Body language is a form of non-verbal communication. It often happens unconsciously. Learn how to control it with body language etiquette. Avoid making others uncomfortable.
What body language etiquette is
Body language etiquette is the set of rules to keep positive non-verbal communication. Such rules include:
- The main types of body language.
- What body language tells us.
- How to avoid negative body language
We should respect body language rules to appropriately manage our non-verbal communication and avoid upsetting or embarrassing others.
Body language etiquette principles
Body language is any form of non-verbal communication from our body. It often happens unconsciously. Thus, our body may communicate something we might prefer not to. Or it can even betray us and deny what we are saying with words.
We learn to control our words to interact socially with others. For the same reason, we must learn how to control our body language.
Thus, the principles of body language etiquette are meant to avoiding expressions that may offend others.
- Align your body language with your words.
- Avoid body language that signals closure or any negative emotions.
- Respect other people’s personal space and privacy.
Body language etiquette rules
1) Facial expressions & smile
Facial expressions show our emotions.
It is good body language etiquette to control our display of emotions. It is rude to share our negative feelings. Such as disgust, anger, or boredom. Thus, we should limit the facial expressions that show such emotions.
A smile is usually positive body language. It conveys positive emotions. Such as approval or sympathy. It creates trust and displays empathy.
Body language etiquette for facial expressions
A smile can be seen as negative if it is associated with sarcasm or irony. It can decrease trust if it feels false, or not natural. For example, smiling too often does not look natural.
Learn which situations trigger a negative reaction in you. Then, learn how to control and disguise the facial expressions that arise from such reactions.
2) Eye movement
Our eyes display emotions. Eyes wide open can show surprise. Rolled-up eyes can show boredom or disappointment.
Body language etiquette for our eyes
Body language etiquette includes eye contact too. Eye contact usually displays attention, interest, and openness. It creates trust. No eye contact shows a lack of interest. In a conversation, a lack of eye contact can decrease trust.
However, you should not stare. Do not keep uninterrupted eye contact. Take some breaks.
3) Body posture
Our body posture conveys emotions too. It displays confidence or a lack of it.
A confident posture results from a mix of non-verbal signs. Chest out. Straight shoulders. Straight back. Head held high. Chin slightly up. Hands outside of the pockets.
Body language etiquette for posture
Try to keep a confident posture. However, do not overdo it. Do not look aggressive or unnatural. Exercise in front of the mirror. Your posture should be confident but look natural.
When you sit, keep the right body posture too. Slouching and leaning forward are both bad body language and against seating etiquette.
Gestures are powerful body language. They can reinforce spoken language, or replace it.
However, gestures can be interpreted in a negative way too. Gesticulating conveys a lack of control or confidence. Ample gestures are often bad manners. So is pointing your fingers at someone.
Body language etiquette for gestures
Train yourself to avoid rude gestures. Such as pointing your fingers. Or gesticulating with cutlery or chopsticks.
Observe yourself in the mirror. Or tape yourself when you speak. Train yourself to use only a few, limited gestures while speaking.
Touch can convey confidence, but also intimacy. The way we interpret touch depends on our culture and on the situation. Use it with caution.
Body language etiquette for touch
Touch can make some people feel uncomfortable. In general, it is best to avoid touch in the workplace. Similarly, avoid touching anyone you are not intimate with. Be extra careful when touching someone of the opposite sex.
Handshakes are an exception. A confident handshake should feel natural. Think about holding a phone in your hand. Hold the phone firm, so it does not slip, but do not squeeze it. The handshake should last for more than 1 second, but less than 2. Count to 1, then release the hand before you can count to 2.
6) Distance and personal space
The distance between two persons can convey intimacy and interest. Or a lack of them. How we perceive distance depends on our culture and on the situation. In general, keeping a minimum distance from others is usually good etiquette.
Body language etiquette for distance
In general, a neutral distance is an arm’s length, or around one meter. A shorter distance shows intimacy and may make others uncomfortable. Distances over two meters can convey a lack of interest or even disgust. Aim for a middle ground.
Scent and smell convey messages. The type and amount of perfume can signal our personality and intentions. Same with deodorants.
Body language etiquette for scent
In general, all smells are negative. We should aim at keeping our body smell as neutral as possible. Respect personal hygiene etiquette to avoid undesired body language. Similarly, avoid too much deodorant or perfume. Or perfumes that are too assertive.
8) Tone of voice
The tone of our voice can convey emotions. Thus, the tone of our voice is body language too. It can display interest or a lack of it. It can convey positive feelings, such as excitement or kindness. Or negative ones, such as sarcasm or coldness.
Body language etiquette for the tone of voice
In general, speaking loudly is bad etiquette. It is perceived as aggressive or inconsiderate. Speaking softly signals a lack of confidence. However, in some situations, speaking softly can also convey intimacy.
Learn how to control your tone of voice. Avoid any tone of voice that conveys a negative emotion. If you are under stress or feeling negative emotions, wait before you speak. Make sure that you have full control of your voice first.
Body language etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst body language mistakes.
- 10/10. Neglecting your body language.
- 8/10. Displaying negative emotions.
- 8/10. Disrespecting other people’s personal space.
- 7/10. Failing to align body language with words.
- Neurobiology of Sensation and Reward – Perfume: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov