Motion drives emotion: Why body language is vital for successful communication

Use these tips to establish more vibrant, genuine connections with colleagues–even over Zoom.

Why body language is essential right now

Most people have heard the phrase “Smile while you dial,” referring to the link between your body language and how you sound on the phone. Even when you can’t be seen, your body language is crucial to how your voice sounds, and when your camera is turned off on a Zoom call, it’s even more important.

With “Zoom fatigue” and the ever-present need to keep people engaged, body language may be even more important now than ever before. When face to face with people, you can feed off the energy from others. Without that on virtual calls, your brain just doesn’t get the same sensory stimulus. Seeing how our communication affects people is what motivates us to communicate as passionately as possible.

This is as important in business as it is in our personal lives. We want the people to whom we’re talking to know that we care and are engaged in the conversation. We don’t want to discourage friends or lose customers because of a lack of emotion in our voices.

The growing trend for people to turn off their cameras on virtual calls makes it even more challenging to be an engaging virtual communicator. Your best ally in this situation is your body language. You can use motion to drive the emotion in your voice.

A fantastic YouTube clip shows many of the actors voicing their characters’ lines for the 1992 animated movie, “Aladdin.” You can see how the characters in the movie are brought to life by the actors through the quality of their voices. And you can see how well they use their body language — particularly their faces and their gestures — to influence their vocal qualities. Motion drives emotion.

This doesn’t mean that you must adopt the manic gesturing of the late, and very great, Robin Williams. Still, you do need to use gestures and facial expressions that support your message and positively impact your vocal qualities — even when talking virtually.

If the best paid Hollywood actors know the importance of motion to drive emotion, what are the equivalent behaviors that we can use in our conversations with colleagues, customers or friends?

Here are some suggestions for expression and gestures to animate your communications and engage others:

1. Mirror other people’s emotions.

To really convince the person speaking of your compassionate understanding, adopt similar facial expressions to the ones of the person speaking. This not only shows that you’re listening to, but also that you’re empathizing with the person. Whether that’s a disgruntled customer or an enthusiastic friend, showing the same facial expressions they’re displaying helps build that connection with them.

2. Give the “eyebrow flash.”

When you first make direct eye contact with someone you know and like across a room, you spontaneously raise your eyebrows while you smile. This uplifting of the eyebrows demonstrates that you’re pleased to see the person and is particularly effective when it’s combined with a warm genuine smile. When you receive this signal from someone, try to consciously raise your eyebrows to let your friend know that you welcome the reconnection.

3. Cover your mouth.

Silence alone doesn’t guarantee that another is listening. However, a covered mouth is a clear sign of a listener’s engagement. If may be a subconscious way to physically restrict yourself from speaking. An added clue to let the speaker know you are listening is when the index finger points toward the ear. Covering the mouth is a useful tool to have in your communication toolkit to let people know that you are listening and are interested in their message.

To fully engage the people you speak with, they need to see and hear the relevant emotions in your voice. This is especially important to ensure that the conversation leads to taking action on a work call. Whoever you are communicating with, make sure you use your body language to enhance your communication and your relationships.

Martin Brooks is a communication coach and trainer. His new product, “Body Language Decoder,” includes 50 illustrated cards that reveal what others are really thinking. Learn more at successthroughimpact.com

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