Body language is fundamental to communication -- in fact, some experts say that between 65 and 80 percent of all human communication is via body language, according to Dr. Dorothy McCoy, a psychologist, behavior expert, and law-enforcement officer in Boone, NC. "Often what we say isn’t nearly as important as the look we give -- that appearance of confidence in our position," offers McCoy. Here, more tips on conveying proper body language . . . and reading that of others.
- Be -- or at least appear -- calm. This means sitting in a relaxed position (not completely upright) and looking the other person in the eye without staring him or her down. "If you wring your hands, moisten your lips, or your body appears tense, you’re giving the impression that you’re not coming from a strong position," says McCoy.
- Keep your voice modulated -- not too loud, high-pitched, or low. However, a low voice can be effective if you know when to use it, notes McCoy: "If the other person is an excitable type and starts to get a little loud, reduce your tone so he or she really has to listen to you."
- Smile. "A smile is powerful," says McCoy. "Smiling and leaning toward the other person convey that you're trustworthy."
- Be honest. "When people are lying, they'll often pull on their earlobe or put their hand in front of their mouth," says McCoy. "They also avoid direct eye contact."
However, Marjorie Brody, a communications expert in Jenkintown, PA, cautions that people should always look for a "cluster of clues" when reading body language. "Don't assume every twitch is meaningful," she warns. "For instance, if the other person is tapping his foot or his fingers, it doesn’t necessarily mean he's hostile -- he could just be a fidgety person. And while crossed arms could mean that the person is defensive, it could also mean that she's just cold."