Body Language: Unlocking Hidden Messages – Part 1


We all know that the human body can be unpredictable, but if you’re not careful it can really betray you. No, not internally, and not in a vanity way either, but the way your body speaks to others. Your body has a voice of its own, and sometimes we are unaware of the language it uses. The simple fact is this: human beings are about as aware of our own nonverbal communication as my Grandfather is about Snapchat. Don’t believe me? Try this at home: Fold your arms. Go ahead, fold them…

Now, fold them the opposite way.

If you are like the 90% of our training attendees, the act of switching your arm position was jarring and uncomfortable. If you struggled to accomplish this simple task, don’t worry, you’re not alone. We are so used to our body performing this simple function that until attention is drawn to this change in body mechanic, we never think about it. This lack of awareness demonstrates our ignorance of what messages our body is sending without our conscious consideration.

Body language includes gestures, posture, positions, space, eye contact, facial expressions, movements, handshakes, etc. Essentially, when you are in public, your body is sharing thousands of messages every minute, while you only may speak a few hundred words or less. Paul Ekman identified more than 2,000 messages that can be transmitted by our facial expressions alone, and with so much going on, how can we manage these messages to make sure that we are communicating the best?

First, awareness is the most critical factor in this regard. If we are not aware of what our body is doing, it can run rampant with unintended messages leading to unintended consequences. Awareness comes from taking a moment, stepping back, and analyzing what our body is actually doing. This can occur in an interaction, when sitting at our computer, at rest, or in a busy marketplace. Basically, anywhere you are, your body is always communicating; listen attentively.

Second, the easiest messages to find are often related to anxiety. Crossing our arms, folding our hands, lowering our chin to protect the neck, running our fingers across our face or in our hair; these gestures are often referred to as “comfort gestures.” These attempt to protect and comfort the body in addition to relaxing our fight, flight, or feint response. When we become uncomfortable, our body exhibits signs of protection. As consultants, we often work across a variety of industries to help watch and decipher body language. For example, we look for these types of messages to assist attorneys in selecting jury members, negotiators in identifying deception, police officers in assessing threats, salespersons in accurately predicting the likelihood of a buyer making a purchase, etc. The applications are endless.

Arguably, this is one of the most important skills that we possess as humans in terms of our survival. Our brain is always on high alert and the body prepares itself when it perceives any potential threat. From an evolutionary perspective, this was critical for the survival of our species, who once lived amongst predators who were much larger, faster, and stronger. We had to react quickly and those that did survived and procreated. Those who didn’t, didn’t.

Lastly, if we understand that the body reacts to threats as noted above, learn to read the reactions of others. If we become aware of our own body and start to identify the reactions to anxiety and fear, we will be better equipped to notice them in others around us. When these signs show up, we have to consider what may have caused them. Did they react to being overly direct in the sales process? Were they uncomfortable with the question that was asked? Once we start noticing the reactions, it gives us the capacity to apply an influence technique.

For example, a realtor is showing a house to a prospective buyer and the prospective buyer hesitates as they approach the stairs leading to basement, which is pitch black. The astute and well-trained realtor notices and offers to lead (placing themself in the potential field of danger) and suggests to the prospective buyer that installing a new light switch is an easy and inexpensive fix (providing a solution to their challenge). Both actions are something a friend might do.

We like our friends (usually). This is why body language is so important. Through body language, we can quickly build liking, notice when others are uncomfortable, and adjust our behavior to better suit the situation. If people like you, they are more likely to do business with you.

But how does this apply to your industry? In Part 2, we will look at specific applications across a variety of industries. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get our blogs sent directly to your inbox!

If you want to learn more about this topic, contact us today to explore our training and coaching programs.

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