Body language is a concept invented by an Australian psychologist named Allan Pease. He coined out the term in 1981 when he wrote a book with the same name, and ever since his ideas and concepts kept spreading out throughout the world. So much so that body language is now a science and highly popularized by media through movies such as “Lie to Me” and many documentaries.
Body language is a highly complex and sophisticated language that takes years to master. On top of that, you need deep intuition about human behavior and unconscious motivations to be able to quickly grasp someone’s reactions. Developing the ability to read body language is like training a muscle. The more you read about the topic, and the more you observe human behavior, the more accurate your readings will be, otherwise many subtle gestures will go unnoticed most of the times.
There are many body language queues that are very subtle and even if you make the effort stay focused in tracking those queues, you will still miss them a lot of times. Some of these queues last for milliseconds, and in order to detect them you need a trained eye. This is what this article is all about, teaching you how to read body language.
Before I get into it, let me tell you one more thing. When you start learning body language you will have a tendency to label every type of gesture as a meaning to something deeper. With time you will understand that 95% of the queues tell you absolutely nothing useful, and more importantly, it’s about the whole spectrum of queues that really convey a more truthful message, rather than individual ones.
Here are my for key tips on how to read body language.
1. Practice detaching
Detaching yourself from the heat of conversations is something you need to practice not only for the purpose of becoming a better body language reader, but also to be able to deal with conflicts better and not take very word too personally. Detaching yourself can be done in many ways, but the most effective is being aware of your breathing pattern. To bring yourself in the moment in any conversation, just take a deep breath and concentrate your attention on the breathing.
2. Use your peripheral vision to see the person’s entire body
This one is very difficult to master because we are so used to have limited viewing angels when interacting with people. We rarely look anywhere but their eyes, nose or lips. Look at how they move their hands, how their breathing pattern and overall body posture are. The way you train your peripheral vision is by doing exercises of awareness. These exercises can be done anywhere, you just need something to focus at.
The exercises work like this: focus on an object for a brief period, usually one minute, then look at the object but focus on everything else but the object for another minute, while your attention to that object. This will help your brain increase your peripheral vision awareness which is key in reading body language. Being a good body language reader is about looking into someone eyes when talking to them, but accurately registering their breathing pattern, the way they hold their hands and how their overall body posture is influenced but what you are saying.
3. Be aware of false indicators
This is one of the major pitfalls when it comes to reading body language. We often misinterpret certain gesture, mainly because we want to believe a certain side of the story. For instance, if you want to detect if someone feels uncomfortable in a social situation, and you notice that they keep their hands crossed over their chest, you can immediately assume their posture represents a defensive attitude. But maybe, the room is not warmed properly and that person feels cold?
Being aware of false indicators is as important as being aware of the true indicators. Another good example is the direction where someone looks when you ask them a question about something which happened in the past. If their eyes move to the right, they are telling the truth, because they are trying to access their left side of the brain, which is the rational side and deals with facts, therefore the person is trying to remember what happened. However, if their moves to the left, they are trying to access their left side, which is a creative side, therefore trying to make up an answer or a story.
This is generally true but you have to take into consideration other stimulus besides your question. Maybe as you asked them the question that person spotted a friend 100 feet away. Maybe something caught their attention and they naturally looked on their right.
4. It’s more to body language than detecting lies and attraction
When we first get into body language our most important goals are to increase our lie detection capabilities and/or to find when people like us. There are universal gestures associated with telling lies such as looking on your left side when answering a question that does not involved creative thinking, or rubbing your nose, swallowing a lot trying to lubricate the throat area which got dehydrated from the tension generated from telling the lie, and many others. Attraction queues are also quite many, just some quick examples: women stroking their hair when they see an attractive guy, a guy puffing his chest when he sees an attractive woman, or dialed pupils, and dozens of others.
But there are also many other applications of body language that can be useful in our daily lives. Things such as detecting discomfort, pain in certain areas of the body, feeling fear, jealousy, envy, all these emotions and attitudes can be detected through body language reading. A lot of people are body language born readers, so it’s not always about learning certain queues to detect this and that, it’s also about sharpening your awareness in relation to everything, not just body language. It may sound silly, but being more aware of a beautiful sunset or a bird’s song will also increase your ability to read body language. In the end, it’s all about your ability to be present in the moment to be able to understand your reality on a deeper level.