I’m sure you’re aware of the old chestnut that communicationLife
in 93% body language and only 7% the words you use.
What a pile of poo.
This myth came about in 1967 when Albert Mehrabian ran an experiment with 137 college undergraduates and determined that 7% of communication came from words, 38% from tone of voice and 55% from body language.
This claim was repeated enough times by people to become ‘fact’. But it isn’t. Mehrabian even distanced himself from his claim, saying it wasn’t meant to apply to all communication.
But the idea that you can convey more with body language than you can with words took hold.
Maybe this is why people, myself included, are fascinated with programmes like the Mentalist, where the main character uses NLP to read facial and body language?
Or Lie to Me, where the deception expert team use the training of real-life expert Dr Paul Eckman to spot and analyse micro facial expressions.
Is it because you think it’s a superpower to interpret other people’s body language?
Or do you believe that this interpretation is less about science and truth and more about theory and guesswork?
What is squinting supposed to tell you?
Do you remember the old Clint Eastwood cowboy films where he would squint at the enemy to show his displeasure?
Or he might have had the sun in his eyes? Rayban’s weren’t big in Dodge City.
Squinting is thought to be an indicator that someone doesn’t trust or like you?
Is this true? I don’t always wear my glasses or contacts, and so if I’m in the street and I think I recognise someone I know coming toward me, I’m likely to squint.
If it’s you coming toward me, please don’t assume that I don’t like you. I just can’t see.
What about eye blocking?
This is when someone shields or protects their eyes by putting their hand over them.
It’s said that eye blocking is used to protect the brain from ‘seeing’ undesirable images and communicates our contempt toward others.
Is it just me, or are both of those things wildly different? And if so, how can eye blocking mean two different things?
Is the interpretation down to the interpreter?
I agree that you can read emotions in someone’s eyes when you’re familiar with the person. As a child, I always knew that when I pushed my dad too far, the wrinkles around his eyes would change, and I knew it was time to back off.
But this came from familiarity and not from a course or a book.
What your feet say
You might have heard experts say that where someone’s feet point tells you a lot about what is going on in their head?
If someone looks relaxed, either standing with you or sitting down, but their feet are pointed towards the door, they want to leave.
It seems that your feet are the most honest part of your body. You’re told that if someone’s feet are wiggling or bouncing, they’re happy.
But, hold on a minute. Aren’t you also told that jiggling or bouncing feet signify distress or anxiety? Could you tell the difference between a happy jiggle and an impatient jiggle?
Does crossed arms mean a cross mood?
I like to sit with my arms crossed. I understand that this isn’t the best look, but it’s a comfortable position for me.
But, apparently, it isn’t crossed arms that indicate a cross mood but a sudden crossing of arms that are tightly interlocked.
So stick this one, all of you armchair detectionists.
Facial tells that tell a lot
There are, of course, facial clues like sneering or winking that might give you a good idea about how someone feels.
But is this true for all facial clues?
I remember sitting on a bus years ago and trying not to stare at a man who had the most bizarre range of facial twitches. I ran through all the reasons I could think that he might suffer? Tourrettes? OCD compulsion?
Until he suddenly, and very loudly, hiccuped. That was the cause of his twitches. He was trying to keep his hiccup in.
I’ve read that a head tilt is reserved for when you feel comfortable and at ease, and you can’t tilt your head in a lift full of strangers.
I find that hard to believe, but I haven’t tried it yet. Give it a go and let me know?
There’s a whole host of body language tells and techniques, and if I tried to cover them all, this article would turn into a book and, let’s face it, there are enough books on the subject already.
But I think everyone w and critical non-verbal gestures.
Tik Tok hand gesture for trouble
A hand gesture popularised on Tik Tok saved a 16-year-old girl from abduction.
The hand gesture, which comprises tucking the thumb into the open palm and closing the four other fingers over the thumb, is a signal to say, ‘I need help — domestic violence.’
A driver spotted the girl making the sign at a car window and called the police, who arrested a 61-year-old man.
The sign has also been spotted by bar staff, who alerted the police. And someone used this sign in a zoom meeting to show they were suffering violence at home.
This non-verbal sign language is essential to help those who can’t use words to express what’s going on and should be widely broadcast.
I guess my concern with body language experts is that however much they study their field, they’re always studying someone else’s theory about body language or making up their own.
And by the time you go to school, you will have already intuited the signs that tell you when someone is upset, angry or happy. The best thing to teach children is not how to interpret someone’s body language but to understand that however someone feels, it isn’t the child’s fault.
Helping a child know that if their teacher appears cross, they may have had an argument with a spouse, or their cat has died, it isn’t the child’s fault that they’re upset or angry. The teacher’s feeling is all to do with what is in the teacher’s head and not what the child is doing.
That’s far more useful than trying to guess someone’s mood by the way they’re sitting or standing.
I mean, how aware are you of your own body language? Do you know what signs you might be giving? And if you aren’t aware of your own expressions, how are you supposed to interpret someone else’s?
Or, even worse, maybe you think everyone’s gestures must mean the same as yours?
But gestures and body language don’t translate between different countries. In Vietnam, you should only shake hands with someone who’s your equal in rank and age and in Thailand, instead of shaking hands, you put your hands together up to your chest.
The only gesture that seems the same wherever you is a smile.
And that is good with me.