Our bodily actions are equally strong as our words we use in communication. Movements of hands, face, legs, and other parts of the body to express something could be either voluntary or an automatic instinctive response, and such activities are known as gestures. Purely expressive display of gestures allow us to convey our feelings, sentiments and thoughts very explicitly while there are certain actions that are only attributed to proxemics. In the latter, gestures are governed by the nature of the physical space we share with people surrounding us. Use of gestures in non-verbal communication is extensive while in verbal communication they are just an addition to words in order to make the communication more effective and appealing. Study of gestures and body language is not only given utmost importance in psychology but also in neurology because the brain plays a key role in controlling our body movements. Let's try to understand how gestures are significant in our everyday life.
Understanding Gestures in Communication
We begin with facial expressions - something that immediately gives a picture of your mind and innermost thoughts. Everyone is familiar with facial expressions of happiness, anger, worries, distress, surprise, etc. Emotions get so well portrayed on the face that words are not needed to express them. Simply put, you laugh when you are happy, cry when utterly sad and frown at something weird. Look at the left hand side image and observe the expression. How engrossed and astonished the kid and his dad are while watching the movie, while the image on the right side depicts a tension-stuck girl waiting anxiously for her interview results to be declared. Thus, from facial expressions you can easily make your way into one's mind.
Eyes are the most expressive elements of the face. Even if you possess a tad too little intuitive skills, you can judge a person from the expression in his/her eyes. Lack of proper eye contact reduces your credibility while giving an interview or while delivering a public speech. Looking down or elsewhere while communicating reflects low self-confidence and uncertainty. Therefore, the way you look and stare can reveal your state of mind. Psychologists believe that your pupils tend to dilate while lying to someone and constrict while looking at with jealousy. On the contrary, there's always a sparkle and composure in the eyes when you are happy, optimistic and of course in love. Therefore, visual sense is also a gesture that reflects a plethora of human expressions and desires, and aids in analysis of diverse range of personalities.
It's also a fact that movements of the head and expression of the face and eyes are correlated. How? Imagine this situation - your parents have asked you to take care of the pet in their absence. How do you respond? If you are willing to do so, then you nod your head with a smile on your face and your eyes brighten up. Your reaction is a positive affirmation. Nodding the head, patting gently on the head, holding the head while hugging, scratching the forehead, cupping the hands on the head, etc. are gestures that convey a wide range of meanings. While hugging, you embrace the person with both hands, hold his head close to you or hide your head in his/her chest. Such kind of body movements are nothing but expressions of love, care and compassion. In this case, the gestures of self-expression arising from the connection you have with the other person diminish the proximal space shared by both of you.
Physical space can also be used as a communicative gesture. It's very simple to understand. What do you do when you feel uncomfortable speaking to a person who is intentionally standing too close to you? You shirk and maintain a position where your physical space is absolutely not invaded. In contradiction, you remain closer to a person you love to be with. These are subtle gestures capable of conveying intentions very powerfully. This way physical space can be used to express intimacy, concern, affection, neglect, anger, and many other forms of non-verbal messages.
Reflexes are gestures arising impromptu, but become prominent and repetitive along with the primary body movements. Despite doing unconsciously, they help in interpreting the character and state of mind of an individual. It goes this way. Your teacher is taking a class and you are not at all paying attention to her. All of a sudden she asks you a question. You don't know the answer, look blankly here and there to get some clue. Finally you speak up; fumbling and scratching the forehead. These two actions are reflexes that pop up while speaking with uncertainty and lack of proper knowledge and confidence. Adjusting the tie, playing with buttons, looking at self again and again are reflexes that can either be a natural response or a medium to seek attention. Biting lips and nails, and moving legs are very common expressions of anxiety and tension.
Gestures of hands have been studied in-depth and the interpretations are undoubtedly very interesting. They have versatile meanings which vary according to country and cultural settings. The expression of your face also changes when you use hands for the purpose of communication. Let's begin with symbolism of fingers. Raising the index and the middle finger to form the letter 'V' is the symbol of victory and peace. The symbol of 'perfect' and 'okay' is made by curling the index finger to touch the tip of the thumb, while raising rest of the fingers. Similarly pointing fingers has several symbolism. It could be meant for summoning someone, pointing at something or it could also be an interpretation of sexual disgrace. Thumbs-up is acknowledged as 'well done' and 'very good' while crossing fingers is a symbol of hope and anticipation. Thus, knowing the meanings of hand gestures helps in communicating in the correct manner.
As already said that by studying gestures and body language, we can perceive the mental state of an individual; the statement is true for hand gestures as well. You can easily make out that a person is terribly angry when he raises his hand to hit someone. Embracing, patting and shaking hands are extensively used in communication as they signify love, appreciation, assurance, friendliness, etc.
The image on the left hand side depicts a woman who is annoyed at irritated due to some reasons. She expresses her frustration with disgust on her face and raises her hand either to defend herself, prove her ignorance about the subject in question or to intensify her reaction towards that particular matter. Another example is, constantly pointing fingers and displaying various types of hand gestures while having a heated argument with someone. This is an effort to demean the person you are arguing with and establish your conviction. Another gesture that you must have come across while traveling is, calling for lift. Extending the hand and raising the thumb a little backwards is a symbol of hitchhiking. High-five (raise the hand and slap the palm on each other's) is very popular to gesture of celebration.
Hand gestures are also emblematic of religious beliefs. The gestures of Buddha are well-recognized throughout the world as mudras. Indian classical dance forms give utmost importance to hand gestures as they are used extensively for self-expression and making the dance exquisitely graceful. Touch is factor essential for making a non-verbal communication effective. When your boss pats on your back in order to appreciate your work, don't you feel more confident and successful? More than his words, it's the patting that makes you feel better. Similarly, a warm hug is much more comforting and assuring than a thousand good words spoken to console a person. We shake our hands while greeting and congratulating, hold hands to express concern and grip the arms with the hands to make a statement or to make him/her understand the right thing.
The posture and language of the body speak a lot about your attitude, mental status and character. The way you walk, sit and talk are indicative of your mood. You may jump, run and frolic around to express your happiness while walk slowly, drooping your head when in a gloomy mood. You fidget in nervousness, stretch your body to relax and sit idle when lazy. Body movements are accompanied by facial expressions which further distinctly reflect your mood. Another important subject that has been studied deeply is the language of legs and feet. When you move your legs constantly while sitting, it shows that you are restless. Impatience reflects when you sway, kick or bounce your leg in the air. Keeping your legs crossed while conversing is a sign of etiquette while sitting with slightly open and stretched legs depicts that you are in a relaxed mood. Standing with feet crossed could be an expression of coyness and unstable posture. You will understand these subtle gestures if you carefully observe your own body movements and also of people present around you.
So wasn't that fascinating? The more you study human behavior and gestures, the better you understand yourself and individuals at the large. You can also improve your communication skills by learning body language and using the movements and signs correctly in different situations.