Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and thought, “They are saying one thing, but I just don’t believe them?” As we grow up we learn to interpret tone and facial expressions to decipher emotions, and sometimes, through mere instinct, we are able to recognize when someone’s body language doesn’t match the words coming from their mouth. Verbal and written communication are the most studied forms of communication by scientists. But we have also learned body language is a big indicator of emotions and moods, maybe more so than facial expressions. Body language is the process by which we (humans) communicate non-verbally (either conscious or subconscious) by way of movements and gestures of the body. Many people would argue body language is communicated primarily via facial expressions, but science has found this to be misleading.
According to research done by Princeton University, scientists have discovered facial expressions alone can be misleading to the person viewing them, meaning if someone just looks at a picture of a face, it’s likely the person will not be able to correctly discern what emotion the face conveys. It wasn’t until researchers gave participants pictures of both the facial expressions and the actual body positioning that participants were able to discern the correct mood or emotion.
Realizing we have the tendency to communicate with a combination of our voice and body is one step closer to perfecting the skill of interpreting precisely what others are trying to convey. Research has shown being able to read body language not only benefits a person in their daily life, but it also helps us understand whether someone is sincere, lying, upset, or a number of other emotions through non-verbal communication. Body language also plays a large part in business, helping to create stronger work environments and foster better communication between employees.
Here is a quick body language guide to help you understand what we might not be saying with our words:
Posture can tell you a lot about a person, especially when they are not verbally communicating. Standing with your legs together can show humble submission or respect. Standing with your legs shoulder-width apart can show dominance or “standing your ground.” People tend to lean toward people they like, and moving from side-to-side or rocking back and forth can be an indicator of anxiety or being upset, or they might just need to go to the bathroom.
Eye contact is a large part of body language. In the U.S. we tend to pay attention to whether or not someone is looking us directly in the eye or not. Body language experts have found long, intense eye contact can indicate someone being deceitful or lying to you. Eye contact is also a good indicator of whether someone is interested in what you have to say, or whether they are paying attention to you.
We have been taught to believe crossed arms signifies someone who is distant or potentially difficult to approach, but research has indicated perhaps that assessment is incorrect. Crossed arms can indicate a difficult person, but they can also indicate someone who is cold or uncomfortable in their environment and potentially out of their element.
People in the U.S. are known for talking with their hands. We have discovered a lot can be said about ourselves through the use of our hands. Open hands can be an indicator of someone being open to new ideas, whereas clenched fists can show someone who inflexible in their viewpoint. When speaking with your hands, moderation is important, as research indicates those who are overly exuberant with their hand gestures can be viewed as less believable. Ever notice someone picking or biting their fingers or nails? This could be a sign of possible low confidence, or just too much caffeine.
Feet are another indicator of someone’s emotion or mood. Feet can also be subconscious indicators of emotion, betraying what the rest of the body says about its mood. Inward pointing toes can indicate someone being closed off due to insecurity, and fidgeting or restless feet can be a sign of discomfort and tension. Standing straight or crossing your ankles when seated can be a good indicator of someone who is comfortable and calm.
By learning to focus intently on an individuals body language we open the paths of communication creating an environment for real interaction. Why not take the time to improve your communications skills, learn a little more about body language, and add some real sincerity to the world.