Interpreting body talk
Interacting with people is more than just throwing words at each other across three feet of air space. You not only have to listen, you have to see what the other person is saying. Yes, see. Did you know that man is capable of 36 walking gaits, according to Desmond Morris in “Bodywatching?” The significance of walking patterns, ranging from the stroll to the run, is as interesting as why people cross their arms over their chest and look away when you approach them too aggressively. It’s body language. Cultural slang. Reading a person’s hidden message by watching his or her physical actions is as much an art as handwriting analysis or effective listening.
Body talk is easy to read. Think of it as using old-fashioned common sense. People can say many things, but mean something entirely different. Whether communicating with employees, co-workers or taking care of customers, it’s the wise person who takes the time to read non-verbal attitudes or meaning. Listen to what is being said but closely observe what they do to form a whole message. Eyes, body position and voice tone speak volumes. Body signals often make the difference between complete rapport and bungled misunderstandings.
Eye contact lets you know where you stand. People focus directly on you when you speak if they are comfortable and relaxed in your presence. However, if his or her gaze slides repeatedly away or he stares at the ceiling, he may feel pressured or ill at ease. A continually lowered gaze may indicate slight depression. If rapid eye blinking greets your words, anxiety may be present. More emotional and/or work-related support is the answer.
Body position is tricky. Two people at ease are casual and “at home” with each other. They follow what Morris calls postural echo-mirrored movements to and with the other. You nod; so does he. You lean against the door jamb; he follows. Like-minded equals like-bodied. But if he turns away, you’re getting the cold shoulder. He’s defensive, also, if he crosses his arms across his chest and maybe even a little secretive if his hands are jammed into his pockets. You will know you have lost his attention if he becomes fidgety: finger-drumming, thumb-twiddling and chair-swiveling are definite signals.
Other indicators to good feedback are a steady, calm voice. He’s excited if his speech becomes a rapid-fire, tongue-twisted barrage of sound, and intimidated if his words slow down to a tentative, uncertain pace.
The nuances of body language can alert the adroit person to signs of pleasure or unhappiness, deception or commitment, confusion or confidence. If you see a problem, get it out in the open and handle it then.
And don’t forget to check you own signals. Your posturing is sending non-verbal messages too. By keeping your body language open and receptive, you let others know you’re empathic and professional.
Body talk is an added method of understanding people. Be aware of it and gain the richness of true communication.