• Dr Jack Lewis on Body Language (part 1 of 2)

    nonverbalBodyPosture

    Last week I gave a talk on body language for post-graduates at Middlesex University. I promised I’d write up a blog about it as a reference for all those lovely people in the audience who listened so attentively and had so many interesting questions for me afterwards (for 2 hours!). So here’s the gist of the main points…

    The brain produces many thoughts during any interaction.
    Every thought generates a feeling.
    Human feelings are spontaneously expressed in body language.

    Thus it is possible to work backwards along this chain of events in the following way:

    A person’s body language can give you an insight into what they are feeling.
    Knowledge of what a person is feeling can be used to infer their thoughts.
    But only if you have given the P. I. C. process careful consideration:

    • PERSPECTIVES – bear context of each situation in mind: crossed arms = feeling defensive? Or just cold?
    • INCONGRUENCE – when words don’t match the voice &/or body language the words will be discounted
    • CLUSTERS – of body language cues are MUCH more reliable than individual ones

    The key thing to bear in mind when thinking about one’s own body language is to try to avoid postures / gestures that raise the suspicion that you are feeling anxious, guilty, uncertain etc. If you know what other people might be looking out for body language-wise then you can take measures to avoid accidentally giving out the wrong message.

    mehrabian-croppedBody Language Is Born

    In 1971 Prof Albert Mehrabian together with colleagues at UCLA published a paper indicating that when we say a word the meaning of that word only accounts for 7% of the information communicated. Visual signals (body posture, facial expressions, eye contact etc) accounted for a whopping 55% of the message and acoustic signals in the voice (volume, tempo, rhythm etc) accounted for 38%. Amazingly, given how unlikely these figures seem when we first hear them, it seems that this idea has more or less stood the test of time.

    Visual > Auditory > Linguistic – In Communication Signals We Trust (most > least)

    Mehrabian et al’s work indicated that if what is being said somehow doesn’t fit with the rhythm, speed, volume of voice and/or facial expressions, eye movements and body posture displayed by the speaker, we become suspicious of the words and tend to ignore them. So if we wish to communicate clearly then we must take measures to ensure that these are all aligned. It is vitally important to ensure that you do not inadvertently send mixed messages into the outside world that might cause people to be confused by, angered by or distrustful of the words we speak. This is particularly important when making a first impression in a job interview, business meeting or on a date.

    Two Way Street

    SmileMagnifiedWhen we feel happy we smile, when we are sad or angry we frown. Not only do these facial expressions helpfully communicate how we’re feeling to others so that they might use this information to guide their behaviour, it also affects the way we feel ourselves (facial feedback hypothesis).

    If you pull a smiling expression, it might feel fake, but it will send a torrent of sensory messages to the brain about the position of your face.  This, in turn, triggers activity in the emotional pathways to create feelings that match the facial expression. The same thing goes for the negative emotions. If you pull a sad face – with bottom lip protruding as if you’re going to start blubbing – eventually you will start to feel melancholy and thoughts of things you really are sad about will start to flit around in your head. People who have had Botox for cosmetic purposes – to remove frown lines in their forehead (making them physically incapable of frowning) – even leads to increased ratings of happiness!

    The critical point of all this is that it’s a two way street:

    • Emotions spontaneously generated by your brain can automatically induce a facial expression
    • Facial expressions commanded voluntarily by your brain can automatically induce an emotion

    When somebody smiles at you, you will instinctively smile back. That is because in our species a smile indicates that the smiling person in question means no harm – it says: I am friendly, you have nothing to fear. If you think about the two way street of facial expressions / emotions in the context of our innate tendency to mimic the facial expressions of the people around us – when you smile at someone it makes them smile, and their own smiling face makes them feel ever so slightly happier. Never underestimate the power of the smile. Your own happiness can be infectious and people like to spend time around people who make them feel good.

    Part two describes body language evolution, leakage and Dr Jack’s A-H of body language, so please CLICK HERE.

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