Communication by body language is 90% of how we connect with other humans.
And if there is a mismatch in that nonverbal and verbal communication, the verbal message that I am attempting to get across will be discounted if not ignored, and as a speaker, I may not understand why.
As a listener, when there is an incongruency in the verbal and non-verbal communication, I feel ill at ease, suspicious perhaps, and will often conclude that the speaker is hiding something or perhaps lieing.
As a counselor, I have learned to look for subtle displays of emotion playing across the face of my clients, and to ask questions about those displays.
Asking questions like that, which may or may not lead to a vein of counseling ore, if you will, tells my client or my wife or my friends that I am paying attention, and that understanding on the part of the folks I am communicating with tells them that they are of value, that they are being seen by another human being, which is the most important counseling communication tool I have.
Most of us process those signals in communication below the threshold of consciousness, which means I just feel a bit off when I am talking to someone and miss one of those signals.
By the way, just because you note a subtle nonverbal signal does not mean you have to respond. A heartfelt response can be out of place when speaking with a stranger.
We actually begin to communicate non verbally with our caregivers when we are newborns.
Parents may say there was nothing nonverbal about the baby crying, and I can empathize, but what we are talking about is the prosody in the crying.
I could tell the difference between fear and hunger and the change me or I am lonely cries, and responded with more or less speed depending on the urgency of the message, and once I was holding my newborn, we could begin to cue communications by expression and gesture.
I could always tell when the child was irritated for example, with my corny jokes, and ready for a nap too. Those expressions were very straight forward.
But that communication body language is very important for the development of the child's brain, and future social skills so ignore it at your risk.
Fast forwarding to puberty and girls, I became aware of another kind of non verbal communication, and studied that communication body language very closely, still do as a matter of fact, and it was at about this time of my life that I began to discover books marketed to me that indicated that non verbal communication might be learned and mastered and used to manipulate conversation and people.
I am not so sure that you can do that, especially if you are interested in the well being of other folks.
But you can still find those books out there.
For my money, if you are interested in communication body language, you should look at the work of Paul Ekman,Ph.D. who has been studying facial expressions for about 25-30 years.
It turns out that there are some very basic expressions in human communication, which are represented by very subtle changes in physiology, and some of them are cross cultural, which could have some very important implications for treaty making for example.
But for my purposes as a counselor, I simply want to connect more effectively with my clients.
When they trust that they are being heard effectively, then they are open to talking about those deep fears, which seem to make them different.
It is very important to understand that body language communication is not a one to one correspondence, in other words one gesture does not mean one word or thought.
Communication is a dynamic event, and a gesture or subtle expression are indicators often worthy of inquiry, but then be prepared to listen respectfully.