Our silent communication is often louder than our verbal one, and it’s not always saying the same thing as our words. Or what we want. The mixed messages we send can cause people to not trust you, not feel included, or not worth your time. And since our relationships are key to our success, making sure there’s cohesion in what we are communicating is important.
Body language communicates what we are thinking – even if when (especially when) we’re not aware of it. Whatever mindset we have about an interaction is on display for everyone to see in our body language. It includes voice and tone as well as the positions of our body.
For example, have you ever had a situation where a class you “know” to be difficult lives up to your expectations? There’s a chance you were partially responsible for this. How did you sound when you greeted them? How were you holding your body? All of these tell the students you were sure they were going to act up. And then they do. But, if you prepare yourself and change your mindset, you can get a different outcome. For example, you can think of the students as highly energetic rather than troublesome. Most of the time, along with a good lesson, it will work.
Your body language also comes into play when you are at a meeting. There are many reasons you might not be fully engaged, but if you learn to recognize and control your body language, you can prevent sending negative messages. Lolly Daskal in Seven Cringeworthy Body Language Mistakes Leaders Make During Meetings provides basics you need to know as a teacher and leader to become more aware of any unconscious communications you are making.
Unengaged Posture –Slouching sends a message that you are tuning out. When meeting with a group of teachers, doing this while they discuss matters related to them before or after your presentation says you aren’t interested in topics about their workday. Or to put it another way, you only want to “sell” the library.
Lack of Eye Contact – This is much like the unengaged posture. It gives the impression that you have tuned the speaker out. Eye contact is often associated with honesty. As Daskal notes, it’s not that you stare at the speaker, that wouldn’t be natural. Indeed, it could be seen as trying to intimidate or disparage the speaker, but you do want to make regular eye contact and not be looking off elsewhere.
Drumming Fingers – Although usually done unconsciously, it sends an obvious message of boredom or impatience. It’s an almost stereotypical but clear sign of being disengaged.
Looking Distracted – Daskal puts is well: If people don’t have your full attention, they won’t give you their full respect. How many faculty meetings have you attended where people are checking their phones? When you are with other people, this is when it is key to stay engaged. Take notes. Ask questions. Be involved.
Crossing Your Arms—A classic way of shutting down by visually and physically closing yourself off. When kids do it, you know they don’t want to hear you. You are saying the same thing. Possibly accompanying it with drumming your fingers.
Fidgeting—Let jiggling, toe or pen tapping, continual shifts in position or slouching from one side to the other. You may not even be aware that you’re doing it, but if you are, it’s signaling distraction and lack of attention. Daskal suggests if it’s your response to nervousness, seek a coach to help you.
Multitasking—Many of us multitask on a regular basis, but it’s important to shut down that impulse anytime you are in a situation where relationships can be built. Not only does it send the wrong message, but studies show that it’s inefficient and it sends a message that other things are more worthy of your attention.
How many of these do you do? As you start recognizing them and preventing them from occurring, become aware of the messages others are sending. It will help you to better respond to them. Make sure your words and body match the message you want to send to build stronger relationships with students, teachers, and administrators.