Mind your body language – Actions speak louder than words

We have all heard people say, ‘actions speak louder than words’, but, if taken literally in the sense of how one uses one’s actions to communicate it’s fascinating to see what these various actions reveal about one’s internal thoughts and intentions.  This is where our study of body language begins.  The effective use of body language for both business and personal encounters is part of one’s personal brand and an essential ingredient to the formula for success.  Hence, one needs to be mindful of the non-verbal messages and signals one is sending out as well as those that are being received from others and how such can be leveraged for business, social and personal encounters alike.

When one finds oneself in a room where people are feeling tense one senses that the air is almost ‘palpable’ or that one could cut it with a knife.  What causes us to pick up on these non-verbal cues?  Could it be bodies talking?  When someone is constantly fidgeting or pacing the floor, this makes us feel ill at ease.  What we really want to know when we study what bodies are saying without words is what is going on inside the other person’s head and how these thoughts affect us. 

Shifty eyes are lying

When engaged in conversation with someone with ‘shifty eyes’ this tends to make one feel that the person we are talking to is lying or withholding information.   Some people have an ‘invisible shield’ around them which makes them appear unapproachable while others have a ‘touchy feely’ manner as they casually brush your shoulder with a fleeting touch.   On one hand when a person invades our ‘personal space zone’ this could either make us feel as though the person is being genuinely affectionate or on the other that they would like to get closer for another, more sinister reason.  Hence, the correct interpretation of the body language behind the conversation is an essential skill when deciphering how others’ actions can speak louder than words.  Not to mention that one needs to be continuously mindful of what types of non-verbal signals one is transmitting in return and how these in turn are being received.

When it comes to our own ‘personal space zone’ we tend to allow only those we are close to or familiar with to encroach on this space.  We can say our personal space zone lies within approximately 15cms of the body.  For business encounters the distance is perhaps 30cms or more.

Jumping for joy is completely spontaneous

Essentially, body language is an extremely important form of interpersonal communication that should not be taken lightly.   Good communication skills have a lot to do with what one’s body language is saying without uttering a single word.   Body language can be unconscious, such as when one puts one’s hand over one’s mouth in an exclamation of shock or disbelief or when one jumps for joy.  Such reactions are completely spontaneous. 

Having the ability to read another person’s body language and interpret one’s own can help you in your personal and professional encounters alike in that you will better be able to positively manage interactions with others. 

Eyeing things out

Visual recall versus visual construct – how can we tell if someone is telling the truth?

Try this experiment.  Ask someone a question about something they need to remember that has something to do with visual recall and watch how their eyes behave.   If the person looks up towards the left before they answer they are visually recalling and telling the truth.  If, on the other hand they look up towards the right they are visually constructing and fabricating a lie.  If you ask someone a question relating to something they have heard, in other words, audio recall, they will not look up but will look straight right or left, almost in line with the ears and if a question asked has something to do with feelings, that is, emotional recall they will look down right or left. 

Positive body language cues and what they mean

The smile

‘When you’re smilin’, keep on smilin’

the whole world smiles with you

and when you’re laughin’….keep on laughin’

the sun comes shining through

but when you’re cryin’….you bring on the rain

so, stop your frownin’… be happy again’                             Louis Armstrong

There is nothing like a smile.  A smile indicates that all is right with the world and therefore when someone smiles the positive energy that emanates from this gesture positively affects everything around them.  Conversely, a frown has the opposite effect.


Sitting up straight, with shoulders back and holding your head high.  This is good posture and gives others the impression that you are confident and in control.

Facial expressions

Every facial expression you use can speak volumes.  This is especially important for business negotiations and meetings where others will be consciously or unconsciously gauging your reactions.  Such positive gestures as keeping one’s chin up, maintaining even eye contact and a natural smile sends out an uplifting message during the conversation and will invoke a sense of trust.

Paying attention

When engaging with people either as a group or a one on one encounter, it is extremely important to give one’s full attention and not be tempted by distractions such as cell phones, constantly looking at the time or watching to see who comes through the door.  When you are actively paying attention to what is being said it gives the impression that you are listening and are interested in what others have to contribute. 


Mirroring involves copying or mimicking someone else’s behaviour and mannerisms.  This typically happens when we are in sync with another person and is an effective technique when it comes to building rapport since it shows that we are interested and enthusiastic towards the other person and what they have to say.  However, mirroring should not be forced so as to appear false, and is definitely an art that needs practice.  Research reveals that mirroring is known to be an effective technique used in personal and business encounters alike.

Helen Fenton – Senior Analyst:  Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTi) www.boti.co.za

Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTI) is a Johannesburg based, Level 1 BBBEE business.  As a Services and MICT SETA accredited company, we have trained thousands of individuals from over 650 companies and our extensive course offering consists of Short Courses, Soft Skills Training and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Learnership Programs.  In addition, we offer bespoke training programs designed to cater to specific business needs.  Our training courses are focused on knowledge and skills transfer and we pride ourselves in being able to provide training anytime, anywhere across South Africa.