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Discuss the importance of body language in personal communication

Personal communication is aided by many factors other than simply speech. The main contribution to speech in personal communication is body language, most of which is unconscious.

Body language is one of three aspects of Non-Verbal Communication. The other two are Paralanguage and Appearance.

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Body language, as a whole, is made up of every movement that our body makes that conveys communication to others. According to Michael Argyle Body language is made up of eight codes, these are:

  • Touch
  • Proximity
  • Orientation
  • Head Nods
  • Facial Expression
  • Gesture
  • Posture
  • Eye Contact

The first, touch is one of the most intimate. It can is used most effectively for comfort, violence and arousal. Another aspect that can strongly display violence is a gesture. There are many gestures worldwide that are used to insult and convey violent feelings. All of the above factors of body language are used in the simplest of communications.

Body language is very important for communication, as it aids the information being transmitted and helps the receiver understand the meaning more clearly. It is possible for communication to take place without it for example the telephone, but when sending and receiving information the listening and speaking factors of the communication need to be enhanced so that it is being heard correctly.

Additionally, Body Language is important because it can display more feelings than the sentence itself. For example; If a person is saying how angry they were the other day when they say “I was so angry” They could clinch a fist in front of the person they are talking to. This would improve the impact of how they were feeling on the listener.

Also, body language conveys extra meaning and information when communicating. For example; if someone asked where a shop is and didn’t know they’re left from right, the person giving the directions could use gestures (a form of body language) to help show the person.

“The shop is over to the right” [Points to the right].

Body language can give away an enormous amount of information about a situation a person may be in. Just from the way you stand or more obviously your facial expression people can tell how you are feeling and what you may be thinking. It is important therefore that someone communicating knows this and knows who can see them, as it’s possible to tell this from a distance. So, obviously, everyone that can see you can view your body language.

Body language can be interpreted differently by different people. Hence It is substantial to make sure people know what you are trying to say and they understand completely. But this is not always possible. An example of misinterpretation would be; When someone says “Yeah, I love maths” in a bored expression (no tone) with a slumped posture. Most people would understand this as being sarcastic but some may really think that the person loves maths. It is all to do with how the receivers interpret what has been said. Often as in this case by the paralanguage but this is aided heavily by the body language. Every aspect can make a difference in how people interpret things. Using the same example, if the person had glasses, a cardigan, a side-parting and carried an issue of Maths Weekly under his arm people would be less inclined to think he was being sarcastic.

Body language does not have to be used with speech although this is when we most notice it. It is everywhere. How people dress, use gestures, postures, paralanguage, facial expression, proximity, touch, eye contact, head nods and orientation are all aspects of body language so can all convey meaning. For example; a strong head nod means you certainly agree or understand or a big smile means you are happy or ‘faking’ happiness etc.

Body language is also very important for deaf people. By using gestures and lip reading (facial expression) they can communicate with the same meaning a speaking. Without this, these people would be very limited in how and what they could communicate.

Personal communication includes:

Intrapersonal: This is communication within yourself e.g. thinking, dreaming, remembering, calculating etc.

Interpersonal: This is communication between two people face to face. E.g. talking, whispering, arguing etc.

Group: This is communication taking place between 3 or more people, face to face but in bigger groups splits down into separate conversations. E.g. Family, friends, workgroup etc.

All personal communication involves body language. The body language in each of these areas may differ due to a number of factors: What the person wishes to convey, Who is involved, Why they are there, what the subject is, the surrounding environment and many other factors. For example: If the person doesn’t want people to know they disagree, they will be neutral or agree. If the police are involved in a subject where the person has broken the law, the person will try and hide that fact. If the surrounding environment is a bedroom where someone is sleeping people might be quieter than normal. All these factors are changed by varying any of the eight codes stated by Michael Argyle on page one.

It is possible for all types of communication (Intra, Inter and group) to take place without any body language at all. For example; Talking over the telephone, In the dark, Blind people (however they may still be expressing themselves using aspects of body language), Facing the other way and many more. Proximity does come into play in some of the above, For example, Two people talking in the dark still have proximity to each other and touch.

Exactly the same information can be conveyed without using anybody language but it can be much harder and slower to communicate due to the minimal sources available to the interpreter. Basically, the receiver will only have a speech to work out what message is being sent, therefore the message is much more likely to contain errors and maybe a completely different sentence.

This can be turned around. If, For example, the receiver cannot hear speech very well they may be able to pick up some of the messages by body language, lip reading etc. This also increases the risk of misinterpreting the message because the receiver is relying on one source. An example of the above would be Chinese Whispers, where each receiver interprets what they hear slightly differently until at the end it is a completely different message due to the volume of the sender’s voice.

Overall, Body language does play an enormous part in personal communication. Less so in Intrapersonal communication, because it is more focused on thinking and cognitions rather than conveying a message. Body language aids the accuracy of the transmitted message. Personal Communication could survive without it but would suffer a great deal. It is often taken for granted how much body language affects communication. Consequently, Body language is very important and is a valued component of the system of communication.

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