Body language works so well because you are accessing the deepest emotions and thoughts of others by reading their physical expressions. People have an inborn tendency to express themselves through gestures and facial expressions – we can’t modify this tendency any more than we can modify the fact that we have opposable (not sure that’s a word but I’m sticking with it) thumbs.
But it takes more than just being observant to be able to effectively read body language. To be able to understand what the other person is really trying to say to you, you must be able to read gestures and expressions in clusters.
For example, if a person suddenly frowned, does it mean that he dislikes you? That singular expression, taken out of context and its gesture cluster, is meaningless because you won’t be able to associate it with other gestures.
You have to find associated expressions and gestures to make a valid interpretation of what’s in front of you at the moment. If you read isolated expressions and base your decisions and words on those isolated expressions, you may not be able to influence the other person because you keep missing what he’s really trying to convey.
A body language cluster is similar to a verbal sentence. And like a verbal sentence, a nonverbal sentence needs at least three elements to work. So before making a conclusion, you need to link at least three distinct body language signals coming from the other person.
You also need to determine if the signals you are picking up are actually related. For example, if the other person crossed his arms, frowned and suddenly had a bad coughing fit, do you think the last part was related to the first two parts of the nonverbal message?
You can hone your ability to read other people’s body language by watching movies and turning off the sound. Your sensitivity to body language will become heightened as your brain works double time to interpret the body language of the actors and actresses in the movie. You can also observe people when you are in the mall or in the park.
# 2 Look for Consistency Between Nonverbal Language & Verbal Language
How will you know if the other person has already been persuaded or influenced? Check for congruence between what he’s saying and what he’s expressing (unknowingly) through his body language.
Most people don’t realize that the bulk of their message is contained in nonverbal language, so they keep their guard down when it comes to expressing themselves physically.
People are very guarded about what they say but they don’t know how to conceal what their facial expressions and physical gestures convey. This is one of the biggest advantages of master influencers who are adept in both verbal communication and nonverbal communication.
You would be able to monitor both channels of communication and check if the other person is confidently expressing the same thing through both channels.
If the person in front of you is saying “I believe you” but his body language is saying “I don’t believe a word you’re saying” then you may have to uncover the hidden objections and counter these objections to be able to influence the other person.
You can also use this technique to see if you have been able to establish rapport with your audience. Verbal responses are easy to ‘fake’ especially when the audience is trying its best to be polite. But what if you really want to know if the audience is responding to your message?
Again, all you have to do is to look at your audience’s body language. If your audience is showing signs of being distracted or distant, you may not be making a full impact on your audience at all.
In such cases, you have to stop and re-evaluate what you should do next because what you are doing at the moment is not having a very beneficial effect on your social interaction. A master influencer must move fast when he detects in-congruence between what is being said and what is being expressed through the face and the body.
If you move quickly enough, you may be able to change the course of the social interaction and create a lasting positive impression on the other party.
# 3 Read Nonverbal Messages In Context
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has two definitions for the word context:
1. The parts of a discourse that surrounds a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.
2. The interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.
Interestingly enough, the word itself was derived from two Latin words: “com” and “texere” which literally meant ‘to weave’. This reveals to us that language in itself is meaningless without context.
You can’t make sense of words (verbal or otherwise) if you don’t see the context in which the words were spoken. Nonverbal messages must also be read and understood within their proper contexts. For example, if the other party suddenly shivered in front of you, does it mean that what you were saying actually spooked the other party?
If you read the gesture/expression in isolation, you may come up with that conclusion (i.e. you are a scary speaker, indeed). But if you look at other potential causes of the behavior, you will be able to come up with a more informed conclusion as to what the other person is really trying to say.
Not all body language signals are significant (the same way that not all our words are groundbreaking and important). You also have to be able to sift through the mess of expressions coming from the other party and trace the ones that are relevant to the matter at hand.
As a master influencer it is also important to analyze gestures based on the possibility that they may be habitual expressions of the other person. If a gesture is habitual, it may be meaningless because the other person does it just because he finds the gesture/expression nice or desirable.
Some people flick their hands back and forth while talking (regardless of what they are feeling about the idea on the table) while some smile broadly even if they disagree wholeheartedly with what the other person is saying.
You have to be extra careful when reading nonverbal messages in this type of situation because you might not be able to detect and resolve objections to your argument if you don’t even understand the actual message that the other person is trying to convey.
# 4 Small Gestures and Expressions Are Equally Important
Some people make the mistake of ignoring small gestures because they think that in the grand scheme of things, the small things are irrelevant. Well, I’m here to tell you right now that nothing could be further from the truth.
Oftentimes, the most essential gestures are performed at a very small scale and at high speed. Some adults can be guarded/defensive about what they say and what they convey with their physical gestures and expressions unlike kids who are still developing the gestures that would later be part of their repertoire of signals in adulthood.
Here’s a good example: have you ever seen a child tell a small lie? Like who ate the last cookie in the jar? Notice that most kids (usually those who are younger than 5) will try to cover their mouths as they say “no, I didn’t eat the cookie”.
The mouth-covering gesture is a sign that the other party is telling a lie. In adulthood, the mouth-covering gesture is scaled down and is done at high speed.
A teenager or adult who is telling a lie may suddenly touch the rim of the mouth for a second before speaking. The small, insignificant movement is actually the same full
blown mouth-covering gesture used by small children. It has only been scaled down so it won’t be so obvious.
The mouth covering gesture can also be performed in such a way that it’s not apparent that the other person is trying to cover his mouth. For example, a person may touch the tip of his nose with his index fingers (hands are clasped) so it would appear that he’s just trying to scratch an itchy nose.
Blinking is also another micro-signal that you should watch out for. Unnatural blinking during a conversation usually means that the other person is hiding something from you.
Persuasion would be difficult if the other person has not laid down all of his cards on the table. In such cases you would need to draw out the other person even more to get to the bottom of the situation.
# 5 Separate Fake Nonverbal Signals From Genuine Signals
I’ve been asked this question many times in the past: is it possible to actually fake body language? The simple answer is yes it’s possible to fake body language but it would take a very long time before a person can control all of the macro and micro signals given off by the body during social interactions.
You see, we can only control a very small percentage of all the body signals that we give out when we speak to someone. You can smile, but if you absolutely dislike what is in front of you then your body will immediately work to reflect this truth.
People who make it a habit to deceive people usually fake most signals successfully – but not all. There are still many nonverbal signals that we have no control over and as a master influencer, it’s your job to catch these signals.
It’s hard to fake body when the receiver of the signals is a woman because women are generally more perceptive than males. Males on the other hand, can learn to be more perceptive so they don’t become easy prey to con men and other deceptive individuals.
How can you be more perceptive? You have to be able to separate the real signals from the fake signals. For example, if the other person is nodding and smiling at what you are saying and is expressing “I like what I’m hearing”, you may want to check the cheeks and eye region.
A genuine smile is relaxed and makes the corners of the eyes crinkle a little. The cheeks would also be relaxed to accommodate the movement of the mouth muscles. This is a genuine smile and it conveys pleasure, agreement or happiness. A fake smile is limited to the mouth region only.
The eyes and cheeks are often stiff and non-expressive. It is possible to fake body language but you would have to be a very deceptive person to be able to fake it for long periods of time. The body doesn’t like hiding what is really in the mind, so deceptive people need lots of energy to cover up their body language.