Have you ever considered that everything we know about body language and non-verbal communication does not really apply in a video conference call? I certainly had not. In the Bartleby commentary in the business section of The Economist (February 5, 2022 edition), the author discusses how “online working has changed the nature of non-verbal communication.” (Id.) The author notes that while there is quite a lot of research on non-verbal communication, most of it dates to pre-pandemic times when we actually met in person. (Id.) Now, we meet mostly remotely on Zoom and our bodies are now reduced to small squares on a screen. And as the commentary notes, our eyes may have that glassy-eyed stare such that one cannot tell exactly where the others on the screen are looking. Often, the camera may be angled so that the other is not looking directly into the screen and thus at you or the others. (Id.) The commentary concludes that one way to resolve the issue of reading body language is simply not to think too hard about it and just forge ahead with the video conference. (Id.)
But this got me thinking. Surely, someone somewhere must have written about how to decipher non-verbal communication on a Zoom call. It turns out that Carol Kinsey Goman wrote an article published by Forbes entitled “How to Read Body Language on Zoom” (August 18, 2021). She discusses “fifteen body language signals that reveal people’s emotions and interests-and they all can be seen on Zoom.” (Id.) Here are most of them.
The first is a head tilt: it is a sign that someone is interested and involved. But if what someone is saying makes the listener uncomfortable, he/she may pull the head back to create distance. (Id. at 2.)
Another is whether someone holds his/her head high or low. If one is feeling confident, he/she will hold her head up high while if feeling not so confident, the head will unconsciously be held lower. (Id. at 4.)
A third signal is head nodding. We all know that nodding up and down is a sign of approval or agreement while nodding from side to side is an indication of non-agreement and disapproval. What is also important is the speed of the nod. A slow nod indicates “an ongoing interest in whoever is speaking” while a fast nod indicates “impatience with the speaker or the listener’s desire to get a turn to speak.” (Id. at 4.)
Is someone on the Zoom call touching his/her face such as the chin, lips, nose, forehead) twirling her hair, or stroking his beard? This is a form of self-soothing by someone under stress. (Id. at 5.)
And then there is the wide-eyed look and raised eyebrows. Such a look signals approval or surprise. That person likes very much what the speaker is saying. (Id at 6.) This will also be shown by a dilation of the pupils. Such indicates that the person is seeing something pleasant, exciting or arousing. And since this dilation is unconscious, it is a very reliable sign of that person’s reaction. (Id. at 7.)
In contrast, the raised eyebrow (along with a pause) can be an indication that the person is wondering whether he/she heard something correctly or is a request for approval. (Id at 9.)
If someone closes their eyes, rubs their eyes or covers them with their hands, in response to what another is saying, he/she is in essence trying to block out what is going on. He/she is attempting to avoid an undesirable or threatening message. (Id at 8.) (Head ducking also indicates discomfort. (Id. at 2.))
And then there is the smile- is it real or fake? The fake smile is used to mask one’s true emotions- what he/she is really thinking! A genuine smile indicates delight and involves our entire face! (Id. at 10.) In contrast are the tight lips which usually indicate negative emotions. If someone shows tight lips, chances are he/she is “angry, frustrated, dismayed or trying to hold back information.” (Id. at 11.)
And finally, especially revealing in males with their Adam’s apple, is swallowing. A lot of swallowing (in males- the Adam’s apple moves up and down) indicates anxiety, embarrassment or stress or disagreement with what is being said. (Id. at 12.)
So, while our bodies may be reduced simply to being a face in a small square, we are still capable of conveying and of reading quite a lot of non-verbal communication. Just look at the face!
… Just something to think about.
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