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Jenny Davidow
Communication and Personal Coach
Seattle, Washington
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Body Language in Your Printed Words

Your written words convey as much about you as your posture, smile, and voice tone. Print media contains its own ‘body language,’ with the power to make or break a connection.
Written Apr 20, 2010, read 3836 times since then.
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Do your written words smile and reach out to your readers, or do they frown and slump? You may be asking, Can written words do that? Yes, they can.

There is ‘body-language’ in all communication.

When your posture, smile, and voice tone are aligned with each other and match the meaning of your words, they are “congruent.” But when your body language and tone do not match your words, most of us instinctively believe the nonverbal message, not the words.* Often you are not conscious of a mismatch, or it registers only as a gut feeling or uneasiness. Your perception usually remains unconscious because the part of your brain that recognizes nonverbal messages responds more quickly than the part that enables you to put it into words.**

Three ways your ‘body language’ communicates, in person and in words.

1. Your posture: Are you closed or open to connection?

In person, the way you stand and present yourself communicates vividly, without words. Are you confident? Are you open to connection? If you are, your stance will be strong and grounded. Your arms will be relaxed and expressive. Your body will be flexible and comfortable, turning toward the people you want to connect with.

In print, your ‘posture’ is revealed in the overall presentation and structure of your written communication. Is your intention clear? Does your title and first paragraph convey your intention?

Careful crafting, with your intention and body language in mind, will dramatically improve the ‘posture,’ overall appeal and strength of your written words. With attention to the subtext of your words, you can create a communication that is an effective ‘bid’ to connect. (For more about the concept of ‘bids,’ see my last article, You Had Me at Hello: 5 Ways to Communicate Beneath the Words.)

2. Your smile: What’s the temperature of your intention?

In person, your smile communicates both friendliness and interest. Daniel Goleman cites research revealing that our brains are wired to respond to a smile more than to any other facial expression. Smiles, you could say, are the primal basis of connecting. However, Paul Ekman’s research has also shown that if your smile is disconnected from the expression in your eyes (which is difficult to fake), people will sense your smile is hollow.

In writing, your smile is reflected in the ‘temperature’ or friendliness of your words. Strictly factual or descriptive words, while seeming dependable, come across as cool in temperature. They lack the warmth of a personal point of view and a desire to connect. Critical words come across as a frown and put a chill in the air. On the other hand, words that are ‘warm’ express interest in your clients, concern for their needs, and respect for their ability and contribution. A bid is embedded in your written ‘smile’ - a bid that asks for more connection with the person who reads your message.

3. Your voice tone says volumes: Are you congruent?

In person, your voice tone conveys a nonverbal communication - which either contradicts or confirms what your words say. Are you genuinely interested? Are you too much in a rush to care about connecting? It takes a lot of effort to control your tone of voice, especially when you’re irritated or angry. For example, at a meeting, your client may say, Glad to see you.” If his tone is warm, you believe him. But when the tone in his voice is cool or edgy, you don’t.

In writing. If you forget that connection is a two-way street, your tone will reveal it - through the ‘temperature’ of your word choices and the ideas you express. A famous quote says, “To be interest-ing, you have to be interest-ed.” When you write an article or other communication, you are making a bid to be listened to, seen and valued. You are making a bid for connection.

Begin by forming a clear intention to connect with the people you are writing for. Be interested in them. Understand their needs. Take the time to identify your key ideas. Then review what you have written for its posture, smile and tone. By adding this step, you will catch the incomplete idea and develop it, fine-tune your word choice, and warm up your tone. When you edit, craft and polish your communication, you will make it an effective and congruent bid to connect.

*Albert Mehrabian’s ground-breaking study at UCLA in the 1970’s established that when words and body language don’t match or when they lack ‘congruence,’ people believe the nonverbal communication, not the words.

**Also referenced: John Gottman (The Relationship Cure), Daniel Goleman (Social Intelligence) and Paul Ekman (Emotions Revealed) for their research and excellent books.

Learn more about the author, Jenny Davidow.

