Reading body language for some people is as easy as eating. It comes naturally. They notice it and interpret it instantaneously. Others think they know. But often there’s a difference between what we think we know and what we really know.
Just as we read many words together to make sentences and paragraphs of meaning, we also sort through lots of body language gestures before we get the whole meaning.
That’s where confusion begins because sometimes reading body language causes conflict. One gesture might not fit with another. For example, a person’s eyes can show fear. But the lips are smiling. In this case, the eyes tell the story. They don’t lie. A smile can be faked. So we need to interpret, weigh, sort out and use judgment to get the correct meaning and message from the signs someone is giving.
For more detailed information on reading body language, check out Body Language Signs, Body Language Communication, Body Language Eyes, Body Language.
You can usually tell within the first seven seconds of meeting people how they feel about themselves by the look on their faces and the way they move their bodies.
If you were to walk into a room of strangers in another country even, you could probably tell from their stance, movements and gestures their feelings, moods, attitudes and emotions. You can understand by reading their body language whether the atmosphere is jovial, sad or serious. According to research conducted at the University of California, LA, 55% of the emotional messages in face-to-face communication comes from body language.
1. Understand emotions. If you aren't sure about your own emotions or what to look for in others, have a look at improving emotional intelligence. See list of emotions below.
2. Take an interest in other people. Observe others in order to read the 55% of communication that is non-verbal. If your focus is often on yourself, you’ll miss the feelings of others. Focusing on others is also a self esteem booster because others value and respect us more when we pay attention to them. Everyone enjoys being validated.
If you read correctly the signs of people in a business meeting, family relationships or in a public context, you will understand the situation even better than those involved in the interaction. Reading body language correctly begins with noticing it in the first place. Evaluate your own level of observation in a variety of contexts.
See facial expressions associated with specific emotions below.
3. Draw conclusions from what you observe.
Reading body language signals accurately requires understanding a combination of gestures. Sometimes the gesture does not match the words. If someone says, “You look great today,” and you know you don’t because you’ve been up all night studying or looking after a sick child, you’ll take notice of the person’s facial expression and tone of voice. From those non verbal messages you’ll probably realize that the person recognizes that you’re bagged. You might both laugh which you wouldn’t have done if the person had meant what s/he said.
4. Deal with conflict between the word and the message. In Louis Armstrong’s “As Time Goes By,” a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.” But in the world of body language a smile is not just a smile and a kiss is not just a kiss. If the sides of the mouth go up and the eyes go down, the two messages are in conflict. One says happy, the other sad. In this case trust the eyes. They are closer to the soul and don’t often lie.
5. Consider the context. If someone is sitting bent forward with head tucked into the shoulders and arms crossed across the chest, he might not be angry. He might be trying to keep warm in a cold room. Take in all the messages and put them into context.
6. Practice improving your reading. Reading body language accurately begins with wanting to. The rest is practice. Concentrate for 15 minutes a day observing peoples gestures. See if you can guess their messages and also the message in conflict. You can do this in restaurants and in other public places. Observing people on T.V. would work to.
Happiness Crinkling around the outer edges of the eyes. The lips move up and the cheeks bulge in an apple shape. Body is open and forward moving.
Surprise The eyebrows zoom upwards in a curve, wrinkles spread across the forehead. Eyes are wide. Jaw drops. Mouth slackens, head hunches into shoulders.
Sadness Inner ends of the eyebrows rise. Eyes appear moist. Mouth drops at the corners. Lips may quivers. Face appears limp. Shoulders hunch forward. Body is slack.
Fear Raised eyebrows are pulled together. Forehead furrows in the center. Whites of the eyes show. Lips are pulled back. Mouth is slightly open. Shoulders hunched. Backwards movement of the body.
Anger Eyebrows are pulled down and inward. There’s a vertical crease between the brows. The eyes are narrow and take on a hard staring look. Lips close tightly and are down at the corners. Nostrils may flare. Hands are clenched and body is forward moving.
Be careful when watching other people because they may feel threatened or antagonistic to you if they think you are staring at them.
Observational skills and knowledge of cultural signs are important in being able to read people. But so is emotional intelligence. The more emotionally grounded and connected we are, the more self knowledge we have, the better able we will be to understand others. There is a strong connection between reading others body language and being connected with ourselves.