What Posture Conveys in Relationship Communication

The head and trunk are the primary tools for communicating via posture.
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Your posture plays a large part in nonverbal communication. With it, you give others information about your levels of comfort and interest in them. While you may sometimes position yourself deliberately as a way of sending messages, you can generally do so without even realizing you're doing it. Gaining an understanding of various postures and an awareness of how you incorporate them into everyday interactions can help you effectively improve your communication skills.

1 Leaning In

Bending your body can convey a variety of messages to others. Leaning forward toward someone who is speaking indicates interest and attentiveness, according to research described in Albert Mehrabian's book, "Nonverbal Communication." If your head is bowed and you slump over as you lean forward, however, you communicate a sense of dejection. It can certainly be possible that you are curled forward because you are not feeling well, for instance. In situations where you are concerned that the person with whom you are communicating will misinterpret your body language, it is appropriate to use your verbal skills to clarify your demeanor.

2 Leaning Out

Just as when you bend inward, leaning away from someone who is speaking can convey several messages. Leaning back or turning away can exude a feeling of repulsion or disgust. Leaning back with open shoulders, raised head and expanded chest, though, indicates conceit or arrogance. For instance, you may find yourself turning away from your girlfriend after learning that she was unfaithful, or lifting your chin and gloating after you've defeated her in a card game. These uses of posture can even help you understand your own feelings -- paying attention to them during times of emotional confusion can help you identify and process the feelings behind them.

3 Sitting Posture

The way you orient your body as you sit also sends messages to others, according to resource material provided by the College of DuPage for management education. Slouching can indicate disinterest and can be perceived as disrespectful, although if someone in a position of authority leans back in his chair may be reminding others of his superiority. Sitting straight communicates attentiveness, but sitting stiffly may send signals of nervousness or tension. Similar to body language when standing, facing away from those to whom you are communicating may lead them to believe you are unwelcoming or unapproachable.

4 Arms and Legs

The placement and movements of your arms and legs also contribute to your posture. Sitting or standing with your arms crossed signals defensiveness, or says, "I don't want to deal with your right now." Clasping your hands behind your back indicates that you may be deep in thought. Foot or hand tapping can communicate frustration, impatience or even anger. Just as with the use of your head and trunk to form posture, maintaining an awareness of the way you use your arms and legs can help you effectively communicate with others.

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.