Comment on this article

  • Structural Engineer 
Bellingham, Washington 
Charles Waugh
    Posted by Charles Waugh, Bellingham, Washington | Apr 20, 2010

    Jenny,

    Your article is certain to help me develop my latent skills in writing that I will need for technical marketing. I have always had a good basic set of verbal and writing skills, but after engineering school and 30 years of practice, my writing has tended to be as flat and dry as vinegar. Thanks again for another article!

  • Assistive technology Sales,  Consultant, Researcher and Trainer 
Summerside, Prince Edward Island Canada 
Catherine Llwyd
    Posted by Catherine Llwyd, Summerside, Prince Edward Island Canada | Apr 21, 2010

    This article has given me keen insight into the relationship between, words, meaning, perception and connection. Many thanks:)

  • Online Presence and Social Media Strategiest 
Butler, New Jersey 
Michael Cohn
    Posted by Michael Cohn, Butler, New Jersey | Apr 21, 2010

    Jenny, great article as usual. How about discovering the body language over the phone and over social media messages?

    Can one discover the body language in 140 character tweets?

  • Structural Engineer 
Bellingham, Washington 
Charles Waugh
    Posted by Charles Waugh, Bellingham, Washington | Apr 21, 2010

    Michael brings up a good point about the limitations of tweets and texting -- their profound limitations of vocabulary and context. A 140 character tweet is hardly the language of Shakespeare. A tweet cannot bring about an emotional connection with a potential new client. Keep in mind that sales and purchasing decisions are made on an emotional level.

  • Motivation Analyst and Sales Trainer 
Carmel, California 
John Voris
    Posted by John Voris, Carmel, California | Apr 22, 2010

    Jenny,

    Excellent insight.

    In fact, after 30 years of field application, we have developed a method of discovering the very core motivator of anyone beginning with only a 12 point questionnaire. The answers our clients give represents only 30% of the result we are looking for. The other 70% is in the reasons they give for their answers.We then discuss their answers and conclude with a validated assessment.

    Since we are not looking for actual body language, our assessments are usually done over the phone.

    Yes Jenny a great deal is revealed about ourselves by the way we write and what we say.

  • Communication and Personal Coach  
Seattle, Washington 
Jenny Davidow
    Posted by Jenny Davidow, Seattle, Washington | Apr 22, 2010

    John, You make a good point that our core motivations are usually hidden, even from ourselves. I find that body language, in person and in print, often reveals this deeper truth about what a person is feeling and needing. Our ability to connect well with others, in business and personal life, is greatly influenced by how well our core motivations align with our words and actions.

    By becoming more aware of what we're communicating on this subtle level, we gain valuable insight - and capture the huge percentage of motivational power that lies below our conscious awareness.

  • Communication and Personal Coach  
Seattle, Washington 
Jenny Davidow
    Posted by Jenny Davidow, Seattle, Washington | Apr 22, 2010

    Charles and Catherine, I'm so glad this article was helpful to you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Communication and Personal Coach  
Seattle, Washington 
Jenny Davidow
    Posted by Jenny Davidow, Seattle, Washington | Apr 22, 2010

    Michael, You bring up a good question. Yes, I think there is body language over the phone and in the social media. Every communication has body language, no matter how brief. The quality of the connection, as felt by the people talking or texting, goes beyond the words. Our degree of interest, responsiveness, and our intention all communicate as a posture, smile and tone - a 'body language' that we take in, even if not consciously. The feeling of connection or lack of connection is what results.

  • Special Education Teacher, Hypnotherapist, Professor 
Los Angeles, California 
Dr. Caren Rich
    Posted by Dr. Caren Rich, Los Angeles, California | Apr 22, 2010

    Jenny, Wonderful article!

    Thank you for referencing Paul Ekman (Emotions Revealed). His work is used in my special education classes to help students become enlightened and connect with others appropriately. Grades and comprehension have improved.

