Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Body Language

Do you really understand body language? Studies have shown that 55% of all of our communication comes from our body language. All the movements, gestures, postures and emotional displays, from the largest movement down to the very smallest micro-movement convey our thoughts, moods and meaning.

Imagine what it would be like if you could know what someone is thinking about? When someone is getting uncomfortable with what you are saying? Or even how well a relationship is between two people walking past?

As a therapist I have to constantly observe a client’s body language to understand the true meaning of their communication, down to the smallest physiological change like the thinning of the lips, a slight change in skin tone, and the dilation of the pupils. I also teach this to my business clients as necessary, such as when I’m delivering sales training. In sales and negotiation body language is very important to understand how the processes are going. If you haven’t had appropriate training in physical communication and body language, you can always contact me to discuss further.

I actually keep getting funny moments with clients, where I read their body language and communicate it back to them with just as much emphasis as if they’re talking to me. I quite often get ‘how did you know I was thinking that?’ It’s just because I’m reading the 55% of their communication, from their body, and placing it in the context of that moment.

The way that you hold yourself, your posture, your gestures, your expressions all convey to me what is going on inside your mind. Your thoughts are linked to your physicality, and vice-versa.

So let’s look at a small example of body language – arms crossed over the chest. Now, many of you will see this as a blocking, defensive posture, protecting the body. But does it? It has to be viewed in context. It could just be that the person is more comfortable with the arms folded; maybe if female she is aware her top is a little low, or the person could be a little cold. So without context the meaning of that posture is missing – it becomes a mind read, or in other words, a bit of a guess.

However, what if you are in a negotiation meeting and you put something forward, and then the other person folds their arms across their chest? Especially if accompanied by other physical cues such as colour shifts, skin tonal shifts, facial musculature change, pupil dilation and the biggest give away – leaning back away from you. What would this mean?

It is most likely that you have induced a discomfort in this person. As he feels the discomfort he has leaned away from the source of the discomfort (danger increases with proximity, so to reduce ‘threat’ you distance yourself), and the arms folding across his chest are signs of closing off his ventral sides – the parts of the body most at risk to a threat.

Why does he feel discomfort? Is it because you have him on the back foot? For that, you need to place the body language into the context of the overall negotiation. But the fact that he is feeling discomfort from what you have said can be of great leverage in your negotiation.

This behaviour is learned through our history, it’s a very part of who we are, and without training it is very hard to completely hide your reactions. In fact, I had the ‘pleasure’ of catching out one of my army friends, who trains in counter-interrogation. He thought he’d try and catch me out, but it is just about impossible to fully hide what is an integral part of who you are. I spotted incongruence in his body language and took great delight in ‘outing’ him, making jokes that he’d been caught out by a ‘Civvie’.

Of course, you can train someone to do things such as display confidence when speaking, even if they don’t actually believe a word they are saying. Wouldn’t it be good to communicate effectively that you are an expert in your field, emphasising every point with your physical communication exactly how you want your point to be received? This is taking you into the realms of presenting skills, where every movement you make, even down to where you stand and where you place your props is carried out for the greatest effect.

Whether you see someone walking down the street, politicians talking on the television, or are in a business meeting – or indeed just in any social situation – isn’t it worth studying the 55% of the communication you may have been missing out on?

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