Body Language in Communication – The ability to read people is one of the most important skills that you can develop in your career and your life. Reading people means being able to tell what they are thinking and feeling about their non-verbal communication. It also includes being able to tell whether someone is being genuine or is telling a lie. Let’s pretend you’re negotiating something very important, such as the price for a collectible car from the ’90s. It’s some limited edition car, and you know that it will increase value with time if preserved and taken care of.
The current owner of the car is asking for 50 thousand dollars for it, and your budget was only 35 thousand dollars. Let’s pretend that you have little to no social skills. You don’t know how to read people, you aren’t very charismatic, and you don’t know any negotiation techniques.
How are you supposed to negotiate a fair price in this condition? You can’t tell whether the price he sets is the final offer, you don’t have that walk-away attitude since you can’t analyze his response, and you can’t tell whether you’re making ridiculous counter-offers or not.
If you master reading people, you would be a lot better at negotiating. But it isn’t all about money-related things, there are many other situations where reading people is fundamental. Maybe you’re arguing with your girlfriend or spouse, or maybe someone is telling you a story and you want to know whether they are lying to you or not.
The goal of this article is to give you the tools necessary to start reading anyone at any time. There are some things you need to understand before I tell you exactly what you are supposed to do.
First of all, you need to know that all humans act in similar ways when it comes to non-verbal communication, but this doesn’t mean that all the rules that I will explain to you today can be applied to the whole population. There is always going to be a small percentage of people that are harder to read. This happens either because they have grown up in particular environments or because they are naturally less communicative.
Three main elements aid communication. If you and I are talking, we are going to use at least two of the following: words, tonality, and body language. I said that you might only use two because when you’re talking over the phone you can’t read someone’s body language since you can’t see them. Also, you might say that in some situations you only use one, for example in text messages. However, tonality is also involved in written form thanks to punctuation, images, emojis, font, and more. The most important element here is body language, which constitutes 55% of your message. This means that more than half of what your listener is receiving comes from your body language.
Second, there’s tonality, which is 38 percent, and finally words, at 7%. This means that words only cover 7% of your message, so they aren’t as important as one might think. This is because tonality and body language can change the meaning of the words you use. Here’s a quick example. Take the phrase “I will always find you”. Based on tonality, you will perceive a different message:
• “I will always find you”
• “I will always find you”
See the difference? So, now that you know the importance of tonality and body language, let’s go over the most common rules of body language, and how you can use them to read people.
How To Read Body Language in Communication
The eyes are one the most important. We are all naturally drawn to eyes, and they are used by many marketing campaigns as persuasion strategies. For example, if you watch TV, you always see commercials where people look at the camera while smiling at the related product.
This, first of all, makes people associate the happiness of the actor with the product, but it also is very useful to catch people’s attention. Eyes are always either towards the middle of the frame or in a place where people will look naturally.
Eyes are so important because we use them a lot in communication. When you’re talking to someone, you look them in the eyes. If you’re talking to someone and they’re not paying attention, they’ll likely be looking somewhere else. For example, if someone is constantly looking at the exit of a room, it might indicate that they feel uncomfortable or that they would like to leave for whatever reason. There are also some rules for where people are looking.
- If they’re constantly looking away or to the side, that might indicate boredom and loss of interest.
- If they look down while they’re talking, that might indicate that they are being submissive or that they’re hiding something.
- If they are blinking very often, that means they are stressed.
- If they glance at something, it might indicate that they want that thing. For example, if they’re glancing at the door, it probably means they want to leave.
- If they’re looking up and to the left, this usually means they’re trying to remember something.
- If they’re looking up and to the right, they’re in the sphere of imagination. They are either constructing a vision or visualizing something they created in their minds. Many say that this indicates that someone is telling a lie. That’s true, but it isn’t always the case.
- The bottom left usually means that they are having an internal dialog. They might be disagreeing with what you’re saying, or maybe just reflecting on it. This usually happens when they are logically analyzing new information.
