Body language for business English training

The importance of body language as part of a business English training program

One of the most often-quoted statistics when if comes to talking about body language in English is that only seven percent of communication is verbal. Gesture, posture, and facial expressions are a part of all languages to a certain extent, and their importance in English means that awareness and ability to use body language appropriately is an essential part of any business English training program.

Shaking hands is now a globally-recognized greeting but learners often need to be made aware of some of the more subtle aspects of body language in the English-speaking business world. Gestures to show appreciation or interest such as nodding come easily to English learners of some cultures but others have to be taught. Likewise, people from many cultures use gestures of power such as clasped hands or pointing at a someone to indicate that they should speak; however, overuse or incorrect use of these gestures can sometimes have the opposite of the desired effect.

Like any other skill, body language can be taught quite simply through a mixture of training methods. The first stage in training is often awareness. Traditionally this was delivered via a presentation or paper resource. Increasingly though, modern training programs use video of body language being used either appropriately or inappropriately by having the learners point out where correct and incorrect usage of body language is in the video. This raises awareness and provides a context for each of the points being taught.

The next step is often a controlled practice scenario to check the learner’s knowledge of what he or she has just learned. Giving the details of a situation and asking the learner to choose from four possible ways to respond is a way to check that the learner knows the correct action to take in each situation. It also provides a useful metric to track which learners understand which points if delivered using e-learning.

As with any skill, an activation stage to the learning program is essential if the learners are going to be able to cope with using the skill in real life. For English body language, this can be achieved using a role play and having the trainer observe the way in which the trainees use the body language they have just learned. Feedback from the trainer on this is important to help the trainee perfect his or her use of  body language.

When teaching English body language, we cannot expect trainees to completely adopt the mannerisms of an English native speaker, nor should we. Awareness of local business cultures and customs is essential from all parties involved if a project is to go smoothly. By incorporating body language into our business English training programs, though, we can give our learners a head start and help them achieve their goals in the English-speaking business world.

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