3 Steps to DECODE BODY LANGUAGE : Get It Right the 1st Time
Interpreting someone’s body language is pivotal to being a good communicator. Interpreting nonverbals (another word for body language) helps you in interviews, hiring, conflict resolution, and day-to-day communication. Before you ever interpret one nonverbal, you must know these three basics of interpretation:
1.You must interpret all nonverbals by the person’s baseline behaviors. What is the person’s norm? An example of how this can impact your interpretation. Let’s say Lizzie is usually cold and to compensate for this, she has developed a habit of crossing her arms. The standard interpretation of “crossed arms” is “closed.”
Nonverbal experts typically interpret this behavior as closed, though further investigation will be needed to determine the specifics: Is the person closed to you, to the conversation, or to further interaction? However, if you labeled Lizzie closed, you would misinterpret. She is simply cold and crossing her arms to compensate is her standard behavior.
2. You must interpret all nonverbals in context. Nonverbals differ by gender, culture, and ethnicity. For instance, men and women interpret a head nod very differently. When a woman nods her head as a man is talking, the man will interpret the nod as agreement. However, that is not the message the woman is sending with a head nod. In the female world, a head nod means “I am with you. I am listening. I am present.”
You can imagine the problems this one difference can cause. In a later conversation, the man could say, “But you agreed with me when I told you x.” Her: “No, I didn’t!” And away they go. A disagreement brought on by a simple misinterpretation and not knowing that nonverbal communication is interpreted differently by the genders.
3. You must interpret all nonverbals “wholistically.” Many books are sold promoting that x nonverbal=y meaning. They promote the belief that the minute you see one nonverbal, you have nailed the “secret code.” Alas. Such is not the case. If you do not look at a person’s entire nonverbal “vocabulary” or body language you will often be inaccurate.
This means looking at eye behavior, stance, arms, legs, body positioning, head tilt, eyebrows, etc. This is a long list.
Body language always matters—in every conversation, but without understanding the 3 basics of interpretation, you can risk inaccuracy.
Interpret all body language by a person’s baseline, the context, and all the nonverbals.