By Prabhakar Mundkar

There are times when you’re in the midst of a little familial tiff and your significant other asks you if you’re angry. The proposition that you’re somehow dealing with a furious wave of discomfort, almost always makes you scream, “NO! I AM NOT”. Often meaning that you really are.
But, how does one arrive at this conclusion?

Every day, we respond to thousands of non-verbal cues. Body language and non-verbal cues like eye movements and posture constitute about 65% of all communication. Scientific research on non-verbal communication began with the 1872 publication of Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.  Since then, and more so in the 70s, great strides were undertaken to understand non-verbal communication and body language, leading to various workshops that taught communication techniques. Today, these learnt techniques are the ones that you use during a presentation to an audience.

Body language in action

The American Presidential Election is a great example of putting body language to use. At the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton took the stage to a wild applause. To show how grateful and humbled she felt, she put her hand to her heart four times during her speech.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton during the Democratic National Convention 2016 | Photo Courtesy: Hollywood Reporter

The Clinton non-believers are largely known not to trust her. And one notices that she often uses a hand-to-heart gesture, and this is something she did many times during the recent Democratic Convention. Interestingly, she hasn’t used this gesture in her past campaigns.

One understands that if you’re disseminating a message, it will not make complete sense if your body language isn’t right. So what happened to the world after mobile telephony and the Internet?

How texting changed the look of body language

The face has 42-43 muscles. These muscles come together as facial expressions and play a key role in communication. For example, a smile increases your charisma, and is universally considered friendly. Gestures that accompany expressions do the trick too. On many occasions we incessantly point our fingers towards our wrist watches with a sour expression on our faces. The message is heard loud and clear: we’re late.

Thus, factors like the tone of our voices, the loudness, the pitch, as well as our posture say a lot about us. It is also important to note that Proxemics (culture-specific personal space) and Haptics (extra touch during conversation like resting a hand on one’s shoulder) define physical proximity and closeness in relationships.

However, this digital day and age of e-mails, Snapchat, WhatsApp messages, and various other forms of non-verbal communication has threatened to take away the human touch from one-to-one communication.

Some may argue that visual media is a huge vehicle of communication too. But texts are devoid of the human emotion that body language gives us. Thus, in the early days of the digital era, we couldn’t be as expressive as we wanted to be.

How the emoticon revolutionized modern communication

The arrival of the emoticon, however, helped us incorporate emotions into text. You will notice that expressive people tend to use emoticons oftener. So do emoticons have the same effect as smiles?  Apparently, yes.

Findings at Australia’s Flinders University indicate a pattern of brain activity triggered by looking at an emoticon. One that is similar to when someone sees a real smiling human face. The ‘Like’ button on Facebook, the ‘dislike’ sign, and everything else that we use to make our communication richer is actually substituting body language in one way or another.

What the future holds for body language

The visual technology revolution is going to make body language more important than ever before!

The visual technology revolution is going to make body language more important than ever before! Telepresence is posing an even bigger challenge to body language because screens will be displaying larger than life images. Even if screens are mediating these interactions, leaders are going to be interacting with other people face-to-face with greater frequency. Hence, they are making a mistake if they think that they can hide behind screens.

So all that research on body language is going to come in use for most corporate leaders in the future.  So thank you, Charles Darwin, for having started all of this!


Prabhakar Mundkur currently works as Chief Mentor at HGS Interactive. He is also on the Advisory Board of Sol’s Arc—an NGO involved with education for children with special needs.

Featured Image Credits- Pixabay

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Posted by The Indian Economist