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

    Springing a Leak

    Although we can voluntarily move our faces around at will, pulling whatever facial expressions we want when called upon to do so, there are other automatic physiological responses generated in the body by emotions that we can’t control.

    eye-contactWe betray our true feelings through body language all the time. When we lie, our awareness that we are doing wrong produces feelings of guilt (in most but not all people), which in turn “leak“ out into the outside world through various aspects of body and voice. Whether we are feeling comfortable or stressed. Whether we are feeling confident or timid. Even aspects of our personality are advertised to our immediate environment through our body language.

    At the same time that we are constantly leaking information into the outside world through body language, information that subtly betrays our true feelings, there are many body positions that we assume and actions that we perform which have nothing to do with our current feelings whatsoever.

    Beware Lone Rangers

    Sometimes we scratch our nose just because it is itchy, and it has nothing to do with whether or not we are lying. Just a spurious coincidence. Sometimes we put our hand to our mouth simply because we’re stifling an unfortunately-timed belch, any apparent relevance to the words just uttered entirely coincidental. The point here is critical – there is lots of noise in the body language signal. The secret to decoding the signals properly is to keep the P.I.C. in mind and never allow a lone indicator to skew your thinking.

    Dr Jack’s A-H of Body Language

    Here’s my A-H of Body Language signals (with guidance for avoiding giving confused signals in parentheses) :

    A – Appendages (uncross arms & legs, plant feet squarely on floor, keep your hands in view / suppress urge to fidget)

    B – Body Posture / Tension (sit up straight, alert, edge of your seat to open diaphragm, breathe deep to reduce stress)

    nod1C – Contact (beware the limp hand shake – grasp palm to palm)

    D – Dress (what you wear speaks volumes about you, invest wisely in a suitable outfit that blends in to the particular work environment)

    E – Eyes (listen with eyes; professional triangle of gaze: eye, forehead, eye; don’t look away too much; not looking = not listening)

    F – Face (pulling a smile = friendliness, frown = hostility; smile to show you are friendly and mean no harm, but don’t over do it!)

    G – Gestures (amplify your words with firm gestures. Get in the Goldilocks Zone: not too much, not too little, but just right)

    H – Head (Active listening involves plenty of eye contact but also nodding [slow→fast] to show you: are following → agree → want to speak)

    Over the next few weeks look for these critical sites of body language in the people around you whilst traveling, in restaurants, pubs, bars, offices, meeting rooms and in your home. The more you study it the more aware you will become of the feelings of the people around you. The more you increase your awareness of how body language betrays true feelings in others, the more you will start noticing yourself betraying your true feelings to others. As your awareness of your own body language and that of others increases you will not only get better at detecting deception in others but you will be able to communicate more effectively yourself by ensuring that the visual, auditory and linguistic components line up so that you come across as confident, competent and trustworthy.

    Origins of Body Language

    The human brain became much, much larger than our primate cousins as we began living in larger and larger groups. And over these many thousands of years certain areas of this expanded brain real estate became specialised to improve our abilities to communicate with each other. We now have brain networks specialised for creating and understanding speech, but also others that discern eye gaze direction and movements, another territory for perceiving faces, yet another involved in registering body parts and even several involved in trying to deduce what a person is really thinking.

    More effective communication would likely have been the foundation for stronger, broader allegiances which in turn enabled pre-human species to enjoy a greater ability to read between the lines. This probably increased likelihood of survival amongst these creatures leaving the less sophisticated communicators in their wake. In this way the human brain would have evolved according to a selection pressure on communication abilities to equip the human race with increasingly sophisticated social skills whilst competitors without the ability to read true intentions from voice and body language perished.

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs you can also follow me on Twitter for daily news about discoveries in neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry…

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