A video about body language has been doing the rounds at Euroffice. It’s armless enough.
The video that’s been going around – ‘7 proven tactics to read body language‘ – is supposed to help people get the most out of conversations and meetings with colleagues. And while it certainly lists some useful things to look out for, it doesn’t mention one really important thing:
Reading body language is creepy.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that’s a bit too eager to please? Or who appears to reacting to you instead of just talking to you? If you try to read #bodylanguage all the time, that’s how you’ll come across.
So when you watch the video, don’t try to go outside and starting reading people’s smiles. Instead, see how often you notice them. See the difference? Reading is active, it’s something that you do. Noticing just happens; it’s natural and coincidental.
You should also consider the culture and the context of the body language. For example the video says that crossed arms are a sign of being defensive. Yet I’ve read that in some cultures it’s actually a sign of respect. If someone crosses their arms as you’re talking to them, are they dismissive of your ideas or taking them seriously?
And remember that even experts get it wrong. I read one interview with a body language guru who went on a date with a woman who looked nervous and unhappy at dinner. He thought he was the problem, but it turned out she was worried that she hadn’t locked her car.
(As an aside, if anyone says they can teach you a foolproof way to spot a liar, they’re lying. Apparently the only people that can spot liars somewhat consistently – at least in controlled experiments – are spies. Why? Because their lives depend on it.)
If you really want to get into studying people’s non-verbal cues, when you should check out the work of Dr. Paul Ekman. He’s a psychologist who says that some human expressions are universal. Basically everyone pulls the same face when experiencing certain things: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. (Keep an eye out for disgust when asking the boss for a rise.)
While we should be aware of body language and learn what it might be saying, we shouldn’t forget it’s actually the person that’s important.