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Posture and Movement

Body posture and movement.

Posture and body movements can convey an enormous range of messages about how a person is feeling, their mood, their attitudes and how they are relating to others.  Sometimes the messages are intended, like a wave, while sometimes they are not, like nervous fiddling in an interview.

Gestures and movements also have acquired meanings that are understood generally, such as ‘thumbs up’ or by particular groups such as secret signs of a gang of children.  Some gestures and movements have meaning in one society or culture and no meaning, or a different meaning, in others.  (For example, HSBC Bank cultural adverts.)

While it is important to observe and try to understand the messages given by posture and body movements, it is also important to remember how easily we can misread and misinterpret the messages.  Sometimes it is a good idea to check your understanding by asking the other person how they feel or what they are thinking.

Some of the ways in which people may convey messages through posture and body movements are as follows:

  • Anxious.

Clenched hands.

Pulling at clothes.

Fiddling (with hair, pen, etc.)

Fidgeting (changing position).

Frowning.

Biting lips.

  • Depressed

Slumped in chair.

Downcast.

Shoulders hunched.

Not responding.

Over the top bight and breezy manner.

  • Disapproving.

Pulling away.

Folded arms.

Stiff, upright, looking down.

Raised eyebrows.

  • Frustrated.

Sighing.

Eyes raised skywards.

Shaking of head.

Jerky movements of hands such as tapping.

  • Aggressive.

Clenched fists or flexing hands.

Finger wagging or jabbing.

Shaking of head.

Arm waving.

Rigid posture, tense muscles.

  • Threatened.

Closed posture, arms folded, legs crossed.

Averted gaze, head turned away.

Backing away.

  • Relaxed.

Open posture, arms at side.

Smiling, head up and making eye contact.

Flowing movements, not jerky or sudden.

Learning to read the messages given by posture and body movements can help us to recognise how other people are feeling.  You can then make decisions about your own behaviour that can increase effective communication, by relaxing, calming or reassuring the other person.  If the messages you receive are danger signals then you can respond in the most appropriate way to keep yourself safe, by defusing the situation, getting help or getting away.

You can also learn about your own body movements and you may decide to avoid certain habits of behaviour that convey messages you do not wish to convey.  For example, if you point or wave your fingers in excitement some listeners will interpret this as aggressive or overbearing.

You could learn behaviour that would be helpful in certain situations, for example, what to do with your hands to avoid appearing nervous when someone is complaining to you.

Reading the messages in body movements and posture can be a useful skill, but it is important to avoid reading too much in to your observations or assuming that you are always correct.  Cultural differences, regional differences, individual habits and your own approach can complicate the process, so check your understanding with the other person.                                                                                                                                

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