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The library of essays of Proakatemia

Is Body Language Bullsh*t?

Kirjoittanut: Amelia Ilga - tiimistä Sointu.

Esseen tyyppi: Yksilöessee / 2 esseepistettä.
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 5 minuuttia.


During one paja, a topic of body language appeared, which, surprisingly, moved a fair amount of people. Moreover, two opposite opinions have formed. One group was inspired and agreed on the influence of non-verbal communication, and  second dismissed a topic as inaccurate and unproved. Of course, there was a neutral group that didn’t contribute, maybe from a lack of knowledge about the topic or simply being impartial. However, it made me wonder if those little movements—touching one’s nose, crossing arms or avoiding eye contact—can indicate and help people understand others intentions more.

As a team company, we are in a stage of “forming” according to Tuckman’s group development model (1965, 384). We are polite, sugar-coating everything, and walking on eggshells around each other. In this stage, we are still getting to know each other, hence we don’t want to provoke any disputes among the newly created group. We avoid conflicts and openly saying what’s wrong (Largent 2016, 1-27). Nonetheless, it provoked a thought that if our mouths are not saying what our brain thinks, is it possible that our body reveals our true thoughts?


What is Body Language?


We can distinguish two main types of communication: verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication involves conveying messages through spoken or written words- this involves everything we say or write down, while nonverbal communication consists of information transmitted through conscious or unconscious body movements- body language that appears in eye movement, hand gestures, body posture and more. These nonverbal signals often convey a story that may differ from the verbally communicated context. (Kaur 2019, 361-365)

As a result, they have been extensively utilized in various fields, including corporate settings, criminal studies, and medical practices. Nonverbal communication is therefore defined as the means by which the body expresses true feelings and intentions. (Kaur 2019, 361-365)


The assertion that 90% of communication is nonverbal didn’t arise out of thin air. It was Albert Mehrabian (1972), a researcher of body language, who initially dissected the components of face-to-face interactions. His findings suggested that communication is comprised of 55% nonverbal cues, 38% vocal tone, and only 7% actual words. This formulation led to the popular notion that the majority of communication occurs nonverbally. But does this truly mean that spoken words convey less than 10% of the information?

Upon closer examination, Mehrabian’s formula was crafted with a specific objective: to compare facial and vocal elements for gauging a person’s attitude. As Mehrabian (1972) stated, “When there are inconsistencies between attitudes communicated verbally and posturally, the postural component should dominate in determining the total attitude that is inferred.” So, while verbal communication indeed carries information, in face-to-face interactions, body language and facial expressions play a significant role in shaping interpretation.

Dr. Jeff Thompson (2011) emphasizes that in order to understand non verbal communication more accurately, we should consider applying the three C’s of nonverbal communication: context, clusters, and congruence, for decoding nonverbal signals effectively. Congruence involves comparing spoken words to body language and tone. Applying context involves gaining a deeper understanding of the situation or environment. For instance, recognizing that someone experiences anxiety can clarify why they seem tense during a fireworks display. Lastly, utilizing clusters entails considering not just one, but multiple expressions or movements to shape our understanding of a person’s body language.




Eye Contact/Gaze


Eye contact serves as a potent nonverbal signal, capable of communicating attentiveness, sincerity, and confidence. In Western societies, maintaining suitable eye contact is typically associated with active listening and involvement. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to acknowledge cultural distinctions, as prolonged eye contact might carry divergent interpretations in different cultural settings (Thompson, Ebner & Giddings 2017).


Open-Handed Gestures

Utilizing open-handed gestures, with palms facing upwards, often signifies honesty, openness, and a readiness to collaborate. These gestures play a pivotal role in fostering trust and receptivity during negotiations, aiding in the establishment of rapport and the cultivation of a positive relationship with the counterpart (Thompson, Ebner & Giddings 2017).


Head Nodding to Acknowledge Listening

Engaging in nodding while listening reflects active participation, agreement, and comprehension. This nonverbal cue indicates your attentiveness and openness to the speaker’s message, fostering an environment conducive to effective communication. By nodding, you encourage the speaker to continue sharing information, thereby enhancing overall communication effectiveness (Thompson, Ebner & Giddings 2017).


Mirroring & Matching Body Movements

When you mirror and match the body movements of another person, it signals empathy, positivity, and rapport. This unconscious synchronization of gestures and postures reflects a shared connection and understanding between individuals. Mirroring contributes to building trust and fostering a cooperative relationship, especially during negotiations (Thompson, Ebner & Giddings 2017).



Leaning Forward

Leaning forward during a conversation communicates interest, engagement, and attentiveness. It indicates active involvement and a readiness to collaborate. This posture creates a feeling of immediacy and participation, fostering a positive interaction between people (Thompson, Ebner & Giddings 2017).



The Ultimate Gesture

Roger G. Axtell (1998, as cited in Imai 2005) describes the “ultimate gesture” as possessing distinct qualities unlike any other single gesture. Firstly, this gesture is universally recognized across the globe, making it universal. Secondly, it is seldom misunderstood, being familiar to every culture. Thirdly, scientists suggest that this particular gesture, releases endorphins into the system, inducing a mild sense of euphoria, making both the user and recipient feel better. Lastly, as you navigate various cultures, this gesture serves as a powerful tool to defuse even the most challenging situations. In essence, it stands out as the singular signal, offering a universal language of positivity and connection. Therefore, it is encouraged to be used freely and frequently.

What is it? A smile.



While we are diving into an intricate realm of gestures, movement, ticks and reflexes it is crucial to keep in mind that each of us is unique. In our team alone, we have at least a dozen different nationalities and even more experiences and habits. All of these factors are influencing our non-verbal communication and behavior. And while some of them might indicate lying, anxiety, anger or disagreement, some of them might also indicate a habit, an itchy nose or even nothing at all. Maybe some things don’t have a meaning; maybe for someone it was just a sleepless night, hence the yawning or maybe someone just wants to pee; that’s why they are fidgeting.

In my own reflection, I believe that life is too short to assume and guess. It’s good to educate ourselves and get to know the topic better; however, we should take all of this with a pinch of salt. We are a team, we will work together for the next 3 years and if everything goes well, we may create lifelong bonds. All we need is a little bit of courage, trust and openness to ask. As everyone is different and we are not specialists in body language reading, we shouldn’t assume the worst or some underling intentions of our team members. Maybe the saying “penny for your thoughts” should be used more in our company.








Imai, G. (2005). Gestures: Body language and nonverbal communication. Retrieved Oct.

Kaur, M. K. (2019). Implementing Findings Of Body Language Methodologies In Class-Room Teaching-A Study On Physical Education Students. Think India Journal, 22(12), 361-365.

Largent, D. L. (2016). Measuring and understanding team development by capturing self-assessed enthusiasm and skill levels. ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE), 16(2), 1-27.

Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.

Thompson, J. (2011) Is nonverbal communication a numbers game?, Psychology Today

Thompson, J., Ebner, N., & Giddings, J. (2017). Nonverbal communication in negotiation.

Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin, 63(6), 384.



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