Body Language - Five Things You Need to Know

Posted on May 9, 2017

Photo: flickr

To become better at reading body language, it is important to understand and rectify the various misconceptions surrounding this term. For one, it is not true that you can “read people like a book”. However, you can improve how well you read nonverbal cues, for instance. Here are five things you need to know about body language:

1. Contrary to what it sounds like, it is not a language.
Body language does not come with an instruction manual or a dictionary. There is no singular meaning for a particular nonverbal cue, as a gesture or hand movement can mean different things in different contexts. It all depends on the context, the person who is giving the nonverbal cue, and the relationship between that person and the recipient. However, some hand gestures and nonverbal cues have become somewhat universal, such as the “OK” symbol or flipping someone the bird. Hence, try not to jump to conclusions when you see someone crossing his or her arms, for example. That gesture may just be a matter of habit, and have nothing to do with the situation at hand. Taking note of the context and the personal style of the “sender” are key to a better understanding of nonverbal cues.

2. Context is highly important.
As aforementioned, context is perhaps the most important part of understanding a nonverbal cue. Some nonverbal cues and behaviours incite reactions in others, but how these reactions are read into and interpreted depends greatly on the context. For instance, a positive reaction to an “invasion of personal space” can refer to liking or sexual interest. However, in a different situation, perhaps, an “invasion of personal space” can just as likely incite fear or anger in others.

3. Certain facial expressions are universally recognised.
While there is substantial evidence to prove that the most general of facial expressions are common across cultures, it is very difficult to distinguish a real smile from a fake, or forced one. However, it is still rather interesting to note that the basic facial expressions: happiness, sadness and surprise, just to name a few, look similar on practically everyone in the world.

4. It takes one to know one.
People have varying abilities to communicate nonverbally, and this is what constitutes our emotional intelligence. Some are extremely adept at nonverbal communication, conveying clear messages through their actions, while others are skilled at interpreting nonverbal cues. Since these abilities are related to each other, it is unsurprising that a good sender of nonverbal cues is likely to be a good recipient or decoder of these cues.

5. It is almost impossible to successfully detect a lie.
Some believe that we can tell if a person is lying through his or her body language. For example, it is often said that liars “cannot look you in the eye”, or “shuffle their feet”. However, the reality is that it is next to impossible for us to correctly detect lies just through examining someone’s body language. While it is true that the act of deceiving someone can cause us to react in a certain way, everyone’s “display of deception” is different; while some might indeed look like they are lying, others might not look guilty at all. Some research has purported that a small number of people are able to accurately detect deception more so than the rest of the human population, but even this is highly contentious.


Category(s):Emotional Intelligence, Other

Source material from Psychology Today


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