How to make the study of body language work for you.

"Susan, you look like you're thinking about something. Have you got something to add?"

"I do? Well, now that you mention it, I did want to say something."

How did this group leader know that Susan wanted to speak? He noticed that she was sitting on the edge of her chair, rubbing her chin, tapping her foot. In other words, he noticed her body language.

The science of kinesics—commonly referred to as body language—is the study of behavior patterns of nonverbal communication. You can often read a participant's emotions about what is happening in your group by the way he holds his body, by the expression on her face, or by his movements. But be careful. A person's positioning or movements do not necessarily mean something in particular. You have to understand the body language in the context of the situation (a threatening question, for instance).

Be aware of your own body language as well, leader. To stimulate conversation by participants, keep an open body position (do not cross your arms or legs toward group). Lean forward to show interest. Nod and smile to show agreement. Make brief eye contact to encourage conversation from a quiet person.

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