- The bottom right indicates an emotional response. For example, if you are trying to figure out if who you’re talking to is attracted to you, try noticing their reaction to your compliments. If their eyes go down and to the right, it means that they might feel an attraction towards you. This is especially noticeable in females, and it is obvious in kids and younger people.
2. Head Position
Head position works similarly to eyes, and it is more easily recognizable.
- If they keep their head up, that indicates a feeling of superiority or arrogance. It’s also a common body language among leaders, and people that hold positions of dominance. Notice this in kids and even certain animals.
- Looking down or lowering their head indicates inferiority. It might also mean that they are hiding something, but sometimes it even indicates attraction.
- A tilting head indicates curiosity or interest.
- If they are nodding, that indicates that they are very confident about what they are saying and they truly believe that is true. This is usually the case during speeches. It is also a trick most politicians use to convince their audience to agree with them, notice this next time you watch a debate.
Mouth expressions are a very common thing, especially when it comes to smiles. They are one of the most immediate expressions. However, smiles can be interpreted in many ways, and it might be hard sometimes to tell the difference between fake and real smiles, especially if you’re dealing with someone you don’t know very well. A mile can express a variety of things such as genuine happiness, sarcasm, disapproval, cynicism, or even sadness or anxiety. It’s all about the particular type of smile. Mouth expressions also include yawning (which is a sign of boredom or disapproval) and coughing.
Here are some very common lip signals you should know:
- Lip biting. When it comes to lip biting, most people associate it with sexual arousal or flirting, but it isn’t necessarily the case. Biting one’s lips when sexually aroused isn’t a natural reaction for most people. Lip biting indicates distaste, disapproval, or distrust. If some is biting the bottom of their lower lip that indicates anxiety and fear.
- Covering the mouth: this is very usual for shy people. People cover their mouths to hide their emotional reactions or because they feel embarrassed, almost as to hide from everyone. People usually cover their mouths to avoid showing smiles or laughter.
4. Leg Position
Let’s pretend that you’re sitting down with a business partner and you’re talking about very important projects. Here’s what their lower body can reveal about them:
- If their knees are pointing at you (and they are also leaning towards you) they are interested in what you’re saying and they probably feel comfortable.
- If their knees and feet are pointing towards the exit, this might indicate that they are bored, they feel uncomfortable or they simply want to leave for a reason or another.
Posture is very important. It not only helps you read other people, but having the right posture, and changing it might help you become more confident. For example, standing upright, with your shoulders slightly pushing back, and your head up: indicates confidence and dominance. The way people walk also is an indicator of what they feel. Walking in an unnatural, forced manner indicates insecurity. A closed posture indicates hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety, while an open posture indicates friendliness, openness, and willingness. Open posture also indicates confidence and dominance in a certain context. The leader of a group usually takes up more space, while submissive people are very closed they take little space.
This one is very interesting, and you can apply this starting today, but it will also help you read others. Mirroring is when someone is imitating your actions, involuntarily, and at an unconscious level. For example, they might be sitting like you, or holding their hands in the same position. This may indicate harmony, approval, and attraction. If you want the other person to feel comfortable with you, you might want to intentionally mirror their action. You should not make this obvious, it’s just the little details that go unnoticed by the conscious mind that work.
7. Personal Space
Your personal space is the distance between you and other people. There is a very general classification of distances and how they play for different relationships and situations. This is, again, generic, and it even depends on culture and times. There are cultures where it is very unusual to be close to people in public, even if they are your partner. Then, during times like the coronavirus, all those distances are more important, people feel very uncomfortable with proximity now.
- Intimate distance: 6 to 18 inches. This indicates a closer relationship and great comfort. This happens during intimate contact like kissing, hugging, whispering, touching in general.
- Personal distance: 1.5 to 4 feet: family members, close friends, and closer people. Decreasing personal distance indicates that a relationship is becoming intimate.
- Social distance: 4 to 12 feet. Friends, co-workers, classmates, acquaintances, and people you know fairly well.
- Public distance: 12 to 25 feet: public speaking situations.
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