Reading Body Language

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So what do I mean by “reading” it? You probably heard the phrase “I can read you like an open book,” but what does it mean?

A proper ‘reading’ is the ability to observe nonverbal signals and compare them to the verbal message being delivered, in the right context.

So we have 3 main ingredients here:
1) Nonverbal cues – body language and other cues such as vocal signals and intonations.
2) Verbal message – it’s pretty straightforward – words.
3) The context – what are the circumstances? Who is the person or group in question? What culture they’re from? Age? Is it cold or hot? Male or female? Social status? These things “in the background” affect our communications in subtle means, ignoring them is an amateur’s mistake.

Combine these 3 ingredients together and you get a pretty accurate picture of the mood and thoughts of whom you observe.

Most people nowadays focus consciously on number 2 – the verbal message. It doesn’t mean that they completely ignore the circumstances or the nonverbal communication; they just perceive and analyze it mostly subconsciously.

So how important is each component in our interactions? read here:

What is the real division between verbal and non-verbal communication?

Become Perceptive

People who are considered perceptive and intuitive have a developed sense to obtain and analyze the subtle, nonverbal signals that others ignore or miss. This sense allows them to analyze social situations and people’s emotions and thoughts in almost a supernatural fashion. It doesn’t mean that they are conscious about it, it simply comes naturally to them to ‘read’ others correctly.

But what about the rest of us, who weren’t so lucky? Can we learn how to read body language and train ourselves to become perceptive?

YES we can!

But we can’t do it in one heartbeat; we need to train ourselves to become sensitive and aware of our environment. Just like Spiderman can sense danger – you will train yourself to sense emotions and thoughts. We can break this process into 3 main steps:

  1. Learning the signs and remembering their meaning
  2. Observing them in action and gathering as many ‘clues’ as possible
  3. Analyzing everything correctly to get the right picture.

It’s a conscious effort in the beginning. You can read what this or that posture means, but if you don’t train yourself to look for these signs, it won’t do you much good. You need to take some time and focus on reading the body language of others to actually ‘set up’ this in your mind, to make it natural and flowing.

a woman meditating

I believe that one of the best ways to read body language effectively is by entering a state of mindfulness meditation.

Meditation? Why yes, while you don’t actually close your eyes and cross your legs, you do enter a very calm and attentive state of mind. While being in this state you clear your mind from any random thoughts, worries, or plans, and just focus on the present moment.

It’s an amazing experience because after a while you will feel very relaxed and ‘in-tune’ with your environment, your senses will sharpen and suddenly you will find much more depth in the things around you. Of course it takes some tries to get into it, but believe me, it’s worth the effort.

It’s a Game

Did I make reading body language sound hard and tedious? Because it’s the complete opposite. It can be quite an addiction once you’re proficient enough with it.

Reading body language is like playing “20 Questions” with yourself – you arrive at some social event (the more people – the better) and start seeking clues about others by observing their nonverbal communication. The more you notice – the clearer the whole picture gets.

You can even start doing it without any ‘previous knowledge’ of what the different signals mean. Why? 2 reasons:

1. You have a very good general idea about what the different signals mean. You live in this social world and intuitively learn (or are born with that knowledge) to understand body language. You don’t need a book to tell you that a smile usually represents happiness or a positive attitude.

Consider body language guides (including this one) as tools to sharpen your understanding and guide you to what to look for.

If you ever needed some sort of template to help you figure out how to ‘compile’ all the non-verbal cues you see – I just made it for you.

2. Even if I really wanted to, I couldn’t list all the gestures and expressions made by mankind. It’s so varied and depends on many factors. Even if it was possible, it was way too much for you to remember and be aware of. So the key phrase here is: ‘learn by experience’. Go outside and observe your surroundings, think about your own body language, and compare it to what you feel. Become aware – and you’ve made the biggest step in becoming a proficient ‘reader’.

But worry not, I’m not throwing you into the waters without some very important guidelines for reading body language the right way

a couple having an argument and are mad at each other

Detect Lies

One of the reasons I believe you’re into reading body language is because you wish to have the ability to detect lies. We all have some secret desire sometimes to read the minds of others and try to decipher if they mean what they say.

Well, I can’t promise that you will have ‘lies radar’ integrated into your brain or something like that, but you can train yourself to be able to sense when someone is not being completely honest.  How do you actually do that?

Once you become more perceptive and proficient in reading body language, start watching if there is a conflict between the speaker’s verbal language and the nonverbal one (remember the components?).

Look for incongruity – if you get nonverbal cues that don’t match what’s being said or just a general gut feeling that something is wrong – it’s probably a sign that there’s some sort of deceit, insecurity, shame, or confusion in the message.

You see, we cannot lie without making some nonverbal “leaks, ” our body just doesn’t feel comfortable with the lie and it expresses it outside by some unconscious means.

Observation Training

It’s easy to say – read body language by being observant…But what if you don’t know how to be observant? Is it something we need to train as well?

I invite you to find out more here:

The importance and use of observation training and exercises Guide

Bottom Line?

If you want to become perceptive, you need to train yourself in reading body language – it takes some time and dedication, but it becomes much easier and natural eventually. So take it easy, relax, have some fun with it…

If you’re done here, I invite you to jump to any section of the site you find intriguing first. You can start with a little background, or just start with the different gestures or facial expressions.

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Stefan Speaks AI
Stefan Speaks AI
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