What Can Body Language Tell You?

Does body language matter?  Until recently, I rarely noticed body language.  I could only recognize a face in a crowd if I spoke to the person at least seven times.  And to this day, many people smile and say hello to me, and they know me, and I enjoy them, but I can’t place who they are.  I blame it on my poor vision.

But then I took a course on behavioral modification that uses models.  And it awoke a new world I had hardly seen before.  The course taught me to look objectively at body language and not make judgments.  That’s because we can’t know what the other person is thinking.  The course then teaches to use those objective observations as data that can be later used to modify behaviors for desired outcomes.

And that’s when I realized why I can’t interpret emotions or body language.  It’s because I made premature judgments on why they occurred.  But when I started objectively observing without judgment, I began to see a whole new world.  People were more enjoyable and more candidly human.  Many people possessed behaviors I thought were oddly unique to me.  For instance, a woman sat in a group more to the side than the rest of her colleagues, her hands tightly clutched together.  She leaned low over her menu.  In another instance, a businessman on his mobile phone lifted his hand.  He started dancing in his seat, his neck protruding forward and back repetitively as his knee bounced wildly, soon followed by a male guest sitting at his table.

I started noticing positive body language, such as happy feet and upward motions, in myself and others.  Upward movements signal happiness, whether a thumbs up, toes up, hands up, heads up, or even eyebrows up.  I recently woke up to my jazzy alarm and humored my loved one by thrusting my arms upward in a V to each four-beat rhythm with a big smile.  Happy feet show positivity, too.  They bounce merrily.  I recently was at a coffee shop where a grinding rhythm from construction sounded in the backdrop.  My feet bounced and danced to the rhythm as I read a book.

And I noticed negative body language.  Negative body language can occur as blocking or face touching, to name a few.  For instance, I was waiting for my employer and a contractor at a business lunch patio.  I noticed two women, whom I will call a blonde and a brunette.  The blonde’s elbow pointed at the brunette as if blocking her.  The blonde also leaned away and touched her face as a form of soothing.  The blonde’s legs were tightly crossed at the ankles, with her toes pointed away from the brunette.  These were signs that the blonde felt uncomfortable with the brunette.  These were examples of negative body language.  The brunette looked very composed.  After a while, the blonde woman’s posture became more neutral.  (I learned the above intricacies of positive and negative body language from the book What Every BODY is Saying by Joe Navarro.)

But even more of the world I had never seen before opened up.  I started looking at the body language of loved ones to assess how they were feeling.  Typically, I relied solely on the voice, but when I began objectively listening and watching the body language, I understood the meaning better.  Surprisingly, the body language signaled a more relaxed and content version of what I would typically perceive from the voice alone.

And then, I started observing nature around me during travel like I’ve never done before.  I had been studying Unreal Engine for virtual reality game design, and the building of VR worlds and the study of body language made me look at the trees in an entirely new way.  I studied the different species of trees and how they clustered together, and how many were of each species.  And I noticed what species grew closest to fences and roads as opposed to what grew closest to rocks and ponds and how they lined the hillside ridges.  And it was so beautiful.  Even the mountains took on a whole new life for me.  I never truly noticed what they looked like before.  And they were magnificent.

So, consider picking up a book on body language or looking objectively at people to interpret their body language nonjudgmentally.  What a world of wonder this simple exercise creates.  And it shows how similar, in vulnerabilities and strengths, we all are, regardless of our socio-economic status.  What a freeing insight!

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