Body Language in the Covid-19 Pandemic Era by Carole Railton FRSA Global Body Language Guru
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The Importance of Body Language in a Pandemic
Body language is one of the main ways humans communicate globally. In a first meeting, it can be up to 85% of how we take on information. Since body language is similar around the world, it is more transferrable than verbal language and is a great tool for communication.
With the current pandemic and resultant behavioural shifts taking place, the ways we are communicating is having a profound effect on society. The demands by governments around the world for self-isolation, physical separation, and the wearing of face masks, has made it more difficult to communicate with one another.
Social distancing in particular has made everyone more aware of their bodies. Looking at a screen all day is making us all tired and, without physical touch, our ability to trust is changing.
Facial recognition is the first things we do when we meet someone. How times have changed! Walking into a bank wearing a mask used to get you into a lot of trouble! People are now having to cover half their faces out of necessity so it is even more important to understand facial recognition signals.
Phone users with facial recognition struggle to pay in shops, people who lip read are unable to communicate and everyone is struggling to understand what people are thinking. One solution is to wear a transparent mask so you can see when the mouth is turned up meaning acceptance.
In pre-pandemic times, when meeting someone, it was normal to offer an outstretched right-hand for a handshake. Instead, we now bump elbows which is awkward. My suggestion is to put your right hand over your heart instead, as they do in India, a movement that shows sincerity without touch.
Virtual Communication & Interaction
The pandemic has also meant communication over a screen is common and this limits movements and interactions which works better for introverted personalities. Conversely, extroverts use their body more when communicating, therefore, having to sit still for an hour while meeting on screen can be frustrating.
I work with stockbrokers looking at multi-national CEOs who are delivering their annual results. One of the signs I am looking for is hesitancy in their delivery, suggesting less commitment to the item they are talking about. Now that I work from home with video, its easier for me to analyse and there is no escape for CEOs.
Youngsters are already lacking some of the interpreting skills required for judgement, leading to miscommunication and difficulty in forming meaningful relationships. Each generation experiences these challenges differently. For example,
Generation X and Y are generally thought to have the aptitude for technological change. In contrast, Baby Boomers are generally thought to prefer face to face communication. However, our behaviours change depending on our environment.
Crossing your arms and having your feet on the desk in an office can be threatening behaviour to others, but do this at home, it would be acceptable as you are in a relaxing environment.
Social distancing is probably the most difficult for us all to get used to. We have lost the common handshake, the hug that was always welcome when meeting colleagues or friends. Most body language is subliminal, and a great percentage is inherent. No one teaches a baby to shake its head when it does not want any more food, and all babies smile – even those who are blind.
Conclusion - How We Can Apply These Insights in Practice?
Whilst we will all be able to sit around a table observing the statutory two meter distancing requirements, we will also need to understand what is going on for others. For yourself, I recommend you have both feet on the floor, as this grounds you and what you say will have a greater impact. This is also a time to use ‘open body language’, to give you the best chance of receiving and giving information. If you struggle with this, imagine a heavy, crown on your head, that you need to keep balanced. This will have the effect of opening your lungs, straightening your pose and relaxing you; a good position to influence from.
Lots of my work now is with directors helping them understand and adapt to the differences between men and women in boardrooms and the new behaviours.Those higher up the scale use less body language moves, whilst women use more moves and as a result are seen as less important.
When we look back on this time in history, we will realise that we were part of a cultural shift which is happening faster than ever and our body language must adapt in record time too. We now spend just 3 seconds rather than 30 to make our mind up about someone....
Carole Railton FRSA is a body language expert
who has worked with clients across the globe
to improve their businesses and personal lives.
Rated in the top 30 by globalgurus.org
Get her book The Future of Body Language at
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