Body language activity
How does the team communicate non-verbally?
Objective: The team will build awareness of various non-verbal communication styles in the group, and discuss the situations in which misunderstandings are likely to occur. Individuals will better understand how their body language is perceived by others in the group.
Prerequisites: Works best with longer-term teams that have been together for several months.
Materials: Index cards for option 1
Time required: ~45-60 minutes
Considerations: Body language can be a sensitive topic for some teams, and this won’t be the right activity for all groups. Because we’re all “doing” body language all the time, this activity doesn’t require any particular movements and works well for a seated group. But be sure that you’re taking into account how to make the activity welcoming for both neurodivergent and neurotypical folks, as well as people with different levels of physical mobility or visual impairment.
Make a list of emotions—impatience, excitement, etc.—and situational states of mind, such as: uncomfortable with the discussion, bored at a meeting and trying to hide it, bored at a meeting and not trying to hide it, etc. See the bottom of this page for suggestions, but tailor your choices to your group when possible. Depending on the tone you’re going for, you can definitely throw in a couple of sillier ones. Just stay away from anything obviously embarrassing.
Option 1: Guessing
Take a stack of index cards and write a single emotion or situation on each card. Pass the cards around face-down. Each person takes one and tries to communicate the emotion on the card using only body language and/or facial expressions. Encourage the “actor” to think about how they really would try to communicate this emotion in real life. If that’s too subtle, then ask them to do something more broad.
The group should guess the emotion or situation. You can have quick discussions after each, or save the discussion for the end. Do as many rounds as you’d like.
You can also do this in pairs rather than with the whole group. Give each person around ten cards and ask them to take turns with their partner acting out the emotions and having their partner guess.
Variation for virtual groups:
The activity works the same, but instead of passing around index cards, you can send an emotion to an individual via private chat. After they act it out, send another emotion to another individual, etc. For pairs, send a list of ten to each person privately, ask them to copy them down, then send people into breakout rooms.
Body language in virtual meetings is tricky to read, so this can be a really fruitful exercise in those spaces, especially when you make time for discussion.
Option 2: Not guessing
In this variant, you say the emotion or situation aloud and the “actor” shows how they would express it in body language and/or facial expressions. Go around the room, having each person act a few out. This option allows you to get a little sillier with some very specific situations or emotions that wouldn’t be as easily guessed. You know, “elated and smug because you scored Taylor Swift tickets,” or “just got off a call with [notoriously stressful vendor],” etc.
After a few rounds, discuss how the body language “vocabulary” differs among group members. Identify situations in which body language may be misread and how you could work to prevent misunderstanding. If desired, you can do this activity in smaller break-out groups, coming back together before the discussion.
Suggestions for cards:
- In awe
- Uncomfortable with the direction the discussion is headed
- Bored at a meeting and trying to hide it
- Bored at a meeting and not trying to hide it
- Have something you really want to say
- Trying not to laugh
- Trying to send silent support to someone while they’re talking
- Cautiously agreeing with someone
- Heartily agreeing with someone
- Hoping not to get called on
- Can’t believe we’re having this discussion again
- Someone brings up an interest you didn’t realize you shared
- Looking at a puppy
- Looking at a kitten
- Just let me finish this thought quickly before I turn my attention to you
- I am listening to you 100%
- I am listening to you, but part of my focus is on something else
- “Agree to disagree”
- “Tell me more about that”
- Not on board, but also don’t want to speak up
- Not on board and about to tell you why
- Ate something weird at lunch
Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions is helpful for finding lists of emotions and how they relate to each other.