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How to read body language on video calls

Video Calls are more the norm now due to the pandemic. And with the hybrid working model taking shape across many different companies, video conferencing won’t be going away any time soon. While it’s true that we lose many nonverbal cues when moving from in-person to virtual interactions, we don’t lose everything.

Forbes Contributor Carol Kinsey Goman sites the fifteen body language signals that reveal people’s emotions and interests which can all be seen on video calls.


1. Head tilts signal of engagement — while a slow deliberate head withdrawal is a sign of disengagement. Head tilting is a signal that someone is interested and involved. But when people are listening to a message that makes them uncomfortable, their heads may or pull back from whomever they are talking to create distance. 2. Head ducks express discomfort. The head duck is a signal that often reveals extreme discomfort or an extreme difference in the status and relationship between individuals. The head duck can be a common posture held when employees interact with their managers.


3. Heads held high or low send a message about confidence.

Feelings of high confidence unconsciously pull the head up. Feelings of low confidence lower it.


4. Head nods send different messages depending on their speed.

The head nod is an important indicator in communication. When someone nods slowly, it usually indicates an ongoing interest in whoever is speaking. Fast nodding signals impatience with the speaker or the listener’s desire to get a turn to speak.



5. Facial touching is a primary pacifier.

Under stress, people self-soothe in a variety of ways. Women twirl their hair, and men stroke their beards for psychological comfort. To get the fastest relief from even mildly stressful situations, we touch our faces (chin, lips, cheek, nose, forehead) where a calming effect is most easily accessed.


6. Wide eyes signal approval and pleased surprise.

When someone’s eyes open wide in pleasure, their eyebrows raise, and their mouth opens slightly. You’ll see a miniature version of this expression occurring when someone is discussing something or someone they like very much.


7. If people are emotionally aroused by what they see, their pupils dilate.

Many physical stimuli can cause human pupils to dilate, but the most fascinating reason for dilation isn’t physical, but emotional. Salespeople often subconsciously monitor pupil dilation, which signals interest, and pupil contraction, which signals resistance. Because pupil changes are not within a person’s control, they provide a very reliable indication of interest, attraction, and emotional attitude.


8. Blinking rates increase under pressure.

During the conversation, a normal blink rate is six to eight blinks per minute—and the eyelids are closed for about one-tenth of a second. This rate speeds up when someone is stressed.


9. Closed eyes is a form of eye blocking.

Eye blocks include closing eyes, rubbing eyes, and covering eyes with hands or objects. Eye blocking is an unconscious gesture people use to exclude you during a conversation by blocking you from sight.


10. Tearing eyes signal high emotion.

At the most elementary level, tearing is a physical response to allergies, foreign particles in the eye, fumes (like ammonia or onions), and injury or pain. But tears are so much more. They often say what can’t be expressed adequately by words. Tears are an eloquent statement that something intensely emotional is taking place.


11. Raising the eyebrows may be a sign of submission or a request for approval.

When someone is unsure about something, you commonly see the eyebrows raise and pause. The gesture of raising the eyebrows slowly, over a few seconds, along with a tilted head usually comes at the end of a sentence as a nonverbal inquiry to see if the listener has understood.



12. Smiles can be real or fake.

A fake smile is the most common facial expression used to mask other emotions. A false smile is easy to detect as a genuine smile changes the entire face, unlike a fake smile where only the corner of the mouth is raised. People use the fake smile in business settings when they don’t feel emotional closeness to those around them; the real smile is reserved for those they truly care about.


13. Tight lips are almost always associated with negative emotions.

Pressing lips tightly together occurs when someone is angry, frustrated, dismayed, or trying to hold back information.


14. Chin jutting is a sign of anger.

Your business colleagues may display similar behaviour when they are getting angry, feel they have been wronged, or are about to tell someone off.


15. Swallowing shows anxiety or stress.

Swallowing is especially conspicuous in males, with the up-and-down motion of the Adam's apple (called the Adam’s apple jump). This jump is a sign of emotional anxiety, embarrassment, or stress.


As you can see there are many different nonverbal cues that give insight into our emotional state. Our communication suffers without them. Using facial expressions or hand or head movements indicates a desire to communicate with the other. Becoming more aware of your body language and how it can be perceived can only improve your communication.


Read more from Carol here.





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