Nonverbal signals are often more important than the words expressed. Even more than words, nonverbal cues indicate the relationship among conversers.
The first dimension, immediacy, relates to spacing between conversers. It is based on the principle that people are attracted to things they like and repelled by things they don’t like.
We move closer to people and ideas we like. Perhaps we lean toward them and make gestures that intend to bring closer the things we like.
When we don’t like a person or the ideas we hear, we tend to keep a greater distance and lean away. Also, we may contract our posture with folded arms.
The second dimension -- that of power -- is characterized by big, expansive movements that symbolically suggest dominance.
Standing erect and occupying a lot of space suggest “I’m in charge here.”
Low power is signaled by small and hesitant gestures and movements and posture that takes up less space, perhaps with body slumped over and arms held in.
The third dimension, responsiveness, signals the intensity of our feelings about the person or subject.
When we react a lot, we show the strength of our feelings. When we react only a little, we show what might be lack of concern or indifference.
During social conversation, it is almost always helpful to be fully responsive because this demonstrates to other conversers that we are with them, alive to the situation, and fully involved. Our head-nods, facial expressions, and body movements provide signals to others that we are following them closely.
Generally, these body signals we give off are out of our awareness. They are our unconscious responses to the incoming expressions of others.
Sometimes they are incongruent and contradict our words, as when a salesperson prepares a carefully worded sales pitch but then contradicts the words with a meek and unenthusiastic presentation, or when a sports coach, hoping to be seen as the leader, moves timidly and with hesitation.
When you are aware of the signals you give off, you can consciously adjust them to fit the situation. Being mindful of your nonverbal expressions will allow you to choose more effective ones.