Body Language

Day two of re-runs …

The language of the body often tells a completely different story than our spoken words. The study of body language is technically known as kinesics and has been put to use by sales people for as long as there has been something to sell. Kinesics was also highlighted by the popular TV series “Lie to me”. People who know how to use kinesics can discipline themselves to avoid being read but it is not an easy skill to master.

When we consider the importance of visual communication, sales people and experts in the field will often quote numbers like 80 – 90% of communication is non-verbal. They use these arguments as a reason to purchase visual communication equipment. Albert Mehrabian published research indicating that 50 – 80% of communication is non-verbal, which is probably closer to the truth. That said, it is a complicated issue.

You have probably heard that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Body language is especially important for first impressions. We very often form opinions about people in a few seconds the first time we meet them. You have probably also heard that “eyes are a window to the soul”. Eyes do play a major role in first impressions.

Body language is actually a collection of a number of things.

–       How we position our bodies.

–        The space we leave between each other.

–       Our facial expression.

–       How we move and focus our eyes.

–       How we touch ourselves and each other.

–       Breathing, heart rate and perspiration.

Other things that effect interactions, but are typically not considered body language are pitch, intonation, variation and pauses in speech. We must not forget that some people actually listen to what we say. The words we choose to express ourselves help others form opinions about our education and subject matter knowledge.

Things like culture, age, gender, boredom and a number of other outside influences affect body language. This means that there is no foolproof way to read someone’s signs, but there are some interesting tricks.

Eyes tend to look right when the brain is imaging or creating and left when the brain is recalling or remembering. Creating can sometimes mean lying or speculating. Eyes widening implies interest, rolling eyes implies frustration and dilated pupils indicates attraction or desire. There are similar rules of thumb for the mouth, the head, arms, legs and hands. Learning to read these signs can be a useful set of tools.

Handshakes are an interesting one. I was at a recent sales training seminar where we were encouraged to match a person’s handshake. At other seminars I was always told to deliver a firm handshake. In actual fact, handshakes are not a particularly good indication of anything.

There are a number of very complete papers on Kinesics and the topic is too broad to cover in a single BLOG post. I suggest that you start with something simple like the eyes test and see how far it gets you.

Visual communication is clearly a large part of how we relate to each other and a topic of considerable study. Without a visual communication system that can relay the information we need, we have to meet in person. Before you settle on a visual communication vendor, consider the quality of the experience carefully.

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