Learning to Read the Body Language

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Body language is a very powerful tool. Since the dawn of time humans have used body language as a form of communication. It is the first impression when interacting with someone new, or someone you already know. Non-verbal communication can sometimes tell more than words themselves through facial expressions, gestures, postures and eye movements. There are a handful of ways to read someone while a having a simple conversation. Someone who is interested in the conversation will usually have their feet pointed towards you, compared to someone who isn’t interested will have their feet pointed away from you. Signifying they want to walk away.

Body language is something the majority of us overlook every single day of our lives. Its something we observe constantly but don’t think much about. Even a children use non verbal communication with each other and their parents. A child knows they have made a mistake when their parents face scrunches up and shows anger. Before a single word comes out of the parents mouth, their face says everything. It has been proposed that body language could account for 60% to 65% of all interaction. It is important to understand body language, but it is also important to pay attention to other indications such as context. In many cases, instead of focusing on a single action, you should look at signals as a group. Think of how much a person can express with just a facial expression. A smile may be an indication of approval or happiness. A frown can indicate disapproval or disappointment. Our facial expressions may, in some cases, reveal our true feelings about a specific situation. Although you say you’re feeling fine, you may be convinced otherwise by the look on ones face. The look on someone’s face can even help to determine if we trust or believe what the individual says. One study found that a slight increase in the eyebrows and a slight smile were the most trustworthy facial expression. This expression, suggested by the researchers, transmits friendliness and trust.

The eyes are often referred to as the ‘windows to the soul’ as they are able to reveal much about what a person feels or thinks. Taking note of eye movements is a natural and important part of the communication process as you engage in conversation with another person. If people make direct eye contact or avert their eyes, how much they blink, or if their pupils are dilated, you can find some common things. When a person looks directly into your eyes during a conversation, it means that they are interested and alert. However, prolonged eye contact may be threatening. On the other hand, breaking eye contact and often looking away may mean that the person is distracted, embarrassed, or trying to hide his or her true feelings. Throughout the animal kingdom making eye contact is almost always threatening. Confronting a dog or a bear and looking at it directly in the eyes can be a threatening gesture and cause them to attack you. Blinking is natural, but you should pay attention whether a person blinks too much or too little. When they feel distressed or uncomfortable, people often blink faster. Pupil size can be a very subtle nonverbal signal for communication. While light levels in the environment control pupil dilation, emotions can sometimes cause minor changes in pupil size as well. You may have used, for instance, the word ‘Bedroom eyes’ used to describe someone’s look when they’re attracted to someone else. For example, strongly dilated eyes may mean that a person is interested or even excited.

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When reading body language, mouth gestures and movements may also be important. Chewing on the lower lip, for example, can suggest that the person experiences feelings of concern, anxiety, or insecurity. If the person is yawning or coughing, covering the mouth can be an effort to be respectful, but it can also be an attempt to cover up a frown of disapproval. Smiling may be one of the main indicators of body language, but smiles can be perceived in many ways as well. A smile can be sincere, or it can be used to convey fake happiness, sarcasm, or even cynicism. Lip tightening may be an indicator of disappointment, disapproval, or distrust. Sometimes when they are worried, anxious, or stressed, people bite their lips. When people want an emotional reaction to be covered, they can cover their mouths to avoid smiling or smirking. Slight mouth changes can also be subtle indications of what an individual feels. When the mouth turns up slightly, the person might feel happy or hopeful. A slightly down-turned lip, on the other hand, can be a sign of disappointment or rejection. Gestures can be some of the body language signals that are most direct and obvious. Waving, pointing, and using the fingers are all very common and easy to understand gestures. However, some gestures may be cultural, so giving a thumbs-up or a sign of peace in another country may have a meaning entirely different from that in the United States. In some situations, a clenched fist may indicate anger.

As gestures of approval and disapproval, a thumbs up and down are often used. Americans use the “okay’ gesture made by touching the thumb and index finger in a circle while extending the other three fingers can be used to mean ‘okay’ or ‘all right.’ However, in some parts of Europe the same signal is used to imply something very vulgar and the complete opposite of what Americans use it for. Its also practical for the arms and legs to project nonverbal information. Crossing arms can be a sign of defensiveness. Crossing the legs or pointing your feet away from another person may suggest an individual’s aversion or discomfort. Certain subtle signs such as broad widening of the arms can be an attempt to appear wider or more dominant, while holding the arms close to the body can be an effort to reduce or withhold focus. When observing body language, take care of some of the following signs that the arms and legs can express. Sometimes when a person is standing up and with their hands against their hips, it may be a sign that the individual is in control or believe they are the authority figure. Tapping fingers rapidly and continuously is almost always a sure sign of impatience or annoyance. A very important and obvious form of non verbal communication is how one carries their body. The term posture refers to how we are holding ourselves as well as an individual’s overall physical form. Posture can convey a wealth of information about how a person feels as well as hints about characteristics of personality, such as whether a person is confident, open, or submissive. When an individual walks with their back straight and looking forward, that is a sure sign that one is confident and attentive. On the other hand when an individual walks with their back slightly hunched looking down, that screams insecurity and is missing confidence.

Sitting straight can mean a person’s concentration and paying attention to what’s happening. On the other hand, sitting with the body hunched forward may imply bored or indifferent to the person. We’ve all heard the term personal space before. Have you ever begun to feel uncomfortable when someone is too close to you? The term proxemics, though of by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, refers to the interaction of the distance between people. Just as a lot of nonverbal information can be communicated by body movements and facial expressions, so can this physical space between individuals. Hall describes 4 levels of personal space that occur in different situations. From 6 to 18 inches is the intimate distance. This space is usually reserved for individuals who have close relationships. From 1.5 to 4 ft is named the personal distance. Family and close friends are invited in this distance. 4 to 12 ft is named the social distance and is usually reserved for acquaintances and individuals you are friendly towards but not necessarily close with. 12 to 15 ft is the final level. The Public distance is usually used for public speaking or presentations at work. I also would like to note that personal space can be different from culture to culture. People in north America have a much farther personal space. Where people from south America and the Caribbean have a much smaller personal space. Touching and hugging is often done to acquaintances in South America, where it would be looked at as weird, or even disrespectful in the US. Learning non verbal communication can go a long way to helping you communicate better with others and understand what others might be trying to communicate. It may be tempting to pick out and choose certain non verbal attributes of a person but, take everything into consideration. Including verbal, tone of voice, and body language as a whole.

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