Reading Body Language: How to Improve Your Ability to Read Nonverbal Communication

By Krista


Last Updated: April 15, 2022

We don’t just communicate with our words. We also communicate with how we hold ourselves, our facial expressions, our hand gestures, and more. In fact, you might not even notice you’re communicating via your body language. Thus, it can pay to know different types of body language and how to understand them.

The unfortunate truth is that people don’t always verbally communicate what they mean. And no, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are lying. In reality, it might just mean they aren’t the best at verbal communication (none of us are perfect!). 

A workaround for this? You can try and try to get someone else to improve their communication, but at the end of the day, you can only control you. This means that learning about types of nonverbal communication can take you far and help you deter miscommunications or interpretations.

So, let’s get into it. How can you read others? 


How Is Body Language Used in Nonverbal Communication?

When talking about reading body language, psychology is probably the first thing that pops into your mind. Nonverbal communication gives clues into a person’s psychology and what they are truly thinking, no matter what they might be verbally communicating. 

Interestingly, body language varies from culture to culture. What is considered okay in one culture might be seen as insulting in another. In other words, it’s also always a good idea to ask someone what they are thinking when you’re getting mixed signals.

Straight and direct is definitely the way to go over making assumptions that could result in a serious disagreement.

But back to nonverbal cues…

Body language in nonverbal communication includes:

  • Posture
  • Facial expressions
  • Hand gestures
  • Your stance
  • Feet position
  • And more!

In fact, knowing how to read others' body language can help you better understand the people you see or hang out with regularly. This might actually help alleviate some social anxiety, especially when it comes to getting back in the groove of seeing friends and family regularly. So, let’s dig a bit deeper.


What Are The 8 Types of Nonverbal Communication?

Types of nonverbal communication are more than just body language. Some more nonverbal communication examples and types include:

  • Body Movements: These are your deliberate body movements, such as shaking someone’s hand or nodding your head.
  • Personal Space: This is the amount of space between you and another person, and the amount of personal space that each person is comfortable with depends on a variety of factors, such as closeness, culture, setting, and more.
  • Posture: This refers to how you sit or stand. Are you slouching? Sitting up straight? Leaning forward? This often gives way to your emotional state and how you’re feeling in the moment. The shyer you feel, the more likely you might draw inward and slouch with your arms crossed.
  • Eye Contact: This is a dead giveaway on how interested someone is in what is being said. If your audience’s eyes tend to stare off frequently, this may indicate dishonesty, disinterest, or uneasiness.
  • Physical Touch: This includes hugs and handshakes or touching someone on the shoulder.
  • Paralanguage: This refers to other vocal qualities that don’t include words, such as the tone or volume of someone’s voice. For instance, someone yelling versus someone calmly saying something are likely communicating two very different messages.
  • Facial Expressions: Smiling, frowning, and more—we often wear our emotions on our face and these are dead giveaways to those around us how we are feeling in the moment.
  • Physiology: Are you sweating? Red in the face? Blinking quickly? These are often uncontrollable and can communicate exactly how you feel (fortunately and unfortunately at times!).

Related Article: Active Listening: What Is It & 7 Techniques to Improve Your Skills


How Can I Improve My Nonverbal Communication Skills?

Awareness is step one. This way you can pay attention to how you hold yourself and how you want to come off to the other person.

The next thing to notice is how others are presenting themselves to you. A few ways to take note include:

  • Finding inconsistencies: If someone seems nervous or is avoiding eye contact, this could mean various things, depending on the situation. If it counters what is being said, this is a huge red flag.
  • Take note of cultural variations: Remember, what is considered okay in one culture might be offensive in another and vice versa. It’s important to remember this, especially when traveling to somewhere new or interacting with someone from a different culture or country.
  • Take in all nonverbal cues: Just because someone has their arms crossed, it doesn’t mean they are entirely closed off. If they are maintaining eye contact and seem engaged, don’t write them off. You have to look at nonverbal communication as a whole before jumping to any conclusion. 
  • Ask questions: When unsure, the best thing to do is ask. Assumptions can quickly lead to disagreements in relationships. Yet, this can all often easily be avoided just by checking in and asking why they won’t make eye contact or why they are fidgeting while you discuss an important topic.
  • Take a hint: Okay, so this one isn’t entirely useful all the time. Yet, improving your nonverbal communication skills can help you determine certain social cues, such as when it’s an appropriate time to leave a friend’s house after dinner or when someone isn’t interested in a lengthy conversation at the moment. 

Related Article: Tough Time Talking It Out? Maybe It’s Time To Learn Better Communication Skills


Start Talking With Your Body!

Pay attention to different types of body language. And watch how you hold yours! As Peter Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

Read Next: 10 Practical Things You Can Do To Improve Your Communication Skills

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash


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