The other day at the supermarket register line I encountered some existential quandaries and saw a German magazine analyzing Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s body language. An “expert” claimed does she know that Meghan’s hand placed on Harry’s arm means she is enjoying the moment. Or that the position of Harry’s fingers indicates that he is a relaxed parent. When it comes to body language, I can recommend the book by Allen and Barbara Pease, “The Definitive Book of Body Language” that I enjoyed quite a lot. They train lawyers, journalists, salespeople, and other professionals in the art and science of body language. I would like to share some insights of the book that are helpful on a daily basis because reading body language is a superpower.
Sometimes I can see the subtle, nuanced element of human communication so I guess I studied linguistics for something. When talking to each other, people are mostly focused on the words the other person is saying. In the book, it says that our bodies reveal how we feel in ways we may not even realize. If you’re nervous, you might rock slightly, rub your lips with your finger, or play with your hair. I was surprised how many industries use the services of body language experts to read people better and recognize, for example, a customer’s reservations about making a big purchase. I love to learn more about body language because my goal is to understand people better.
What I learned while/after reading the book
The book highlights that there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when reading body language. Culture and context are really important, as are “clusters”. In body language, a cluster is two or more types of gestures a person makes at around the same time. For example, say a person is talking to someone and they crinkle their nose. Crinkling the nose is a micro-expression of disgust. That is a clue on its own, but when paired with other gestures we can extract more information about what a person is really thinking. Crinkling the nose and leaning away from someone would indicate the subject’s dislike of the person they are talking to, or of the topic. If they crinkle their nose while nodding their head, they may be trying to give the impression that they agree when really they do not.
I am not a mind reader. I think, however, that body language is a combination of art and science. To “read someone” is by no means a 100 percent certainty. But think of it this way: not all doctors are going to solve the same medical condition the same way, right? They might try different medications or procedures based on their expertise and experience. It’s important to remember that body language analysis is just my/your interpretation of the situation. Obviously, it is almost impossible to interpret someone’s body language based on a TV appearance or a photo. There is only so much information you can get from a photo or video. No clue what happened before the picture was taken, there is no context at all, but newspapers and crappy magazines do not care. To interpret someone’s body language, I need a lot more context. If it were that easy to tell if someone is lying, we would not have the Innocence Project, we would not have this high false confession rate. You could also spot someone cheating on you a lot earlier because you would have been able to see right through the deception. It is not that easy. I wish it was! It becomes more challenging if the other person sends you mixed messages and signals such as he/she doesn’t look in your eyes much and often looks over your head. But at the same time, touches your arm occasionally when you say something funny. The authors suggest to closely watch the person when they are talking. He/she might feel uncomfortable, lying or hiding something if they look everywhere but in your eyes.
I believe moving through the world is easier when I am more mindful of the body language signals I am giving off and receiving. It is helpful to be in the right mindset when talking to someone because your non-verbal cues will reflect that. The final test: Person A (whom you really like and kinda hung out with for a couple of weeks) takes you to a party. As soon as you arrive, he takes off and completely ignores you the entire evening. He does not talk to you, does not sit next to you and hangs out with his friends only. What does this tell you? (A): He really likes you and loves spending time with you or (B) His focus is clearly not you, he does not care about you.