Body Language

by Mary-Louise Angoujard

Objects in communication

Be aware of how you handle objects while communicating with other people. Movement associated with objects in communication – props – has been a subject of specific study. Here are some of the most common signals seen in business situations, ones that you will either recognise in yourself or others:

  • Nervous fiddling with pens, shirt cuffs or jewellery
  • Doodling on paper
  • Straightening movements – in other words, someone straightening objects in their immediate vicinity or in their ‘territory’ (if seated behind their own desk), or else moving/straightening objects in the other party’s territory
  • Movements of spectacles
  • Ditto beverages
  • Ditto chairs
  • The way papers/paraphernalia are handled.

All of the above movements can be either deliberate or unconscious, and the way in which they are done creates different impressions.

We have all seen someone fiddling endlessly with pens, shirt cuffs, jewellery and so on. This is usually an unconscious, outward sign of an inner discomfort, as are straightening movements, nervous handling of paraphernalia and the like. Not only does this type of activity become annoying, but it usually detracts from the individual’s presence and seeming confidence.

Deliberately straightening the objects in another’s territory is akin to invading someone’s space as a way to intimidate or show power.

Playing with spectacles is often a deliberate manoeuvre to gain time before answering or providing information; however, it can also be an unconscious habit that speaks of distraction.

Standing with one’s hand on a chair back, or indeed leaning with one knee on a chair while talking with someone when standing, indicates a lack of the self-assurance and/or confidence to engage without a barrier – an inability to ‘stand firm’ or ‘stand on one’s own two feet’.

Doodling is something that many people do when they are distracted. On that basis, and also because eye contact suffers dramatically, it is not the best sign that someone is fully engaged with others in a meeting!