How understanding body language can make your life more purposeful
In this article I’m going to tell you three things about body language that will enable you to:
- Tune into the unconscious body language of others.
- Directly influence the person/people you’re talking to.
- Use body language signals appropriately.
By the end of the article every conversation you have will take on a whole new meaning and you’ll remember each one much more vividly.
So let’s take them one at a time.
1. Tuning into the unconscious body language of others
Magicians and illusionists have for centuries been able to read what people are thinking, not by reading your mind, but by reading your unconscious body language signals. Let’s use an easy example. If I asked you to hold both hands out and hide a coin in the clenched fist of one of them your body would do something unconsciously that will allow you to accurately state which hand the coin is in. It’s what they call the ‘tell’ in gambling and the reason it’s so key is that you have no idea that your body is doing anything or displaying your own unique ‘tell’. Everybody is different but once you start looking at people and working out what their tell is then you can start to see if they’re lying to you, or perhaps maybe not quite telling you the whole story.
People who are recalling facts from memory generally look up to the right. If they look up and to the left it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lying but can be a sign that they’re making up the gaps in the story. Let me give you two examples. If I asked you to recall your morning routine from the point your alarm goes off you’ll generally be able to recall step by step what you did, from memory, and therefore you’d tend to look up and to the right to recall each one. If I asked you to recall your drive into work there’s a very good chance that you won’t remember each and every step. If you’re anything like me you’ll go on auto-pilot for certain sections of the journey. You do it every day right so the concentrations not always there. If you’re recalling your journey you’re not pulling from your memory bank but filling in the gaps from what you think probably happened, or maybe happened on a previous journey. When doing this you’ll be looking up and to the left. Now it doesn’t mean you’re lying, but it does mean you’re stretching what you know to be true simply because you don’t have the facts lodged in your memory!
What you may already have figured is that you can’t just rely on one signal to reach a conclusion. If someone was looking up and to the left and fidgeting in their seat or on the spot, maybe frowning a little (forehead scrunching up, eyes narrowing), maybe not pausing too long between steps, maybe rubbing their forefinger and thumb together or running their hands through their hair then I can guarantee that something’s not quite right. So call it out! Trust your gut and say what you’re seeing. Did that really happen today or are you telling me something that happened to someone else or that you did last month? Your gut is almost always right. What we don’t do is listen to it. That little devil on our shoulder that convinces us we’re not really seeing or hearing what we think we are... that the problem's with us not them! Trust me – your gut knows best – learn to trust it!
2. Directly influence the people you’re talking to
Think of people who hold your attention easily and it’s not the words you hear that influence you but the way they say those words and what they do with their body language.
An American professor of psychology named Albert Mehrabian studied the importance of non-verbal communication aka body language, almost 50 years ago. What he found, and this is often misquoted, is that:
7% of a message relating to feelings and attitudes is influenced by the words that are spoken.
38% of a message relating to feelings and attitudes is influenced by the way that the words are said.
55% of a message relating to feelings and attitudes is influenced by facial expressions.
The primary thing you need to remember from that is how you say something is much more important than what you say.
The second thing to remember is that the human brain can only take in so much information. We need to work with the lowest common denominator here so let’s just say that the male brain can’t cope with anything more than three facts or three pieces of information at a time. The female brain can do a little more but remember the power of three. If you don’t believe me Google it!
The third and last thing is about talking with passion. When you’re talking from the heart you don’t need to think about your body language. Your own unconscious brain does it all naturally. Look in the mirror as you talk about your children, about your role models, about your greatest achievement. See what happens to your face, to your hands and arms and to your body as a whole. There’ll be a big smile of pride on your face, your chest will be out, your back straight and your arms will be really expressive. Your challenge is to do the same thing with even the most mundane of topics so you’ve got to find something in there or a way to relate it to something that allows you to talk from the heart. There’ll always be something in there… I promise you. Remember the simple rule that People relate to people not to words. If they can see you’re talking with passion they can’t help themselves from listening. It may be a subject they’re completely uninterested in but if you’re clearly passionate about it then there’s got to be something interesting in it right? Think Big Bang Theory and talking about quantum physics. To many people that’s the most boring topic on the planet but to a quantum physicist it’s very exciting!
3. Using body language signals appropriately
Would you believe me if I told you that one simple signal can have more than a dozen different interpretations based on location, culture, sport or particular religion or belief?
Familiar with the OK sign? (thumb and forefinger on the same hand touching to form an 'O' and the three other fingers curled above them)
The most common interpretation is that it means OK, used most often in scuba diving or when you can’t speak for whatever reason. However, it means something very different in:
- Japan (relates to money).
- France and Belgium (used offensively to mean you’re zero, worthless).
- Mexico (coward).
- Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, the Middle East, Brazil, and Venezuela (a vulgar expression along similar lines to the Italian chin flick).
- Arab countries (the evil eye).
- Occultists (represents 666).
- Illuminati (given as a pledge of allegiance to satan).
- Freemasons (represents the female genitalia or yoni).
- Basketball (a three point score).
- Tantric yoga (a sign of ecstasy).
- In Hindu religion (a revered sacred gesture meaning ‘infinity’ or perfection).
And that’s just one gesture!
What we’ve covered
So there we have it! I said I’d tell you three things that would enable you to:
1. Tune into the unconscious body language of others.
2. Directly influence the person/people you’re talking to.
3. Use body language signals appropriately.
Small steps and little changes lead to bigger things. Listen and talk differently from today and take control of your own ship.
I hope this article’s been useful to you and I’d love to hear your own thoughts and interpretations.
How coaching can help
Coaching can give you the confidence and the strength needed to move forward, to take that big step, to make that change in your life that you’ve been longing for.
If you’re ready to make a change then you’re ready for a coach.
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About Neil Robinson
Neil is a qualified, experienced and inspirational coach and facilitator/speaker specialising in life, business, career, team, executive, health, stress and relationship coaching.