How to Decode Body Language

Every body speaks louder than words and it takes your eyes to decode the body language, using your ears alone will leave you in the dark.  So what is your body telling others and what secrets are bodies around you unknowingly revealing?  These dirty little secrets can prevent you from landing your dream job, blowing the second date or closing a sales deal.  It may seem unfair for some to make a decision about you based on these seemingly small slices of your life.  We all possess the ability to thin slice.  When you peak into some ones medicine cabinet, you’re attempting to get a glimpse into their interior life – you’re looking for something that their body is not telling you.

When your words and body language unite, a concise singular message is conveyed to your audience, making it easy for them to trust you.  The dilemma occurs when you deliver two contrary messages at once.  If your body tells a prospect during a sales call, “this vacuum cleaner sucks, no really it’s terrible if I were you, I wouldn’t buy it.”  But your words communicate an opposite message, it will confuse the client resulting a no sale.  Too many no sales translate into no job, so it would behoove you to develop your ability to decode body language.  

We enter the world as a child with the inherent ability to decode body language, we learned how to read facial expressions at an early age.  Developing this ability into a skill will prove to be a critical tool in the modern world. We have all experienced extraordinary customer service and the not so nice down right rude alternative.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to distinguish the difference.  Eye’s rolling, frowns and poor posture communicates a message to the customer, I’m thrilled to be here – not really but you get the picture.  

Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman were remarkable research scientists who studied faces, they believed that faces held valuable clues into the inner motivations and emotions.  Ekman coined the term microexpressions, these fleeting nonverbals can be revealing.  Their speed and timing defy conscious control, so they tend to be our truest expression.  It is the difference between the generic smile we flash when someone enters the elevator and the smile reserved for our loved ones that causes our entire face to beam.    

An erect posture with fluid motions and excellent framing while speaking in public conveys charisma and confidence; conversely jittering, pacing, tapping or clicking a pen would be interpreted as nervous and impatient.  I’m nervous about this situation, I’m scared of Pit Bulls, some messages can be quickly interpreted by our on board computer.  

Former FBI Special Agent and author of Louder Than Words, Joe Navarro introduced the comfort/discomfort paradigm as the foundation of nonverbal intelligence.  We give tell-tale signs of comfort and discomfort in our body language. Signs of comfort: (calmness, confidence, clear thinking, closeness, enjoyment, etc). Signs of Discomfort: (anxiety, apprehension, clouded thinking, distancing, contrariness).

Our extremities are so much a part of us and under natural circumstances we have no problem figuring out what to do with them.  But when we’re nervous we tend to act as though they’re brand new. What we do with our hands  has the ability to convey confidence, nervousness, anxiety, discomfort and stress.  Rubbing fingers across your palms indicates anxiety and nervousnes; hand-wringing is the universal sign of worry and concern.  Interlaced fingers denotes a high degree of anxiety and discomfort.  Steepling displays confidence, interlaced hands with thumbs demonstrates confidence and hidden thumbs indicates a lack of confidence.  Relax, be yourself.  But be aware of the messages you are communicating along with what is being communicated to you.