Gut feeling, intuition, hunches. Whatever we call it, we all have feelings about the people we meet. Part of the information we’re taking in that leads to such conclusions is body language. Whether we realize it or not, we both read and speak it — some of us better than others.
What you’ve heard about body language might be wrong.
The old 7/38/55 rule from Dr. Albert Mehrabian is often quoted even though his study was related strictly to UCLA students and dating. The results still hold some value. Be aware that this study isn’t the quintessential body language research. In his studies of the 1960s, this UCLA professor deduced that in face-to-face communications, 7% of the message is conveyed through words, 38% through voice and 55% through the body.
In the 1970s, Australian researcher and author Allan Pease concluded that body accounted for up to a whopping 80%! Even though some more recent research suggests that these percentages may be more equally distributed, the fact remains that our bodies most definitely talk. In fact, at times, they downright scream.
Have you ever seen a certain gesture and felt, for sure, that you knew what it meant? You might be mistaken.
Although it’s tempting to witness one action, gesture or reaction and use that one thing to conclusively interpret someone’s meaning, it is misleading to do so. Non-verbal communication is best read when using what I call, the “4 Key Cs of body language”.
Marion’s 4 Cs of body language (if you don’t know these, you may be reading it incorrectly).
Here’s a news flash — sometimes people cross their arms just because they’re cold. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re closed to what you’re saying. Work versus social environment also affects how we interact with others. Before you assess the body language, consider the context.
Most countries represent a mix of ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures. Many of us celebrate that diversity. We are also exposed to it, due to work or private life, as we travel to other countries. A caution: gestures that are commonplace to us mean different things to others. For example, the A-OK sign in Japan is a symbol for coin money and in parts of Germany is an obscene gesture. Although eye contact is valued in mainstream North American culture, it is to be avoided in other cultures. Different cultures, different meanings.
As a rule of thumb, using clusters of three actions or gestures, versus just one, to suggest a certain meaning increases your chances of correctly interpreting the meaning. Reading non-verbal communications correctly requires us to refrain from stereotyping or drawing conclusions until we have enough evidence. And even at that, body language is just an indicator, simply one piece in the puzzle of understanding and reading each other correctly.
We all have certain physical actions and idiosyncrasies. Calibrating body signals against a certain individual allows for this fact. Perhaps someone is blinking all the time, not because they are speaking a mistruth or don’t believe what you’re saying – maybe they just have chronically itchy eyes. Gestures depend on the person.
Use the 4 Cs and up the chance that you’re getting the real message.
Next time, before you draw conclusions from someone’s actions, consider the 4 Cs of reading body language. When you do, chances are your gut feeling, intuition or hunch will be a more accurate one.
© 2013-2019 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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