October 30, 2007

#01-031: Congruity: Making Your Manner Match Your Words

two boys, one smiling, one frowning
Can you "read" the emotions in their faces?
(Wikipedia: left, right)

Note: Good communication requires more than just the right words. As we'll see, the whole body is involved in how we express ourselves.

Get Ready: Do you think about body language when you speak, or does it just come naturally? How important do you think it is?

Read these three short scenes:


Amy: Hi, Anita! Would you like to come to my party Saturday night?

Anita: [looking down, no eye contact] Uhhh... sure... that, um, sounds like, ah, fun.

Amy: [angry] Fine, Anita! If you don't want to come, just say so! [walks away]


Bill: Hey Steve, look at the new software I invented!

Steve: [smiling and nodding] Gee, Bill, that looks like something I created years ago.

Bill: So, do you like it?

Steve: [still smiling] Not exactly... 


[Barbara is giving a speech]

Barbara: [whispering, no eye contact, hands shaking] Hello, every body. Today I want to talk to you about how to improve your self-confidence...


Anita, Steve, and Barbara are all suffering from the same problem. Their bodies are saying one thing, their mouths, another. This is called incongruity.

When Amy invites Anita to the party, for example, she expects a smile, eye contact, nodding of the head, and a straightforward acceptance, or a polite "No, thanks." Instead she is reading hesitation from Anita's response. Most people would rather hear an honest but gentle "No" instead of a half-hearted acceptance.

Bill and Steve have a different problem. Steve seems to be accusing Bill of stealing his idea. But his smile and nod seem to be approving of Bill's action. Bill has every reason to be confused by Steve's response.

Barbara's speech seems almost funny: A speaker on self-confidence whose voice and body language tell you she lacks self-confidence!

To avoid incongruity, consider the intention behind your words. Then, practice matching your body language to your spoken language. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Use of voice: Is the pitch too high? This can indicate nervousness. Be careful of the pace of speech, too: It's better to speak clearly than fast. And try to keep the volume neither too loud nor too quiet.
  2. Facial expression: Generally, this is how we use our eyebrows, nose, and lips. Are you smiling? Frowning? Is your nose wrinkled? Your eyebrows raised? These all convey messages.
  3. Eye contact: Too much can seem aggressive; too little can seem evasive. Try to look at the listener for a moment and then look away briefly.
  4. Stance and posture: Shifting restlessly can make you seem nervous; standing too firm can make you seem aggressive. Try to stand in a relaxed way, not too stiff and not slouching.
  5. Gestures: head and hands: Are you nodding or shaking your head? Is it tilted in puzzlement, or thrust forward for emphasis? What are you doing with your hands? Reinforcing your point or denying it?

People who practice public speaking are aware of the importance of these things. Few realize, however, that they are just as important in our day-to-day communications.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facial_expression

Practice: Match the problems described below to the considerations (a-e) above.

  1. Kyle stands straight like a soldier as he asks Mary to marry him.
  2. John can barely look at a girl when he speaks.
  3. Buddy speaks so quietly that people have to ask him to repeat what he says.
  4. Susan moves from one foot to the other as she asks someone for directions.
  5. Mary nods her head as she turns down Kyle's proposal of marriage.
  6. Mike is teaching a class and is speaking very quickly because he's nervous.
  7. Bella is smiling as she delivers bad news.
  8. Jeanne keeps her hands stiff at her sides as she tells her friend a funny story.
  9. Margaret says she's not angry, but her eyes are narrowed.
  10. When Noah talks to girls, he stares at them so much that it makes them nervous.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 30, 2007

This lesson received 146 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and June, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. c; 3. a; 4. d; 5. e; 6. a; 7. b; 8. e; 9. b; 10. c