South-Western - Management  
Reading Body Language Can Offer Insight to HR Pros
Topic Communication
Key Words Body language, nonverbal clues, cultural differences
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News Story

Interpreting body language can provide a lot of clues to human behavior and has many applications, especially for individuals in human resources professions. Interviews, negotiations, and conflict mediations all provide the opportunity to observe and practice body language that can add to what is being communicated verbally.

Few people can read body language well. Many don’t even pay attention to the subtleties of daily verbal communication.

Careful observation of nonverbal clues can tell you a lot. If people are feeling uncomfortable or anxious, they will have a tendency to wring their hands, massage the muscles between the eyes, pick at their fingernails and point their feet toward the door. Signs of rage can include balled fists, clenched jaws, or a rigid back. Detecting these nonverbal clues early can prevent situations from escalating further.

Eye motions can also be very revealing. People tend to do an upward eye movement when recalling an image and a sideways eye movement when recalling a sound.

To read body language during job interviews, it is important to ask open-ended questions to give the candidate time to talk and to reveal what is important to him or her. Interviewers should try to use fresh questions each time because a wooden delivery style is likely to bring about a similar response in the interviewee, since people tend to mirror the authority figure’s body language.

Body language can also be used to diffuse a conflict. For example, you can move part of your body or take a few steps, which will cause those involved in the conflict to look up and to the left, which engages the logical part of their brain. Rounding your shoulders can also make you seem less confrontational. You can also ask someone to remember a figure or a number, which will divert attention from the controversial subject at hand, and allow for a moment for things to calm down.

Different cultures have different standards when it comes to nonverbal cues. One example of cultural differences is that British and American men tend to gesture with their arms below the shoulder level, while Mediterranean and Latino men tend to gesture with their arms higher. As companies become increasingly global, it would be a good idea to brush up on the nonverbal signs and body language prevalent in other cultures as well as in American cultures.


Name at least three specific instances in which a manager can use a good grasp of nonverbal communication to help make decisions.


Define kinesics and paralanguage and describe their relationship to nonverbal communication.


Why is nonverbal behavior so important? What can managers do to analyze and improve their own nonverbal communication?

Source “Reading Body Language Can Offer Insight to HR Pros,” Employee Benefit News, May. 1, 2007, pITEM07121009.
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