Emphasis in body language

Emphasis in body language

You can amplify the words you emphasize with your body. In fact you probably do without noticing it. A slight nodding of the head. The beating of an outstretched finger. The thrust of an entire body.

TV presenters are interesting in how they create emphasis. They know that only their heads are in view, so they twist, turn and nod their heads far more than you or I.

When emphasizing in two places, with the voice and with the body, beware of mixed messages. This includes emphasis from one whilst the other remains flat or stationary. If I say 'That's really great!" whilst standing rigidly to attention, you may be forgiven for concluding that I was not that enthused.
Basic rules

The basic rules of using your body to emphasize are to synchronize and exaggerate:

To make emphasis count, it must all act together. Words and intonation, as well as all the bits of your body you are using to support the emphasis. Imagine it as playing in an orchestra - you need to get the whole lot playing in tune, otherwise all you have is a cacophony that communicates very little.

When you want to emphasize, do thing bigger. Move such as an arm further and faster. Move the whole body with the arm. Include facial expressions.
Big emphasis

Use big emphasis when you want to overtly show your energy and passion about a point. You are not trying to hide your light under a bushel here: the goal is to overpower the other person with the force of your point.

Your words should also synchronize with big emphasis, using power words, spoken more loudly with energy and passion. The other person should be under no illusion: this is a very important point.

Big emphasis is particularly useful if you are on a stage and need to communicate with those in the back.

Do remember also that it can be intimidating, which is more about coercion, where although you may gain short-term conformance, you may also get longer-term hatred.
Big movements

For big emphasis, make big movements.

* Exaggerate arm movements, making wide sweeps.
* Nod or shake your head.
* Point with an outstretched arm.
* Move about the stage.
* Create contrast, sometimes not moving, then moving suddenly.

Simulated aggression

Big emphasis often (but not always) uses simulated aggression, such as:

* Beating of an arm down in time with the points you are making.
* Pounding of a fist on the table or into palm of the other hand.
* Throwing the body forward (not actually, though - this is simulation, so use more of an 'exaggerated lean').
* Stamping of a foot.
* Exaggerated facial expressions.
* Sudden movement.


Repeated moves are like blows to the body. A boxer can win with a big knockout blow or, more likely, with repeated blows that wear the other person down. The same effect is created with big emphasis.

Rhythmic action also taps into primitive senses and can create an almost hypnotic effect.
Subtle emphasis

Big emphasis is not always appropriate and, done well, subtle emphasis can be a far more effective approach, especially in one-to-one situations. To do this well, it often helps if you are in a relaxed frame of mind and 'think small and delicate' as if big emphasis would hurt or damage the other person.
Small movements

For subtle emphasis with your body, do movement in the small, including:

* Turns of the wrist.
* Finger movement.
* Slight inclines of the head.
* Subtle facial expressions (the face is well-built for doing this).

Shaped movement

You can also do subtlety through the static shapes into which you put your body, for example:

* Cupped palm, as if holding something delicate.
* Rounded arms, as if embracing the other person.
* Pointing feet, legs or arms in a particular direction.

Source: http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/

Body language caveat

Body language caveat

A lot has been written about body language and how it can be used to persuade and influence other people. Although there is truth in this, there is also a warning that needs to be observed if you are to be truly effective in your communications.
Too many muscles

How many muscles are there in the human body? Before you dive into trying to control what your body is doing and communicating, consider this: there are more than 600 muscles in the human body.

The implication for managing your own body language is that you will consciously have to manage all of these muscles. You will also have to do this against the wishes of your subconscious, which will be trying to send its own messages. Oh yes, and you will have to do it whilst thinking about what you are saying, the words you are using the intonation of your voice, and so on.
The most important: the face

Worse again, consider the face, where you have about 90 muscles, 30 of which are there purely to express emotion. And where is the person you are talking with looking? Mostly at your face. And guess what: they are also likely to be very good at reading, at least to some extent, what you are feeling.
You are a communication machine

The bottom line of all this is that you cannot control all of your muscles, and especially the muscles in your face, which you cannot hide. You cannot avoid sending a constant stream of signals about what you are feeling and thinking.
Mixed messages

If you try too hard to control your body, the result is that all you send is mixed messages. One part of your body says one thing whilst another says something else, whilst you voice may also be leaking different messages. The result is will that be that people will trust you less, not more.
So why bother?

So what is all this about body language? Why both at all with it? If all we can do is make it worse, why all the talk?
Manage it carefully

The answer is that although you can very easily send mixed messages, you can change your body language effectively - but only if you are very careful and don't try to over-do it.

You can use the body to nudge and exaggerate what you are already thinking, but you can't send completely contrary message. Just try to use friendly body language towards someone you really detest and you'll quickly find these limits.
Read your own thoughts

What understanding body language is very good for, is to read your own thoughts, to see what your subconscious is saying. If you find yourself keep on rubbing your face or crossing your arms in a conversation, think: are you comfortable? Is there something about the other person that is bothering you?
Do in internally

The very best way of controlling your own body language is by changing your own mind to reflect what your body should be saying. If you are in agreement with yourself, your body will naturally communicate agreeable messages. You can read the content of this website and apply it to yourself. Think about your beliefs, values and needs. What is driving you? What inner thoughts would lead you to become a better person?

