Body language is all about 1) what the other person is giving away, and 2) what we’re giving away. It tells us (and them) what is really happening in our interactions, beyond simply words, given that over 50 percent of communication is non-verbal.
Firstly, let’s look at reading the other person. There are three tips for accurate reading of body language:
Tip 1: Read gestures in clusters (i.e. hands, eyes, feet, facial expression etc):
It’s about the total package. “It’s only when you put a word in a sentence with other words that you fully understand its meaning.” Likewise with body language--you need more information to put it all together. Try and observe a number of gestures, movements or postures, viewing the entire person.
Tip 2: Look for congruence:
“When a person’s words and body language are in conflict, women ignore what is said”--body language is five times more powerful as a communication medium compared with words. We need to look for congruence in word and body language. When the words are not congruent with the actions, the person is possibly lying.
Tip 3: Read gestures in context:
Look to the environment (hot/cold climate) and the situation (low stress/high stress) plus other contextual determinants to help read whether the body language tells more or less what you need to know.
Secondly, a key and sobering point regarding our own body language. If you’re like me you’re a bit of a ‘poker face’ when playing cards. I tend to need to try really hard to contain my excitement (or at least that’s what I was like as a child). The key is self-awareness and management, and social awareness; three of Emotional Intelligence’s four pillars.
Tip 4: See your gestures in clusters:
Read your own clusters. It’s really good to be self-aware regarding standing and sitting posture, hand use and placement etc, so your body language is actually aligned with what you’re saying.
Tip 5: Don’t give the game away:
For many good reasons it’s not always good to give other people an insight into what we’re really thinking; for one reason we might need time to consider what’s before us, or we don’t want to hurt them. For this reason, we can try to teach ourselves how to be neutral in our body language so we don’t communicate what’s really on our mind and heart, saving that for a time, perhaps, when we’ve considered our response more carefully.
If we’re annoyed about something why would we want to show it unless we want the other party to know we’re annoyed? It’s rarely an advantage to either party to present this information when you think about it.
Tip 6: Know that over 50 percent of your message is communicated non-verbally:
This is quite harrowing because it reveals us in an over-exposed way; it’s enough to make the stark introverts amongst us really cringe. Most people, however, don’t have much of a clue on how to read body language. We should align our body language with what we’re attempting to present.
It’s perhaps one of the wisest things we can invest in regarding our relationships; to know more about what people are really saying, and to present a more authentic, prudent and respectful “us” in our interactions. Body language is powerful for many reasons.
Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Allan & Barbara Pease, The Definitive Book of Body Language: How to read others’ thoughts by their gestures – (2006), from the section “Understanding the Basics,” pp. 9-30. More information, http://www.peaseinternational.com/