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Can You Read Body Language?

Why is it useful to read body language? I bet, you felt some time that there is something strange about the other person who is talking. Have you felt that their message is somehow unbelievable? Have you ever experienced that it is understandable and logical that are being said, however they do not seem honest? What could be the reason for this?


What is disturbing you in such cases and why do you suspect that something may be wrong?

The answer is: Make sure to read body language. We all use this when we are not transmitting message using words to our conversation partner. These include gestures, posture, glance, forehead wrinkling, crossing legs or arms, touch and much more. These are called ’non-verbal’ communication elements, appearing way more often in everyday social interactions than we would expect. (Click here if you are interested how body language affect us). 

The non-verbal signs provide information about the person’s emotions, thoughts and intentions.  Thus, in order to understand others, it is worth observing and recognizing these signs more thoroughly.

It is the best to pay attention to the spoken words of the speaker and the message of their body language at the same time. Albert Mehrabian, an American psychologist found already in the 1950s that approximately 55% of human communication consists  of non-verbal signs. Based on some estimations, this number might be even higher. This definitely suggests that body language is a very important part of our everyday life. This is even more interesting, as most of our body language is often unconscious. For instance in a business meeting one does not notice himself knocking with his pen on the table, swinging on a chair or sitting with a crossed arm while listening to the other person. Actors, politicians, singers, event hosts and public speakers are trained how to show honesty, credibility and how to make their pronounced words consistent with their body language and gestures.

What can be considered to be fundamental areas of body language? In short: how can you read body language?

These include: gestures (with arm or hand movements), mimics (smile, yawning, palpation), posture (pose), intonation of voice and physical distance (approaching or moving away).

Let’s check some common examples of typical body language elements and their meaning!

Chewing nails

It is often not noticed by the person doing it. It usually means uncertainty, stress or nervousness.

Standing straight, shoulders back

The person is confident, determined, knows what s/he wants.

Pulling the ears

 How can you strengthen your self confidence? 

This happens most often when the person is in a decision-making position but cannot decide himself/herself and is hesitant.

Touching the nose

This move may mean that the speaker is not honest but may also refer to defensive or refusing behavior.

Fingertips supporting each other

Generally it is an expression of power and domination indicating that the person wants to control the situation.

It is therefore worthwhile to pay attention to the signals transmitted by the body language and to recognize the movements, gestures or body marks that may be useful for us. We can learn a lot about the other person, but it can be advantageous for getting to know ourselves, too. Body language is undoubtedly important in business negotiations, as we may suspect from certain signs if our business partner is lying or want to cheat. It can also be useful for managers, but if we consider some areas of our private life (family, partnership, friendship), we can filter out much more information from the situation if we would only focus on the outspoken words.

Note: while recognizing body language can inevitably help us in communication, it is important to state that these signals do not prove 100% of the speaker’s intentions, feelings, and thoughts, as more factors need to be considered in communication. Signs of body language only very likely indicate these, but they have no evidential force.

(Recommended book: Allan Pease, Body Language – How to read others’ thoughts by their gestures)
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