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Body Language: A List Of Nonverbal Messages

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As interactive beings, humans tend to judge one another not only by verbal messages but also by nonverbal messages. These unspoken communications may include the space between individuals, or proxemics, and even time distribution with another individual, or chronemics. Within social situations there are also forms of nonverbal communication that involve the movements and expressions of an individual to relay messages to others. With one glance, an individual can receive countless messages about a person from just the way he is standing. When taken into account, posture, gesture, and movement are very important aspects in any social situation because, aside from many other reasons, these nonverbal communication facets determine power. One’s nonverbal communication, specifically referring to posture, gesture, and movement, illustrates power dynamics at play, particularly in business and organizational settings.

When two individuals first meet, both parties can interpret a large amount of qualities about the other party, almost immediately, through the postures of both people (Hunsaker 189). There is an invisible tug-o-war of power between the two people. This tug-o-war happens in every social situation whether it is a business transaction or a simple house party. Who wins the battle can sometimes be decided just by how a person is sitting or standing. Standing or sitting in a more dominant fashion is a key factor in giving oneself more power. A person who lacks power generally sits in a defensive, closed position. This weak power posture usually is signified by folded arms and legs, tucked chin, and drooping shoulders (Hunsaker 192). Instead of closing the body and shrinking away, a person who emits high power generally stands in a “power pose” (Cuddy). By simply standing with his feet apart, a man can obtain more power in social situations.

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These power poses, as shown by studies done at Harvard University, increase levels of testosterone in an individual, making him feel bigger and happier, which ultimately leads to more confidence and more power (Cuddy). These power poses also decrease levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol lead to a decrease in immune system activity and an increase in stress levels which leads to low confidence and a low feeling of power. To show dominance and power while sitting, similar tactics are used in comparison to standing. In addition to keeping arms and legs unfolded, leaning back and placing hands above the head can add to a person’s feeling of power (Hunsaker 192). When a person stands with his feet shoulder length apart and his hands behind his back he has taken on another power pose. There is nothing in front of the individual to show timidity, so he is projected as having power. By opening up and expanding the body, an individual shows more confidence (Cuddy). Humans also tend to complement a more confident being by becoming less confident (Cuddy). Therefore, by assuming a more confident posture, others will adopt less confident postures, giving an individual power in the interactive scene.

In cohesion with posture, are a person’s gestures. Just like power poses can help an individual gain power in a social situation, “power gestures” can help to obtain the same thing. Gestures, much like posture and actual speech, allow for a person to determine a multitude of aspects about an opposite party (Hunsaker 192). Whether someone is interested in the conversation, bored of the conversation, eager to move forward, or yearning to go back to a certain point, gestures help to portray all of these feelings. A simple hand held up to mean “stop” or “hold on” is considered a definitive power gesture (Morris 195). An example would be a conversation between an employer and employee. While an employee can use this gesture, it is uncommon and shifts power to the employee. It is more common for the person with authority, the employer, to use this gesture as a signal of power (Demarais 154). A less status specific gesture, yet still authoritative, is the chopping motion, slicing down with an open palm. Something that most power gestures have in common are the swift, rigid motions that accompany the messages, which are in part why power gestures are authoritative (Chapman).

If a clear line of power wants to be drawn, then one-finger pointing is a sure way to establish who in a situation has the dominant level of power (Desmond 150). However, many people take this gesture as an aggressive move. That being said, it is important to not overdue or overuse this gesture. Contrary to pointing, squeezing hands together is a weak power pose that abolishes power (Ericsson 520). It is a pacifying gesture that lets everyone know that an individual is unsure of his decisions and needs reassurance. Accompanying squeezing hands is rubbing the body. In general, rubbing most parts of the body, especially the neck, is considered a closed, unsure gesture that clearly defines an individual as having no power. On the other hand, rubbing hands together can often mean that an individual is confident about his idea yet still open to suggestion (McNeill 56).

While touching oneself can be seen as an act of low power, having the unspoken social privilege to touch others is considered as having high power. Women, according to Kellie Brisini, have more touch privilege than men in social settings. However, in most cases, the interpretation for this gesture does not imply that the woman has power. Nancy Henley states that the touch of a male by a female is considered a sexual invitation rather than a power assertion (DeVito 15). This leads to the belief that in business and organizational scenes, women are seen as inferior to men, ultimately reducing women’s power (Cuddy).

Touching also increases or decreases power based on likability. Put simply in a hypothetical situation, if Person 1 likes Person 2, and Person 2 nonchalantly touches Person 1 in a friendly way, then Person 1 will unconsciously give power to Person 2 (Brisini). Likability is an aspect of power. This is why the “popular” kid in the group usually makes the group decisions. A satisfying example for the touch, likability, and power relationship is the work environment. If an employee likes his boss then the worker will be more accepting of the boss’ touch; as the worker accepts the boss’ touch, the boss is being given more power, aside from the power that the boss’ has from his rank (Brisini). Even if two bosses portray the same authoritative level, the boss that is liked more will be given more power through touch by his subordinates.

Some of the dominant applicants of power gaining tactics are group leaders (Brisini). This includes, teachers, managers, presidents, CEO’s, and community leaders. While some specific people in these dominating categories may not be good at implementing power poses and power gaining tactics, these leaders, when looked at as a congregation, employ power strategies to gain power over the individuals who subdivide the underlying categories such as students, employees, committee members, board members, and community participants (McNeill 52). A useful tactic to boost power is to force oneself to use and practice power gaining tactics in day to day life. During Amy Cuddy’s research at Harvard University, her participants took power pose forms for two minutes. Cuddy’s research showed that after only two minutes of power poses the individuals doing the study said they felt more confident than they did before the two minute power posing session. If a person were to go on an interview, standing in power poses for about two minutes will greatly improve the confidence and performance of the interviewee, a statistic shown true by Cuddy’s research (Cuddy). Using power gaining tactics in the work place is probably the most practical use of these skills.

However, these skills are not limited to just the business world. They can be used in businesses, schools, group assignments, and even parties. Nonverbal communication is a constant system of sent and received messages. No matter how hard one tries to mask or hide his nonverbal communication, the messages are still being sent. Ironically, by trying to hide his nonverbal messages the person is actually sending more nonverbal messages (Brisini). Nonverbal communication, used constantly by every living individual, is possibly the most important part of human communication. With simple postures changes a person can manipulate others into seeing a more powerful authority figure. When humans are conscious of their nonverbal communication such as posture, gesture, and touch, they can become more powerful or even the dominant power in any business or organizational scenario.

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