Learning to Read Body Language

Body language is a form of non verbal communication expressed with posture, eye movement, facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice.

Your non verbal language is expressed subconsciously, but sometimes people in a public speaking or leadership roles will make a conscious effort to minimize body language or use only body language that is considered positive. woman extending hand

Communication through body language is used by people by all over the world, but it is not a universal language. Each culture has their own meaning for each type of physical gesture. For example, a hand gesture in one culture may mean something positive while that movement may mean something negative in another culture.

Body language adds a new dimension to a conversation, speech, debate or sales pitch as it offers a hint into the real state of mind or attitude of the speaker. Most people are suspicious if body language does not support or validate what the speaker has to say. Some can even tell if a person is telling the truth or not based on the subtle clues of the speaker’s demeanor.

In addition, the clues you give out with your body can also indicate if you are truly listening to somebody or not.


Body Language Basics

The University of Pennsylvania performed a study that revealed that body language has more of a greater effect on the impression people form about an individual than words. Other results revealed 55% of the impression people form about an individual is based on posture, gestures and body movements, 38% is based on the tone of your voice and 7% is based on what you say.

What that means is 93% of the impression formed about you by others is from body language while your words only account for 7%.


Why is Learning to read Body Language Useful?

Interpreting body language is used in direct communication between people, negotiations, sales, investigations, politics and business to name some of the areas of interest. Body language is used to understand the emotional state of others, and it is used to leave the desired impression.

Mastering the way we present ourselves can help us demonstrate confidence even when we are nervous. We can even appear more attractive, intelligent and command influence when we convey the image that we want to. Most people tend to suppress opinions and emotions because of societal rules yet their real thoughts and feelings are often hard to hide from their body language.


The Meaning of Some of the Most Common Gestures

  • The most basic body language gesture is the crossing of arms across the chest. Most experts agree that this is a way to create a subconscious barrier between themselves and the speaker. That could mean that the person is giving deep thought to what is being said or that it outright is in opposition.
  • Eye contact signals the person is listening intently to the speaker but the way to interpret this is tricky. It can mean that the listener is really interested in what the person is saying, they are trying to demonstrate their respect and interest, or it could mean the person does not trust the speaker enough to take their eyes off of them!
  • Lack of eye contact typically indicates negativity or indifference. Eyes averted indicate disbelief or the speaker is not able to deliver a convincing argument.
  • A speaker displaying perfect posture is displaying confidence. Speaking with hands behind the back also indicates confidence as does clasping hands in front of their stomach.
  • Rapid hand and arm gestures indicate excitement.

An important thing to remember is to not jump to conclusions based on a single cross of the arms. You must understand the context and situation you are evaluating as well as the other non verbal and verbal clues given. After all, someone who is crossing their arms and legs amy just be cold!

Interpreting body language requires keen observation and skill. There are a number of resources that can help to decipher these movements and gestures.

With a little practice, reading body language will become second nature and become a vital part of your interpersonal skills.

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