“Where body language conflicts with the words that are being said, the body language will usually be the more ‘truthful’ in the sense of revealing true feelings.”
Did you know that body language makes up more than 93% of our communication? In fact, if we decode a conversation it would be 7% words spoken, 38% tone of voice, volume, rate of speech, vocal pitch; and 55% facial expressions, hand gestures, stretches and exercises to improve your posture! The 93% is known not to reveal the exact concept of your message but it does expose underlying emotions, motives and feelings.
Of course, there may be an increase or decrease of the percentile provided above, especially if we compare introverted and extroverted individuals. Reading non-verbal cues isn’t just about broad strokes. The same gesture can indicate a number of different things depending on context.
BASIC ANATOMY OF READING BODY LANGUAGE
When you’re reading body language, your primary goal is to determine whether or not a person is comfortable in their current situation. Once you do this, it’s a process of using context and other cues to figure out the specifics. There are plenty of ways a person may indicate their comfort level, but here are a few of the most common traits:
Positive Body Language:
- Moving or leaning closer to you
- Relaxed, uncrossed limbs
- Long periods of eye contact
- Looking down and away out of shyness
- Genuine smiles
Negative Body Language:
- Moving or leaning away from you
- Crossed arms or legs
- Looking away to the side
- Feet pointed away from you, or towards and exit
- Rubbing/scratching their nose, eyes, or the back of their neck
A single cue can mean a myriad of things. For example, crossed arms falls under the category of negative body language and can suggest that a person is physically cold, closed off, or frustrated. It can even indicate that they’ve simply had too much to eat or perhaps habitually at ease. It’s necessary to pay attention to multiple behavioral cues as a single one can be misleading, simultaneously aiding you to indicate the comfort level in order to really understand why you need to look deeper. This means paying attention to other cues as well as their perspective situation.
One of the biggest advantages of learning to read body language well is being able to judge when someone is lying with a fair amount of accuracy. Your intuition is never going to be 100% precise, but with a little practice you can become more aware of when you’ve come across a rather mendacious individual.
Eye contact and lying go hand in hand as it is one of the most common known myths that when you lie, it is very difficult to maintain eye contact, especially with kids. Many people resort to overcompensating just to “prove” that they are not lying by making too much eye contact and holding it too long.
There is a common signal after a person tells a lie, which does requires breaking eye contact, even though they are trying to make eye contact, they unconsciously look down and away, then back at you again in a brief glimpse to see if you bought it, looking askance generally means the person is distrustful or unconvinced. People who look to the sides a lot may also mean they are nervous or distracted.
This point is in continuation to detecting when someone is being untruthful. People are bad at offering a genuine smile when they’re lying. In fact, a genuine smile (often referred to as a ‘Duchenne smile’ apparently), is often said to be impossible to fake. This is why many of us end up with awkward family photos. We may think we look like we’re smiling, but to most anyone it looks like we’re faking it. This is because your smile is in your eyes, or, more specifically, the wrinkles around them. You display a few crow’s feet when you smile genuinely because your smile pushes up your cheeks which bunch up the skin near your eyes. It’s fairly hard to fake this. You need to feel some sort of genuine happy emotion at the time to do it, and when you’re uncomfortable this is next to impossible. This is why a non-genuine smile can be a helpful indicator of a lie in progress.
People with crossed arms are often taken as a sign of closing themselves to social influence. A rather two sided point as I had mentioned previously there are innumerable people who like to stay in such a posture out of comfort. Another common trait related to crossed arms portrays resistance, especially after a strong statement; on the other hand, if someone rests their arms behind their neck or head, they are open to what is being discussed or just laid back in general.
The hand placement is very important; hands on hips means waiting, impatient or just tired. If hands are closed or clenched this means irritation, anger, or nervousness. I had read somewhere that it’s a sign of immaturity to gesticulate with hands wide open with fingers apart whilst conversing. Excessive shrugging falls under the same category of a show of immaturity as well as negative body language.
The physically closer a person gets to you, the warmer they are thinking of you.
Overly tilted heads are either a potential sign of sympathy, or if a person smiles while tilting their head, they are being playful and maybe even flirting.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IN A JOB INTERVIEW
Job interviews are a lot like first encounters or a date in the sense that you’re trying to convince another person, whom you don’t know, to like you. The key difference is that on a date you’re both meeting on equal ground. When you go into a job interview, however, the interviewer has most of the power and you have, essentially, none at all. This creates an environment where you’re going to likely be considerably more uncomfortable than the interviewer and give off negative vibes of body language. When interviewing for a job, you want to override any non-verbal communication that makes you seem closed off.
A charismatic beginning can make all the difference, as first impressions are hugely important in hiring decisions. A smile, pleasant handshake, warm greeting, and the previously mentioned positive body language will set the stage for a comfortable interview. Know what differentiates you and makes you special and remind yourself right before you walk into the room. Preparation breeds confidence, and it’ll be easier to display positive body language when you’re feeling good about yourself.
Eye contact is most important in a job interview than most other situations. If you have trouble meeting someone’s eyes, just look at their mouth. I find looking at someone’s nose easier because then you won’t have to lower your eyes which are required for when looking at someone’s mouth. You’ll also want to avoid blocking your own eyes in any way, as doing so can convey discomfort (among other negative feelings).
It also helps to appear to be a good listener, as you’ll be talking most of the time. When you ask your own questions, or your interviewer has something to tell you, eye contact is especially important. You can also convey that you’re in a “listening mode” by occasionally placing part of your hand over your mouth or resting two fingers under your chin. This helps indicate to others that you’re not going to talk and therefore paying attention. Good listeners prove to be those we can if not trust at least depend on.
In the end, your fate rests in the hands of another human being so there’s only so much you can do. They may not like your attire or prefer to hire someone younger or older. You never know what you’re going to run into, but you can at least try to tip the scales in your favor with the help of some positive body language.
Body language is a very powerful tool and shouldn’t be taken for granted. There are many other signals of body language that can mean more than just a simple movement or position. Whenever you find difficulty in communicating, take heed to Toba Beta’s words, “When speechless, let body language do the talk.”