way through to a deeper level of connection with confidence in each other. Another aspect of trust is that it takes longer to develop, but can be destroyed much more quickly than basic rapport.

Using body language to convey intimacy is perhaps the most complicated of activities, especially in situations where such non-verbal interactions may or may not be sexual in nature. Two close friends convey intimacy by sitting close together, using appropriate facial expressions, displaying friendly gestures, and leaning toward each other. None of this is sexual in nature, and neither person interprets it as sexual because there is a high degree of rapport and trust in the relationship.

However, two people with a romantic interest in each other convey intimacy in very different ways. They might touch each other lightly on the hand, arm, or shoulder; they laugh at each other’s witty comments and lean in toward each other; they make frequent eye contact and then look away in a coy manner; and they generally flirt with each other to convey mutual interest.

Pending and Receiving Messages in Personal Interactions

Conflict occurs when body language is misinterpreted either as being romantically intimate or when one person does not reciprocate in a romantically intimate way. Such conflicts are relatively easy to resolve in social or informal situations, but can lead to additional problems when they occur in a business or professional situation.

There is no single formula for determining the exact nature and intensity of body language messages to use during different levels of personal interaction. Learning what is and is not effective is somewhat of a 'trial and error' process. You can speed up this process and become more adept at sending messages, receiving messages, and interpreting reactions to messages, simply by continuing to learn as much as possible about the power of body language.

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