In communication, our bodies often say more than our mouths ever can. Body movements and gestures can send signals about your attitude, your emotional state, and your desire to control your environment. These movements, however, don't have meaning until your culture teaches you to interpret them.
For example, leaning forward and making direct eye contact might convey that you are attentive and listening. Leaning back in your chair and twidling your thumbs may tell the listener that you are bored and don't care. Tapping your foot or biting your nails could let on that you are nervous. And standing over someone while speaking with them speaks about your desire to exert control over that person.
Even the movements of your face and eyes have communication significance. Facial expressions carry a great deal of universality. After all, everyone, across the globe, understands a smile and a frown.
Gestures, on the other hand, can cause a great deal of trouble from culture to culture. A hand signal you might think is okay could be down right insulting to someone on the other side of the world. For instance, the "O.K." sign in just that in America, but in Arab cultures it is a sign of hostility. Many people use their index fingers to point to different things, but in Asia using the index finger to point is considered very rude. And the peace sign, if turned the wrong way, could spark a war between you and someone in Australia.
Scholars say that we have about 700,000 body movements that we use daily! Given the sheer volume it would be impossible to figure out what every gesture or movement means in any country or culture. However, it is incredibly important to understand the significance of gestures and body movements in our everyday as well as extraordinary conversations.