You’re already a body language expert

Body language. Eye contact. Folded arms. Mirroring. Matching energy levels. Mehrabian myth. Microexpressions. Blah, blah, blah. Y’all need to heed my words, and heed them well. In this post I will reveal to you the underlying secrets of body language, where no one has been able to do so before. I will explain the simplicity of becoming a body language reading expert manipulator.

I was delivering a course today on Building Positive Relationships. It’s not a difficult course to be honest. Learn what rapport looks like, how to actively listen, use questioning, read body language and learn about transactional analysis. Aside from the TA, all the other topics could be taught by a dormouse. Eric Berne’s work on TA was and is impressive stuff. You can observe behaviours and infer a ‘state’ of mind? Fascinating. Beyond that, you can temper your own body language, thereby influencing the person you are ‘transacting’ with? Never. Teach me to suck eggs please, I forgot how to do that.

I’m being flippant about TA and it’s insights. It really is a fascinating tool to help understand human relationships within an understandable framework. That’s not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on – why are we not all experts in reading body language? The first exercise I got the group to do was a simple introduction where they go round talking with each other. And from that the group demonstrated to me that they already understood how to respond to body language. So what were they looking for? What golden nuggets could they learn?

There is no golden nugget. Sorry to burst the bubble. All these ‘experts’ in the field, well they’re pseudo-experts. Even I, who think I am pretty damned observant and insightful when it comes to body language, doubt how much I truly see and understand. The only actual experts in the field of body language are those who have studied it for years to understand what ’emotions’ are being conveyed. This is as far as body language takes you. It takes you no further. Paul Ekman’s seminal work on the very topic is all about microexpressions. The six commonly understood microexpressions are: disgust, fear, anger, sadness, joy and surprise. These aren’t messages. They’re not difficult to learn what they look like. There’s no secret to identifying them. They are readily understood by most cultures across the world.

Beyond this, what do you hope to learn? How to influence people? How to make them do what you want? How to be successful in that interview? How to deliver a great pitch? Do you realise that your body language alone is only one group of indicators that help to deliver the message you are trying to put across? If you want to get better at it, the only way this is possible – and I mean the only way, is through feedback from someone who understands the human condition. This isn’t restricted to any profession. We’re all capable of seeing how one behaviour elicits a response from someone else. Your own self-awareness is very limited in respect to identifying if your body language is appropriate or not. Short of videoing yourself, you’ll never truly gain this insight.

So have you figured it out yet? If you want to be a body language controlling jedi knight, it won’t happen. What can happen is the way you understand your surroundings. Your environment feeds a lot into what body language someone chooses to display. The language they use tells you a lot about how much they understand about the message. The tone of voice tells you a lot about how they feel about the message. How they respond to others tells you a lot about how they respect and appreciate that person. How they act after the meeting tells you a lot about what they took away from that meeting. There’s a complete picture you need to take into account before you decide to hone in on specifics.

Sure, read what’s out there. It’s interesting and might seem like it makes sense. Then come to me and tell me exactly how a) you didn’t realise it before b) will do anything differently now you know c) you will know if you’ve actually improved.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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