Body Language and Connection in a Technology Obsessed Culture

August 2, 2017 Sabrah Wilkerson

The Nonverbal Group in New York conducted research that suggests that, on a daily basis, the amount of communication that is nonverbal varies between 60 - 90%--this number depends on the situation and the individual. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology best known for his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages, wrote in his book “Silent Messages” that only 7% of our messages are conveyed through actual words. So then, the question begs—what is happening to us in a technology obsessed culture of hiding behind our smart phones? Are we even paying attention to the real people right in front of us?

There are endless studies and research concerning our smart phone obsession. One study is noted here—it examines all the different scenarios in which humans consistently and constantly have to check their phones, some of which are quite ridiculous—including the fact that apparently 12% of adults use their smartphones in the shower!

We feel a compulsion to constantly check our smartphones—so much so that the average person checks over 2,000 times a day, and for some, the number of clicking, tapping, swiping on their phones totals over 5,000 times a day! Common Sense media found that over 50% of American teens admit to feeling addicted to their smartphones. Are we raising our children to be mobile device zombies that have no social skills?

Understandably, we need our smartphones for work and to stay virtually connected to the people in our lives, but the need to fully immerse ourselves in our phones, rather than connecting face to face with people and having an actual conversation, has become a real problem. We have become so comfortable hiding behind our phones and social media that we have forgotten how to speak to others face-to-face, and as a result, we are losing our social development. We are unable to express body language, tone, voice, touch, and facial expressions through texting and social media. We are missing our social cues for connection. When phones are involved, we are not making eye contact, nor are we catching on to hand gestures or other non-verbal cues. We zone out and lose track of our surroundings. Despite knowing we shouldn’t be on our phones during dinner with friends or family, a business lunch, or vacation, we do it anyway. We are wired for this digital age now, and we are so impatient and unwilling to slow down. It becomes very difficult to change our behavior.

However, in-person conversations remain important in business and in everyday life—as does less-obvious non-verbal communication. Here are 7 tips for you to try and curb the smart phone addiction while reaffirming your in-person conversation savvy:

  1. When you have some down time, replace reaching for your phone with a different activity. Read a book, take a walk, or chat with a friend face to face.
  2. Turn off your phone during certain times of day--when driving, in a meeting, during dinner, or during family time.
  3. Try a weekend day with no technology. If this seems overwhelming and daunting, start out slow and make it half a day.
  4. Plan to connect face to face with people more often –  talk to your neighbors, have social outings, family game night, date night, etc.
  5. Make an effort to really listen to someone without grabbing for your phone. Resist the urge!
  6. Commit to having more in-person conversations each day—even if it’s the messy, risky relationship stuff, that is still “face to face” connection.
  7. Just breathe! Practice mindfulness--visit this site for some tips on mindfulness to help you focus your attention and reduce anxiety and stress.

Additionally, I challenge you to start paying attention to the following 7 body language cues for yourself and others that you interact with. Small changes in our behavior will allow us to connect with others more deeply:

  1. Be aware of crossing your arms in front of your body which signifies defensiveness or indicates that you are not open to what the other person is saying.
  2. Be aware of your eye contact. Too much eye contact can be perceived as intimidating. Too little eye contact can appear that you don’t care, or that you are hiding something.
  3. Be conscious of nervous habits such as twirling your hair, clicking a pen, shaking your knee up and down, etc.
  4. Be aware of your posture. Don’t slouch over or hunch your shoulders. This comes across as too passive, and relays a message of insecurity.
  5. Keep your chin up, and your head straight. Generally, women tend to tilt their heads more when speaking, and this portrays less confidence in what you are saying.
  6. Engage in a strong handshake, palm to palm. A weak handshake leads to a bad first impression.
  7. Mirror the other person’s body language to bond and build understanding.

For additional resources on the topic of Body Language, I recommend the book “The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work” by Carol Kinsey Goman. The book shares ways that you can be more successful in the workplace by changing a few key body language cues and paying special attention to the body language cues of your coworkers .

In addition, this link contains a brief video that describes Goman’s book and visual demonstration of a few of the body language cues.

Also, check out the TED talks on the subject of body language, by Amy Cuddy, a Social Psychologist and body language expert:

About the Author

Sabrah Wilkerson

Sabrah Wilkerson is the Learning & Development Manager at Schellman. Sabrah has more than 15 years of experience in the learning and development field including consulting, needs analysis, design, development, facilitation, program and project management, and the evaluation of programs for leaders and employees for soft skills and technical skills. Sabrah’s primary focus is on employee development, and she is passionate about helping others achieve their full potential.

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