Updated: Feb 16
By Meg Bucaro
Meg Bucaro Communications
Arguments can be won in various ways. I recently won an argument in a contentious meeting due to a heightened focus on body language (nonverbals). In the middle of the argument, where we both had differing opinions on an occurrence of events, I noticed her nonverbal language turn to nervous gesturing and movement. Once I realized she was nervous and possibly unsure of herself, I adjusted my nonverbals to communicate with a calm confidence, poised positioning and a strong vocal tone. She soon acquiesced and we agreed to terms moving forward in an effective manner.
Though every contentious situation is not settled as easily, we don’t hear often enough about the importance of nonverbal behavior. Congruency between your verbal and nonverbal language is of upmost importance when it comes to gaining trust and increasing likeability. Research states that over 65% of message effectiveness is not the words being spoken but rather body movement, eye contact and tone of voice. Learning about nonverbal communication can help you assess others, including clients, opposing counsel, witnesses, jurors, or judges. You can also take inventory of how you utilize your own body language while you are communicating to determine what your actions might convey to others.
Let’s say you are arguing a case in front of a jury. You take notice of a juror whose body language is strikingly different than the others; he leans far back in his chair and crosses his arms. This might signal disbelief, disinterest or distrust. Seeing this, you decide to tweak your argument or your nonverbal communication to offer more attention and openness to this juror in an attempt to increase trust or credibility. Possibly you decide to step away from the podium to show the jurors that you do not have to ‘hide behind’ anything while presenting. Presenting with literal open arms, natural gestures, and showing the palms of your hands are all ways you can nonverbally communicate that you are trustworthy and have nothing to hide. Without a good grasp on nonverbal communication, you would not know how to take advantage of the situation for your benefit.
“Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and posture all convey information to an observant juror. Other forms of nonverbal communication, such as dress and appearance, the relative proximity of counsel and litigant to the jury, paralanguage (speech rate, volume, variations in pitch) and the presence of spectators in the gallery, may also affect jurors’ impressions. The use of eye, contact, higher vocal volume and synchronized hand gestures are a few factors that have been associated with persuasiveness and confidence.” Oregon State Bar- Litigation Journal Fall 2013 Vol. 32 No. 3
Law is not the only industry that can be greatly affected by body language. Physicians who were better able to communicate emotion nonverbally while interacting with patients had more highly satisfied patient interactions in the “art of care” than those who were less effective in communicating emotion nonverbally. Thin Slices of Expressive Behavior as Predictors of Interpersonal Consequences: A Meta Analysis by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, Harvard. Psychological Bulletin 1992, Vol. 111 NO. 2 256-274
In higher education, studies found that racial bias can be uncovered by evaluating the teacher’s tone of voice and body language. Thin Slices of Expressive Behavior as Predictors of Interpersonal Consequences: A Meta Analysis by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, Harvard. Psychological Bulletin 1992, Vol. 111 NO. 2 256-274
Paying attention to body language and others’ nonverbal communication is one of the most undervalued skill in a vast array of settings including the practice of law. However, in a situation where the stakes are high, nerves are present or the need for message effectiveness is immense, utilizing every tool you have, simple or not, will only increase your chance of having the upper hand.
Why wouldn’t you utilize every single tool you have to succeed?
As a communication trainer and consultant, Meg Bucaro works with attorneys and law enforcement professionals to increase their effectiveness through customized communication skills training for high stake situations. Meg is coming to Georgia Lawyers CLE for the March 19, 2020 program in Atlanta to discuss how to increase influence in the courtroom.