Recently I have read several articles about Body Language. Articles with titles similar to, “The Top 10 Body Language Signals That _______” or “The 5 Body Language Signs You Must Know When You’re________”. I’ve even written a few myself in the past. These articles are, generally accurate, informative and entertaining within the context in which they are written. However, most often they are not without the inherent risk of misinterpretation.
The authors of these articles could avoid much of the confusion if they would simply start by writing a simple disclaimer stating something such as:
“This article is a summary view on a specific aspect of body language written and is written based solely on American Culture The author fully understands that much of body language is culturally specific and may not apply to your specific culture.”
While a disclaimer would help dramatically with the confusion. I do realize there will always remain some intellectually challenged individuals, as well as, the ever present trolls with their generally obnoxious and hateful dispositions who are forever looking to attack any post regardless of its legitimacy. However, educating people on the purpose and boundaries of the post may help these otherwise high quality, informative posts from being plagued by a plethora of “brilliant” comments such as:
- “Body Language is not the same in all cultures”
- “Body Language is a farce”
- “Nothing New Here”
- “Body Language is Not Universal”
- “Without words you can’t have a conversation” (one of my all time favorite stupid body language comments)
And the list goes on and on.
To be fair, there are also many people from other countries who legitimately do not fully understand our language that may get a comment a little off which is understandable, plus there are many positive and inquisitive comments as well.
Many, if not most readers find nonverbal communication to be quite interesting. They understand the potential value of nonverbal communication and the articles actual intent.
Without a disclaimer, what makes these articles dangerous to many is that:
- The average reader has not been trained in the science of nonverbal communication.
- Many People believe they understand body language because they have been in a field in which they have successfully interacted with others for many years.
- Some once read a book, watched a YouTube video, or attended a workshop on body language and now believe themselves to be an expert on the subject.
- Others believe that reading and interpreting body language is something that simply comes natural to all human beings and there is no need to be trained in the science on nonverbal communication. (These are the most dangerous.)
It is these readers who make the irrelevant and irritating comments which take away from the legitimate questions and comments by those who are interested and would like to more about the topic.
First Things First
First let’s look at some facts about Body Language.
1. Some nonverbal communication IS universal. These nonverbal cues have the same meaning in every culture.
2. There are nonverbal cues which are indeed culturally specific. depending what part of the world you’re in, these cues may have subtly or wildly different meaning.
3. There have been many scientific studies which have shown that nonverbal communication contributes, an overwhelmingly larger percentage of overall communication than do our words alone.
4. LinkedIn posts on Body Language are not meant to be comprehensive training on nonverbal communication, but rather an overview or insight into the significance, importance and value of understanding body language.
5. To accurately read and utilize body language effectively takes a great deal of training and practice. I have literally invested thousands of dollars plus thousands of hours in training to hone my skills. Studies indicate that only about 1% of the population are what Dr. Paul Ekman consider to be “naturals”. The rest of us must be trained.
6. No Body Language Cue by itself is a definitive indication of anything specific. Micro expressions and culturally specific subtle emblematic expressions are, however, highly accurate on their own because they have nothing to do with stress or anxiety. These expressions are true emotional leakage but still need to be seen with at least one other supporting gesture to be certain. You should also establish a baseline of normal behavior, but I’m not going to cover that in this post.
Universal Body Language
There is a great deal of nonverbal communication which is in fact universal and display in the same across all cultures. The most obvious are the display of the seven universal emotions of Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Contempt, Fear, Disgust and Surprise.
These emotions can display as a full expression (lasing 1+ second), a mini /subtle expression (lasting ½ -1 second) or as a micro expression (lasting as little as 1/25th of a second). It is important to note that while full expressions can and often are faked, subtle and micro expressions are impossible to fake. These expressions are true emotional leaks coming from the subconscious and are therefore uncontrollable by the conscious mind.
Other examples of Universal body language are the gestures for victory, shame, depression, defeat, scorn, anxiety and many more. Studies have been conducted with individuals who were blind from birth, as well as, those from remote cultures who had never seen anyone from an outside culture. Without exception, the study subjects all displayed these gestures in the exact same manner as those who have grown up sited or in our modern culture. This leads to the incontrovertible conclusion that much of the body language we see is in fact universal in nature. This body language is hardwired into our subconscious mind and cannot be changed, regardless of our personality type, culture, or status, etc. it is just who we are and how we behave.
Culturally Specific Body Language
There are also many cultural body language gestures. Many, but not all of which are considered “Emblematic” in nature. An emblematic gesture is a one that when displayed needs no words to explain its meaning.
The OK gesture is an excellent example. In America, we all know what the OK gesture looks like, but if you make that gesture in some cultures you will quickly discover that it has an entirely different meaning.
Different cultures also have different cultural “rules” regarding eye contact, smiling, etc. However, even though these cultures may have differing social norms, the standards for subtle and micro expression remain universal.
If you are traveling abroad, or do business with people from different cultures it is imperative to know and understand these cultural differences. Simple emblematic gestural differences and cultural norms regarding eye contact, shaking hands, etc.
Voice and Nonverbal Communication
We also use our voice in nonverbal communication. Our tone, cadence, tone, timbre, volume and other aspects of our voice play a major role in what our voice communicates beyond our words.
By simply changing the emphasis from one word to another you will automatically change the meaning entirely. You completely change the meaning of a sentence or question by changing the inflection, tone, pitch, pace, etc. in which you use your voice.
Have you ever thought or said, “that person sounded angry”? You noticed it even though the person never mentioned their emotional state. What happened? You instinctively picked up on their nonverbal voice cues and determined the emotional state of the person regardless of the words they used. That’s how nonverbal communication works through our voice.
The Importance of Interpretation
Another important element that most authors of body language articles leave out is that understanding body language is not so much for your ability to read others but to better understand what others are reading in you.
You want to have a positive effect on others, which means you should always present positive body language, not necessarily “comfortable” body language. Whether you are feeling positive or not, you should always avoid any body language gesture or posture that can in any way be interpreted negatively.
Body Language and Nonverbal Communication is an amazingly fun and fascinating science. Specific training even allows one to recognize deception equal to or better than mechanical deception detection devices then deal with the deception in a way that is most beneficial to all parties involved.
Advanced nonverbal communication training also significantly enhances emotional intelligence and provides powerful insight into the emotions and behaviors of ourselves and of others and how to effectively handle both overt and more importantly hidden or suppressed emotions.
Additionally, research studies have proven that sales professionals who have taken advanced training on average increase their close rate by 20% or more! Every professional regardless of vocation benefits from learning how to effectively read and interpret nonverbal communication.
It is important, however, that you do it correctly. Do you want to learn the true power of nonverbal communication; what and how it can change the way you interact with others? Would you would like to fully understand how to use nonverbal communication skills to quickly make you more productive, more persuasive and more influential when dealing with those around you?
If so, you owe it to yourself to seek out a qualified trainer who offers a quality course that will teach you to both read and use the many facets of nonverbal communication to improve not only your life but the life of everyone with whom you come in contact.
James G. Springer is a 30+ year veteran in sales management and sales training. He has owned or managed numerous sales organizations. Additionally, he is a highly skilled and trained in a variety of verbal and non-verbal modalities, giving him a very special skill set which makes him uniquely qualified to Speak, Train, Coach and Consult in all aspects of Interpersonal Communication Skills including.
His Unique Skill Set Includes: Body Language, Micro Expressions, Deception Analysis, Personality Profiling, Advanced Handwriting Analysis, Sales Training, Covert / Conversational Hypnosis, NLP Master Practitioner
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