We communicate on three levels: verbal, non-verbal and paralanguage. (the way we use our voice to add meaning to our message). Body language is referred to the means by which humans convey information through conscious or subconscious body movements, facial expressions and gestures. It is officially known as kinesics and it was first used in 1952 by an anthropologist named Ray Birdwhistell. Actually, body language can have a large impact on our thoughts and feelings, and that includes how we feel at work. But how much communication is not verbal?

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How to improve body language at workplace

Interestingly, body language is not a non-learned neurobehavior; people can improve it. Here are eight tips to help you develop your body language when at workplace and your life in general.

  1. Be Aware: Awareness can be considered as “half the battle”. By paying attention to what and when we do, we can better understand what it means.
  2. Learn from your colleagues: Isopraxism, the mirror of body language, works wonders! Look at other people, especially those you admire, and collect useful information by their body language.
  3. Watch your body position: Always be aware of the ways of creating crosses with your body. We will see below that open posture and close “posture mirror” different characteristics with respect to friendliness.
  4. Make eye contact: Eyes mirror people’s soul. Don't be afraid to look somebody in the eyes. Not only will you say a lot by doing so, but you might also learn a lot.
  5. Relax your shoulders: Holding your shoulders by your ears is a sign of tension. Relax, but make sure you're not slouching.
  6. Give a firm handshake: It turns out that a handshake is more than just a simple gesture. If you’re seated, always rise before shaking someone’s hand. Make sure to use plenty of eye contact, smile warmly, and squeeze firmly, about as much as your partner does.
  7. Keep your hands visible: Do not hold your hands in your pockets. Though comfortable, it can indicate boredom or over-confidence. On the other hand, holding your arms behind your back with your hands clasped is a sign of confidence. This is great for public speaking as well.
  8. Relax: Adjusting your body language might feel unnatural at first. Applying the aforesaid techniques over time, you'll communicate everything you want with your body!

The human body is the best picture of the human soul.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Decoding other people's body language

  1. Facial Expressions

Specific regions of the face such as the eyes and the mouth are particularly relevant for the decoding of emotional expressions. There are six universal facial expressions: 1) anger, 2) disgust, 3) fear, 4) happiness, 5) sadness, and 6) surprise. Some scientists further argue that contempt and embarrassment are also universal expressions.

body language

  1. 1 Eyes
  • Narrowing our eyes, usually shows unhappiness or repulsion.
  • Glaring is showing that someone is upset.
  • Losing eye contact with the person we are speaking to means we are not paying attention. On the other hand, being able to hold eye contact with someone means we have confidence.
  • Blinking can mean that we have something to hide. The average person blinks every 4 seconds, about 15 times per minute, over 20,000 times a day. However, people can blink for a wide range of reasons since it occurs more often than necessary just to keep the eye lubricated. Researchers think blinking may help us disengage our attention, while fatigue or stress are said to directly influence the rate of eye blinking as well.
  • Looking down can be a sign of submission and respect, while it also exhibits modesty.
  1. 2 Mouth

According to studies people who are good at identifying emotions tend to watch the other person's mouth more than their eyes.

  • Smiling indicates pleasure and laughter shows greater pleasure and happiness and is a relatively brief affair, happening for a few seconds.
  • Not smiling can mean fear of reprisal. It can also indicate repressed
  • Yawning shows tiredness or low blood oxygen.
  • Biting our lips or an item such as a pen or pencil indicates stress and anxiety.
  • Tightening our lips might be an indicator of disapproval or distrust.
  1. Gestures
  • A clenched fist indicates anger or solidarity.
  • Thumbs up and thumbs down are often used as gestures of approval and disapproval.
  • Hand-to-mouth gestures involve lying or deception.
  • Fingers-to-mouth gestures indicate an inner need for reassurance.
  • Nose touch gesture is a sophisticated, disguised version of the hand to mouth gesture.
  • Cheek Gestures used to support a person’s head show boredom. When the listener is closed hand resting on the cheek, with the index finger pointing upwards, it is a sign of interest.
  • Clasping the hands behind the back might indicate that a person is feeling bored, anxious, or even angry.
  • Hands placed on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready, or it can also be a sign of aggressiveness.
  1. Body position
  • Crossed arms can indicate that a person is defensive, self-protective, or closed-off.
  • Crossed legs can indicate that a person is feeling closed off or in need of privacy.
  • Keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed indicates friendliness, openness, and willingness.
  • Hiding the trunk of the body often by slouching and keeping the arms and legs crossed can be an indicator of hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety.
  1. Personal Space

Spatial relationships play a major role in body language. The term proxemics, coined by anthropolgist Edward T. Hall, refers to the distance between people as they interact. There are four distinct zones in which most people operate. They are as follows:



5. Tone of voice

Actually, the tone of voice combines spoken language and body language. Shouting, smiling, irony, word selection and so on may add extra meaning which is neither considered pure body language nor speech.

A said above, opposed to words, body language is a type of nonverbal communication in which physical behavior is used to express or convey information. Simple examples to understand how body language is conveying information are: the game of Poker or even the law enforcement. Specifically, during Poker, players must be able to "cheat" the opponents. Reading their body language helps the opponents spot these cheats. While, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Law Enforcement Bulletins have included body language in their articles Members of law enforcement to detect deceit and catch unspoken clues by suspects or even victims.

Concluding, no matter how advanced our technology gets, face-to-face communication will be always powerful helping us to better communicate with others and/or interpreting what others might be trying to convey.

cyber security in shipping industry

  • Body language exists in both animals and humans
  • Britain, along with most of Northern Europe and the Far East, is classed as a “non-contact” culture, in which there is very little physical contact in daily interactions. By comparison, the Middle East, Latin America, and Southern Europe are considered “high contact cultures” where physical touch is a large part of socializing.
  • While the "okay" gesture, is used to mean "okay" or "all right" , in some parts of Europe, however, the same signal is used to imply you are nothing. In some South American countries, the symbol is actually a vulgar gesture.

About Apostolos Belokas

Apostolos is a Maritime Safety, Quality & Environmental Expert, Consultant, Trainer and Project Manager with more than a 20-year background in shipping as Technical, Marine, Safety & Training Superintendent and Consultant. He entered the industry back in early 90’s as Engineering Superintendent with a leading ship manager operating a mixed fleet of bulk and oil/chemical tankers. He then shifted to regulatory compliance and QHSE as superintendent and later as a Consultant and Trainer. Apostolos has successfully completed a wide range of QHSE projects including 250+ management system projects (ISM/ISO 9001-14001-18001/TMSA/MLC), 500 vessel and office audits to various standards and he has trained more than 8,000 people in a wide variety of QHSE subjects. He has also presented and chaired to more than 40 conferences. He holds Mechanical Engineering Bachelor and Master’s specialising in Energy & Environment and Master’s Degree in Maritime Business and Business Administration (MBA), all of them awarded with distinction. Apostolos is the Managing Director of SQE MARINE, SQE ACADEMY and Managing Editor of SAFETY4SEA. 

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