Source: http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/



Touching is one of the most powerful forms of non-verbal communication and needs to be managed with care.


Touching is a common part of many rituals, in which the action often has a long-forgotten symbolic meaning.
Greeting and departure

By far the most common touching ritual is greeting and departure, although the actual form of the ritual changes across countries. This may include shaking hands, hugging, kissing, rubbing noses and other touching.

When hold out your hand, you show that are not holding a weapon. When you allow others to touch you, you are indicating a level of trust.

Men on men

Men have a particular concern about status, in particular relative to one another. This is a primitive tribal game and is played out every day around the world.

When one man touches another, even if it appears that it is related to sympathy, then there is a game of status and power being played out.

Shaking hands

Shaking hands, although basically a ritual, may also contain significant acts of domination.

The 'power grip' grabs the other person's hand firmly and shakes vigorously. The 'vice grip' does this to extreme, intending to demonstrate strength by causing pain.

The 'hand on top' method offers the palm down, using the principle that being above the other person in any way symbolizes superiority. This is often combined with an elbow grab.

There is also domination in the duration of the shake. If you do not let go within the prescribed period, then you are taking control. Even for a second, this can send subtle power signals.
Back and arm touching

Patting on the back and touching the arm may be an act of sympathy and friendship. It can also be an act of dominance. Again, between men and particularly in situations of power, this is a signal of who is in charge.

Countering dominance

The simplest way of countering dominant touching is to do it back to the other person. This can be very surprising for them, especially if you seem not to be subdued and even may be smiling at their surprise.

If they pat you on the back or arm, you can do it to them with the other hand, put you hand on top or slide your arm underneath and pat their side (if they are on top, this shows that you have got beneath their guard). You can even turn the whole thing into a hug.


Touching is often used as a form of demonstrating sympathy, particularly between women. Men also may use it, but it is easily confused with acts of power (it may also be mistaken for homosexual acts of intimacy).

Distant sympathy

Showing sympathy when you are not very close to the other person typically is done with more distant and brief touching of the back, shoulder or arm.

Even a short touch can be very comforting and is effective when you fear that they may misunderstand the touch as dominance or intimacy.

Close sympathy

Closer forms of sympathetic touching are closer to intimate actions, such as putting your arm around the other person or hugging them as they cry or touching the arm for more prolonged periods.

This is more common amongst women, partners or very close friends.


Friends tend to greet each other with more intimate touching, such a hugging or even kissing (although this may vary with culture).

Friendship touching will also vary with the intensity and type of friendship. Some people you just touch more and some do not like it. In a group of friends, one tactile person may convert the whole group to a more touchy culture.


Families touch one another more, in particular parents and children, where as well as sympathetic touching there may be guidance and others forms of touch.

As with friends (and lovers), families touch each other more partly because they trust one another and also to sustain bonding and trust.


Partners and lovers touch each other a great deal. Intimacy does not have to be all sexual and is often just because it feels good. This may include holding hands, arms around each other, necking, nuzzling and kissing.

And of course there is also sexual touching, done with the deliberate intent of arousal and gratification.


Gueguen and Fischer-Lokou (2003) showed how touching another person during a conversation influenced the other person very strongly. After touching a stranger when asking directions, turning away and 'dropping' some diskettes, the touched subject would stoop to help pick them up 90% of the time, as opposed to 63% of the time when they were not touched.

Touch creates a bonding effect and this experiment shows how powerful this is in turning a stranger to offer proactive support. Of course asking them for directions also had an effect, but the increase is significantly more with just a light touch. This bonding effect is clearly significant for other sections above and constitutes a significant method for influencing others.

Source: http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/

Submissive body language

Submissive body language

A significant cluster of body movements is used to signal fear and readiness to submit.

This is common in animals, where fighting (that could terminally harm each animal) is avoided by displays of aggression or submission.
Body positions

The body in fearful stances is generally closed, and may also include additional aspects.
Making the body small

Hunching inwards reduces the size of the body, limiting the potential of being hit and protecting vital areas. In a natural setting, being small may also reduce the chance of being seen. Arms are held in. A crouching position may be taken, even slightly with knees slightly bent. This is approaching the curled-up regressive fetal position.

By staying still, the chance of being seen is, in a natural setting, reduced (which is why many animals freeze when they are fearful). When exposed, it also reduces the chance of accidentally sending signals which may be interpreted as being aggressive. It also signals submission in that you are ready to be struck and will not fight back.
Head down

Turning the chin and head down protects the vulnerable neck from attack. It also avoids looking the other person in the face (staring is a sign of aggression).

Widening the eyes makes you look more like a baby and hence signals your vulnerability.

Looking attentively at the other person shows that you are hanging on their every word.

Submissive people smile more at dominant people, but they often smile with the mouth but not with the eyes.
Submissive gestures

There are many gestures that have the primary intent of showing submission and that there is no intent to harm the other person. Hands out and palms up shows that no weapons are held and is a common pleading gesture.

Other gestures and actions that indicate tension may indicate the state of fear. This includes hair tugging, face touching and jerky movement. There may also be signs such as whiteness of the face and sweating.
Small gestures

When the submissive person must move, then small gestures are often made. These may be slow to avoid alarming the other person, although tension may make them jerky.

Source: http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/