Body Language Not Foolproof
The interpretation of body gestures cannot guarantee what a person is feeling or thinking. The human though-process is never simple and there are too many factors affecting a person’s body language. Therefore, body gestures must be read in clusters to reinforce our interpretations.
Do note that even experts make mistakes when interpreting body language.
Generalisations On Reading Body Language
This is my own observation of body language. One can display 2 categories of body language based on the cluster of gestures: comfortable and uncomfortable. A person’s body gestures are subconsciously aimed to bring himself/herself comfort.
If you are confident, having relaxed open body gestures will naturally be comfortable for you to display. You will not be afraid to take up more space. If you are nervous, you will adopt closed and tensed body language to take up less space. You will also display some self-comfort gestures like nail-biting to alleviate the nervousness.
The categories of comfortable body language and uncomfortable body language, can be interpreted positively or negatively. Below are some scenarios.
If I was told by a friend about a death in his family, I would display uncomfortable body language because I am sympathetic and yet awkward about what to say to him. This can be said to be a positive (or appropriate) display of body language, because the opposite would be insensitive.
I am a teacher. After some weeks, I notice that a Mary in my form class will become tense and try to shrink up to make herself unnoticeable when a group of girls enter the class.
Mary’s body gestures no doubt indicate that she is uncomfortable, and it may be due to those girls. As a good teacher, I would investigate on why she was displaying negative body language towards those classmates. Could she have been bullied by them or does she feel left out.
I have sent an employee to deposit $1000 into the bank. After he had returned to the office, I asked if he had deposited the cash. He hesitates and gives unusually long eye-contact and tells me he has deposited the money. As he walks away from me, his shoulders begin to relax.
The employee’s body language suggests that he is uncomfortable and may have been lying to me. However, he may be telling the truth, but have seen that I was particularly edgy that day, and was nervous that he may trigger my temper.
His body language is generally negative either way. If he is lying, it is bad. If he is afraid of my temper, then I must have some anger management issues.
[ This picture shows a self-comforting gesture that the person subconsciously does to alleviate nervousness ]
I am doing a presentation on a ‘no-smoking’ campaign. My audience begins to fold their arms, when I make a comment.
The audiences’ body language is defensive (uncomfortable with what I said). If they continue to fold their arms, my talk on ‘no-smoking’ would obviously be a flop, as they are defensive against what I’m saying. It is a negative gesture in my perspective.
In brief, our display of body gestures is aimed always to be comfortable and natural. If we feel uncomfortable, our gestures will try to accommodate and alleviate that feeling. If we feel comfortable, our gestures appear more natural.
Can body language be faked?
While you can fake the major gestures of body language, your subconscious mind will display microgestures that give you away. The microgestures will contradict your fake major gestures. And the longer you fake the body language, it gives more time for the other person to notice the incongruence of your body language.
If you do have to lie, be mindful of the gestures of your body, not only the facial expressions. The average person tends to neglect the body gestures, which will eventually be incongruent with their facial expressions.
Manipulating Body Language
I realise that many of us, including myself, are interested in understanding another person’s body language and altering our body language for communication purposes. This is in no way lying, because you are simply accommodating another person’s unspoken responses by responding to those gestures in an appropriate way.
I will post some resources on this in time to come. And I will mind map the entire basic topic for better understanding.