  • Washington Federal Assistant Manager 
Bellingham, Washington 
Susan Templeton
    Posted by Susan Templeton, Bellingham, Washington | Apr 22, 2010

    Great work,Jenny! I've always had a sense of the visual/verbal language we give OUT but your pointers on the emotional response factor are very constructive. Thanks!

  • Creative Director/Photographer 
Laguna Beach, California 
Clarence Hendricks
    Posted by Clarence Hendricks, Laguna Beach, California | Apr 22, 2010

    Jenny, I found this article to be extremely helpful. I'm certain it will help me to better connect with clients and prospects.

    Cheers!

  • Freelance Website Producer 
Melbourne, Victoria Australia 
Matt Jensen
    Posted by Matt Jensen, Melbourne, Victoria Australia | Apr 22, 2010

    Very nice, thanks. When I write electronically or speak on the phone, when appropriate I always try to do it with a smile on my face as I find it makes the non-verbal aspects come across a lot warmer as you say, and find it helps a lot. As a bit of an introvert it seems to make a big difference :) Cheers Matt

  • Marketing Consultant 
Nanuet, New York 
Julie Weishaar
    Posted by Julie Weishaar, Nanuet, New York | Apr 22, 2010

    Great insights Jenny. The tone of the written word is indeed powerful and many don't realize the impact their tone has on their writing. I tend to write like I talk – not sure if that is good or bad LOL – but it is.

    Regarding the necessity for congruence between one's verbal and non-verbal communication, there was a series on TV (for the life of me I can't remember the name!) about crime investigators who would study the non-verbal communications of suspects specifically to identify non-verbal patterns that were not congruent with what was said. Fascinating to watch.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Structural Engineer 
Bellingham, Washington 
Charles Waugh
    Posted by Charles Waugh, Bellingham, Washington | Apr 22, 2010

    Matt and Julie: I believe that Paul Eckman's work applies to both your comments. He has been consulted by police departments. (And, he wrote a book by the title Telling Lies.) Eckman wrote that the genesis of Emotions Revealed was that as he tried making various faces, he felt the emotions that the faces stood for -- a kind of feedback.

    Jenny, your article does have a lot of deep content to it! Thanks again.

  • Communication and Personal Coach  
Seattle, Washington 
Jenny Davidow
    Posted by Jenny Davidow, Seattle, Washington | Apr 23, 2010

    Julie, Thanks for mentioning that we tend to not realize the messages our tone sends, either in writing or in person. I'm so glad you enjoyed the article. Read on for more about Paul Ekman.

    Charles, You're right - I'd wager that the program Julie watched was about Paul Ekman's work. He is the researcher that coined the term "micro-expressions." He found that the face will often betray a person's hidden intention or emotion - with the tiniest muscle movements that flash by in a fraction of a second. It is his system that helps police and other professionals learn how to spot signs of deception. It is also something anyone can learn - and he has a CD program to teach people how.

  • Communication and Personal Coach  
Seattle, Washington 
Jenny Davidow
    Posted by Jenny Davidow, Seattle, Washington | Apr 23, 2010

    Caren, So glad to hear that Paul Ekman's work is being applied in education and has such practical results. So good to hear from you.

  • Communication and Personal Coach  
Seattle, Washington 
Jenny Davidow
    Posted by Jenny Davidow, Seattle, Washington | Apr 23, 2010

    Clarence and Susan, I'm happy you joined this lively discussion!

    Matt, Thanks for your 'smile.' You are right that smiling shifts your energy and warms up your tone, either spoken or written. It's a way of setting your intention to connect with the other person - and makes a big difference in the quality of the connection.

  • Marketing Consultant 
Nanuet, New York 
Julie Weishaar
    Posted by Julie Weishaar, Nanuet, New York | Apr 23, 2010

    Got it - the series was called "Lie to me"!

  • Attorney 
Vancouver, Washington 
Roy  Pyatt
    Posted by Roy Pyatt, Vancouver, Washington | Apr 23, 2010

    Jenny,

    Thank you for your article. It is a great reminder to be careful in our writing. I, too, believe that body language--if you can call it that--is expressed in written language as well as personal interaction. I just want to point out that with personal interactions, sometimes body language is not what it appears to be and should only be interpreted based on its entirety. For instance, someone with exceptional confidence and genuine interest in a conversation with another person may stand with his arms crossed, not because he lacks confidence or is not engaged in the conversation, but because he has been standing for a long time and his arms are tired.

