Body Language in Your Printed Words

by Jenny Davidow, M.A.

Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

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.

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 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.

Try it yourself:

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.

Jenny Davidow, M.A., is a Communication Coach in Seattle, Bellingham, and Mt. Vernon, WA. Training and support to enhance your verbal and nonverbal skills, effectiveness in public speaking and in print media.

Fully align your words, intention and body language for your next presentation, article or report.

Communication coaching sessions by telephone, Skype and in person.

Visit and Communication Coaching for more information.