Your Body Speaks

Body language – an apparent must in all human interactions, and a mystery to me. Having been blind since birth, I’ve never consciously been aware of how my body speaks or communicates.

Growing up, however, I’ve realized, with consternation, that my body does actually speak very expressively at times. This has often got me into a world of trouble. Picture this scenario. I was having a birthday party, and wanted to leave a few slices of cake for my landlord. However, my cousin and my brother’s little boy started in on the last slice before I knew what was happening. I put the idea of saving some cake out of my mind. I did notice some fidgeting, though, together with an awkward silence. I also got a sharp nudge in the ribs from my mother. What? I thought. What did I do wrong? It turned out that my face showed the annoyance I was feeling. I might ask someone a question, and the person reacts angrily to what I asked. I would have no idea where that came from, until I discover that my face revealed whatever I was thinking or feeling before I asked. To this day, I have not yet managed to convey to my family that I cannot help my expressiveness, and am not aware of the language my body speaks.

When I did my facilitator course, I was required to present a thirty minute facilitation session. The feedback I received afterwards included the words: “You should use more body language.” The same thing happened when I started doing speeches at Toastmasters. Toastmasters quoted a research study that was pretty unpalatable to me: that over 90% of what you say needs to be body language. I thought that was ridiculous; “If they can only hear what I have to say if I do funny things that are totally uncomfortable to me, I won’t speak at all!” That was until I did my own reading up on what happens to a newly-blinded person, and why you need to learn to do everything from scratch after losing your sight. I discovered a study that shows that more than 80% of the information you receive through your senses is received through sight. Then it made sense to me – to communicate effectively, I need to learn body language.

Enter the body language coaches. Now, at my toastmasters club, I enjoy entering the humorous competition and have won it twice. The second time I won it, I went through to area, then division level. Part of the secret to my success was this: I found myself some body language coaches. I’m sure that if someone had to look in on these coaching sessions, it would be quite hilarious. My coaches needed to be quite unself-conscious, and prepared to show me on their own bodies. For instance, once my aunt suggested that I do a swagger. Academically I know what the word swagger means, but I have no idea how it’s done.

Facial expressions are the hardest thing for me to master. My friend laughs at me every time, as she tries to teach me eye-rolling, for example. I think because I’ve never really used my eyes, my eye muscles haven’t been exercised that much, so when she says: Turn your eyes up”, they sometimes do something else, which would probably make me look comical, if not crazy.

I don’t believe body-language-illiteracy is a condition that all blind people face, but is unique to people who were blind since birth. Looking people in the eye when you speak to them is something that has to be physically taught and practiced. I often forget to do it, although I do consciously try to remember.

So, when speaking to a blind person who batters you with brutal body language, be nice. They might mean it, or they might not. It’s not that easy to arrange your face when you’re used to talking with your voice.

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