    Roy

  • manager 
Los Angeles, California 
Tara Delta
    Posted by Tara Delta, Los Angeles, California | Apr 24, 2010

    This article is great! Well anyway,there are many ways on how you can convey your emotions.I remember when we were in Disneyland last year,I couldn't imagine that there are so many people who visit there every day.I couldn't anymore talk with my sister,who at that time is my companion because it's indeed very noisy.So what we did,is to show gestures and we already understood its meaning.$100 million is not enough for Walt Disney, NBC, and News Corp. Those are the 3 companies that own the popular movie streaming site, Hulu. They're now deciding to add a new service, Hulu subscription, or Hulu Plus. At first I was annoyed because I finally found a website that streams decent shows in good quality with little advertisements, and then I hear they will start charging a subscription fee! Hold on to your socks and don't freak out as quick as I did; the subscription services are expected to be in addition to the current free content. The differences are; you'll have access to more movies, a lot more TV episodes, and a lot more content with the service you would be paying for. So do not get all worked up yet, the Hulu we have come to know and love should be staying the exact same, and still free.

  • Student 
Big Rapids, Michigan 
Nicholas McCarthy
    Posted by Nicholas McCarthy, Big Rapids, Michigan | Apr 26, 2010

    This was and interesting piece, I would had never thought about my written words as a way to percieve someone that you could not meet in person. We are learning about people and what kind a person they are by percieving them. This was really helpful to me thank you.

  • Global Executive Coach, International Career Consultant, Expat Life Coach  
Basking Ridge, New Jersey 
Anne Egros
    Posted by Anne Egros, Basking Ridge, New Jersey | Apr 30, 2010

    Thanks Jenny, I enjoyed the article and learned a lot from the discussion, I agree that even one word can create an atmosphere and reveal who is the person behind this word.

    What do you learn from a person who is not a native English speaker ?

    Body language is highly cultural and tons of articles have been published on cross-cultural communication but I never heard about the multiple meanings of an English word depending on the culture of the writer. Any insights there ?

  • Tax Professional and IRS Representation 
Blaine, Washington 
Bill Bradfield, EA
    Posted by Bill Bradfield, EA, Blaine, Washington | May 01, 2010

    Jenny,

    Another very good and informative article. Thank you. Each of us who write, even occasionally, will benefit from the information you have given us.

    Concerning e-mail and other social media, most of us don't take time to think about or edit what we write like we do if we are writing an article or a letter to someone. There would be a lot less miss-communication if we did take a moment to think about what we are saying and how we are saying it, even in the shortest of messages.

    Keep up the good work.

    Bill

  • graphic designer/art director and creative problem solver 
Chicago, Illinois 
Danielle Baird
    Posted by Danielle Baird, Chicago, Illinois | May 02, 2010

    Jenny,

    Thanks for this great article! I agree that these principles carry over into texts, Twitter and the telephone.

    Have you ever paid attention to the tone of a person's self-recorded voicemail greeting? It says so much, and most of them sound really sad and depressing. Recently, I started smiling (even if it was "fake smiling") while recording my own, and it made a huge difference!

    Thanks again for the great article!

    Danielle

  • Washington Federal Assistant Manager 
Bellingham, Washington 
Susan Templeton
    Posted by Susan Templeton, Bellingham, Washington | Jun 06, 2010

    There's also something kind of charming about messages or emails with a few odd imperfect (human) bits...as long as the tone and intention is clearly enthusiastic and in alignment with your audience...thanks for this!

  • CPA, Accountant 
Irvine, California 
Shaun Lawrence
    Posted by Shaun Lawrence, Irvine, California | Jun 12, 2010

    Great insight. I am always thinking about how my potential clients see my firm when they read my website or other marketing material. Very helpful.

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