For many people, the response to the question about whether body language matters on the phone would be "no"—as in how can body language be important if the caller can't see the person they are talking to?
Before this question can be fully answered, we need to understand the part body language plays during the communication process.
First of all let's get down to basics.
A message (conversation) is communicated to the receiver by words, the way the words are spoken, and body language.
People are surprised when they are introduced to the statistics which indicate that only 7 percent of the message is transferred and understood by actual words used; 38 percent is transferred as a result of the way the words are spoken; and a massive 55 percent by body language. Incidentally, these statistics refer to a conversation that is face-to-face. Logic tells us that if the conversation is over the telephone the body cannot be seen which means a massive 55 percent of the method for transferring the message is lost. To that end, one could argue body language does not come into the equation when talking on the telephone.
That isn’t the case though—the body also has a massive effect on our breathing pattern, which, in turn, has a massive effect on the way words are spoken.
When body language is used as a method to understanding the meaning of a message being communicated to us, it makes reference not only to the actions of the body, but also to facial expressions.
If someone is gesturing wildly, with arms and hands pointing towards us with a firm action and being repeated at speed, we will assume they are not very happy. Without hearing any words, we can conclude these are the actions of an angry man. How we react is based on our own responses. People could react quite differently to an angry looking person. The anger could be reflected back with the person on the receiving end, responding with fear or nervousness, and some may even burst into laughter as a way of responding. Whatever the response, the message indicated is loud and clear, and without the use of words. That's how powerful body language can be when communication takes place in an environment where the receiver can see the message sender.
If the telephone is introduced into the process, the receiver cannot see the message sender. This means 55 percent of the transfer process is lost. We can't see the message sender's body, so how can it be used to transfer a message to us? Most certainly, if we take the example above, in which the man communicated anger without actually saying anything, the introduction of the telephone would have prevented the receiver from understanding the message. People rarely pick up the phone to communicate and say nothing. Words or sounds are generally uttered.
Words will be introduced into the conversation. If we continue with the same example of the angry person, the words will endorse and match his feelings. In addition, the way he says the words also will replicate his feelings. It would be quite unlikely someone with enraged anger displayed by body actions, and endorsed with words, would be able to say those words in a calm and collected manner.
Whether we are happy or angry, it is evident by our facial expression. The muscles in our face are numerous. We have more muscles from our shoulders upward than from our shoulders down! Movement of muscles will affect the sound of the voice.
There's an old adage that you can hear someone smiling, and it's true. When we smile, our voice is lighter, higher, and indicates happiness.
When we show anger on our faces, the related muscles affect our voice too. Our tone becomes deeper and more stressed sounding.
Facial expressions affect our voice, and our voice transfers key parts of a message to help the receiver understand what is being communicated. Whether the conversation takes place on the telephone or face-to-face, the facial expression that is part of body language plays a major role in the communication process. The pace of the voice maybe faster than normal; the voice may be deeper than normal; the words may be clipped and sharp in the way they were spoken; and the breathing would no doubt be faster, which would also have an effect on how the words were uttered. Quite simply, body language would have a massive effect on how the words were said, and that would contribute to 38 percent of the message transfer.
When someone is speaking on the telephone, their body language will still reflect their mood and feelings. It happens unconsciously. Who would stop to think, "Ah, the person I'm talking to cannot see me so there is no need to move my arms and used facial expressions?"
Breathing patterns play a major role in how words are spoken. As the air from our lungs is exhaled, it passes over our vocal chords, which then vibrate to make a sound. This sound affects the way we say words. Breathe either quickly or slowly, and it has a major effect on the vibration. Breath in a shallow manner, and that too has an effect on the vibration. For exhaled air to pass over the vocal chords, the passage way has to be clear. Crunch your body, and the passage way starts to become restricted. Restriction starts to happen when we sit down. This is because our normal reaction is to lower our head and shoulders.
Try this simple exercise.
1) Stand up so the air passage is open and say "good morning."
2) Sit down and relax into your chair so that your shoulders and chin are relaxed and say "good morning." Can you hear the difference?
3) Remain seated. Sit up in your chair, look ahead, and repeat "good morning" again. Can you hear the difference this time?
Quite clearly, the position of the body has a fundamental effect on how words sound. When our shoulders and chin are dropped, our words are more muffled. This could give someone listening to us the impression that we sound unhappy, unconcerned, or even bored and uninterested. This may not be the case—in fact it probably isn't, but that's the message the person we are talking to will receive.
So, body language plays an important part when we communicate over the telephone. Another example is that of a woman who received a call from the hospital her mother was admitted to after suffering a stroke. Someone from the hospital made a telephone call to the daughter. The caller spoke with a very slow pace and the pitch of their voice was very low and the tone very deep. The slow, deep tone of the voice made the patient’s daughter think she was hearing bad news. She didn’t hear the words that were spoken, just the way they were said. The caller was in fact notifying the daughter that her mother had been transferred to another ward. If the words had been spoken with a faster pace and a higher pitch, she would have concluded it was a regular call with general information imparted—no cause for worry.
This is a classic example of how the tone, pitch, and pace of the voice are affected by body language, which, as a result, gives an incorrect meaning to the words spoken.
So we have considered three ways body language affects voice, which in turn, affects the way the words are spoken. This, consequently, is a key way the receiver understands the message transferred in a conversation.
1) Gestures: Lead to facial expression. Facial expressions affect the voice and the way the voice says the words.
2)Breathing patterns: Affect they way words are spoken and can give false messages
Beware of your body language, the way you sit or stand when on the telephone, and your breathing patterns. They all affect how you speak. Body language matters on the telephone if you want to send messages that are clearly and correctly understood.
Christine Knott is managing director and training principle for Beyond The Box, a provider of training, field marketing, and promotional services. More information, visit www.beyondthebox.co.uk.