To follow my previous blog post about the importance of using your voice effectively when communicating with people, I would like to talk about another very important aspect when generally dealing with others.
Aside from your vocal expression, there is another, somewhat hidden, form of expression a lot of us often miss — your body language.
At any given moment and whether you like it or not, your body is communicating a message to the outside world. Whether you are sitting alone at home with nobody around, or in a crowded basketball stadium, your posture, hand and leg positions, and facial expression are providing others with information about what is going on inside your head.
Now, whether others are able to pick up on those subtle signals and act on them consciously is a whole other topic. However, subconsciously, all of that information is being registered by the viewer, and stored away as a general picture of the present active or passive encounter with you.
In this blog post my goal is to demystify some suspicions or skepticism that people may have about the true value and importance of properly using your body to communicate the message you want to the world.
Julius Fast, Allan Pease, Joe Navarro — those are just some of the names in the body language world. Fast, who explored and wrote on the topic in the 1960’s, re-introduced a concept that I believe was discussed as early as the Egyptians, but got lost in the sands of time. There are many possible explanations as to why the topic was not really explored in greater depth in past centuries, but this short blog post is neither the time nor the place to delve into such a deep philosophical discussion. Therefore, I shall launch right into what you’re all probably thinking right now — what the hell is body language and why should I care?
You’re at a friendly social gathering in someone’s home. Some people are friends, others are strangers to one another. Music is playing quietly in the background, and people are engaged in informal conversation all around you. You notice three people seated on a nearby couch. Two are males and one is a female. As you sip your strawberry wine cooler, you notice that the male on the right is leaning forward and slightly to the left with legs folded and the toes on his left foot pointed toward the female who is seated on the far left of the couch. The female’s body language mirrors that of the male. Legs crossed, toes pointed to the right, leaning forward and slightly to the right towards the male. The male in the middle is leaning back as far as the couch will take him with his hands folded firmly against his chest and a slightly sour expression on his face.
This is a classic example of what people may call a “third wheel.” While the two people on the edges are engaged in conversation, the person in the middle feels left out while at the same time does not want to appear rude and simply get up and leave (although, in reality, it would probably be the better choice.)
Now, imagine the three people above are all speaking French. Despite the fact that you aren’t able to understand a single world (or may be a couple of words here and there from your High School French days), you would be able to understand exactly what was going on. How are you able to do that? Simple. Their body language. Your mind is able to take in the picture of the interaction between the trio as a whole and decipher it given the body positions of all three individuals. You do not have to sit and listen to what each has to say to figure it out.
In the above example, the body language I painted is striking and it does not take much to understand what each person is non-verbally communicating to the world and to one another, namely the interest between the male and the female, and the out-of-placeness of the male in the middle. A lot of the times, and especially in every day encounters, we are not so cognizant of our body language. Our minds are preoccupied with work and tasks we must complete and a lot of the times we are unaware of what are bodies are telling the world.
There are a lot of body signals many of us may be universally familiar with; the folding of the arms for defensiveness, the placement of the hands behind the head to display arrogance or dominance (depending on the situation), the gripping of the arm behind the back to indicate impatience or hostility, arms akimbo to indicate readiness or aggressiveness, etc. However, there are many other bodily signals that we may not be so familiar with. For example, did you know that sitting in reverse in a chair is the equivalent of crossing your arms? The back of the chair acts as a barrier between you and the other person which also translates to defensiveness. Also, a brief touch of the lips during a conversation could be a sign of the uttering of a lie or a disbelief of the other person’s words (depending on who the speaker is).
Words, although intangible, are interpreted by the mind as physical manifestations. Watch the next time you see someone fold their arms after being insulted or yelled at by a superior. The body reacts to the negative words as if they were a literal ‘spear’ being launched at the chest, and the body reacts to protect its vital organs, namely the heart, and lungs, from the oncoming assault.
Be careful to make a quick judgement, however. Sometimes the emotion experienced and the resulting body language may be wholly unrelated to the present situation or encounter. For example, during the conversation a person may fold their arms as they try to remember if they turned the stove off when they left the house. Also, a lot of the times, bodily expressions may be the result of a reaction to pain, cold, illness, etc. So the folding of the arms may not necessarily be indicative of uncomfortableness or insecurity, but simply a reaction to the cold temperatures or upset stomach.
Look for several signals in a cluster before you make the decision as to what the person is feeling. If, as you are speaking, a person yawns, then folds their arms and places an open hand on their cheek and leans their head on it as the eyes slowly begin to droop, that would be a good indication that the person is bored with the conversation! It would be a good time to change the topic or allow the other person a turn to speak (see: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.)
Now I pray that is not the body position you are taking right now as you read my post, and that, for example, your hand is stroking your chin (which indicates evaluation or decision processing) or scratching your head (indicating confusion or disagreement) but take a moment to freeze and examine what your body position is right now. Are your legs crossed, neutral, or spread apart? Are you alone or surrounded by people? Where are your arms? Your hands? Do you think that coincides with your internal feelings? You may be surprised at what you find.
I also challenge you to go out and start looking at how other people sit and stand and how their bodies react to various external situations.
So watch what your body is saying.
And thanks for stopping by.
Drop me a comment or question below, if you’d like, and I hope to see you again soon.
If you require assistance with a DUI, expungement, traffic ticket, or other criminal charges, please contact me or call me at (270) 945-2778.
The DUI Guy
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