Body language is more than simply attracting the opposite sex. After all, there is more to life and social interactions than doing the nasty. What if I told you that there is more to body language than meets the mind’s eye? What if we’re attracting and repelling career and business opportunities without even knowing it? That, with a flick of a wrist, a sigh, a turn of the head, or an eye roll we’re speaking a language in which we are very fluent?
Those who can read and master their own body language seem to be not only comfortable within themselves and their environment, but move effortlessly with them. There’s an unconscious consciousness to speaking body language and those who speak it fluently are creatively powerful.
Intriguing, yes? There is a lot to learn by reading body language: people tell us more through mere movement and sound than through the words they express. After all, a vast majority of communication is nonverbal. Going into a boardroom to watch executives is like watching a game of poker: everyone around the table has their tells for displeasure, excitement, happiness, boredom and more. There is so much posturing, one would swear the room was full of peacocks.
Disengaging Conflict: Matching and Refocusing
Reading body language can not only engage us with audiences, but it can help us detach from drama that could otherwise suck us into unnecessary work and emotional frenzy. Without words, we are being told when someone isn’t in the mood to talk or if they want vent their frustrations. By looking carefully at the signs of unhappiness and displeasure, we can disengage by simply choosing not to mirror their behavior. If someone makes an unhappy face, instead make a happy face. If they make an unhappy sound, instead make a happy sound. Physical incongruence keeps drama from building.
Now, if we’ve been sucked in already, what can we do? Someone is pissed off and we realized that we’ve gone too far and things can go even more disastrously. This is the opportunity to meet them where they are at now, at their tone and level of intensity, and then start taking things down a notch. If someone is worked up, match their vocal level and feelings of intensity. Want to piss them off even more? Get louder or more physically expressive and see what happens (at your own risk).
For example, if someone says, “Damn, I can’t believe I have to deal with this problem again! Why does this constantly happen?!” We could respond with an equally frustrated voice and then taper off into a more inquisitive and gentle tone, “I know! This sucks! It feels like you’ve been dealt a crappy hand! Although, I wonder if there are some solutions so that, imagine now, things didn’t have to keep ending up this way?” As I mentioned in my last article, for conflict resolution, meeting someone where they are at first allows the person to know that we’re on the same page and then allows us their permission to take their frustration level down a notch by refocusing their attention to a solution oriented mindset after.
Muscle Memory: Carrying Old Physical Behaviors Into New Territory
We have been using our old body language vocabulary through unconscious conditioning (think Pavlov’s dogs) that we don’t even realize we’re taking our old patterns and applying them to totally new and different situations – and that doesn’t always serve us. Ever heard of the phrase muscle memory?
Albert Einstein said that we can’t solve new problems with old ways of thinking, which is why it’s important to be ever mindful of our body language when meeting new people in new contexts. New people tell us through their own physical cues what to look out for and how they learn and communicate within the framework of their minds and feelings. Which means they’re practically handing us a wide open opportunity to join them in their world. And what do we do? We ignore the signs and go on living in our old, outdated world.
Pay attention to how someone moves and the sounds they make upon meeting them for the first time. Now, pay attention to yours. What does your body language say? Our body language and vocal patterns are often so embedded with old memories (positive and negative) and that we’re unconsciously reliving old experiences with the same physical patterns and taking our unconscious muscle memory into new experiences, thus repeating old patterns. The goal of fluently speaking body language is to become unconsciously conscious of reading other people’s body language so that we can match and lead theirs instinctively. Can you do this? If not, read on.
Developing Fluency: Reading Body Language
We don’t have to spend years studying the art of body language, neurolinguistic programming, or even cognitive behavioral psychology to read and interpret body language. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open to the subtle signals people send us – like little ham radios, it’s possible to naturally and instinctively pick up signals and moreover understand them.
Practice. Practice by taking a look at loved ones: friends, lovers, children and read their signals. What are they saying? What are their tells? How can we tell your lover or child is lying? How can we tell that they’re hiding something? When they’re happy? Pay close attention to these cues and then go into work and watch colleagues closely in a meeting. Imagine first, as if the sound of the conversation was completely taken out. Just watch what’s going on – look at the faces, the hands, feet and other extremities – and try to read the nuances of the situation just by these cues alone. What can one deduce from simple physical cues? Now, try pretending to be blind and listen carefully to vocal intonations. Does someone say something they should be confident about, but finish the sentence in the form of a question? Pay attention to the incongruencies of what a person is saying versus the simultaneous sound or physical motion that accompanies it.
The simple practice of reading physical cues and sounds and asking questions to explore these signals are all it takes to become better fluent in “body language”. Receptivity grows by first being consciously incompetent and through practice a natural unconscious competence forms.
Speaking Body Language: Being Subtly Influential
By understanding body language and speaking it (by matching or by being incongruent) fluently, it’s delightfully surprising to see how relationships build and projects move forward easily and creatively.
Matching body language makes us more attractive (because people see themselves unconsciously in us) and makes deflecting negative people more graceful (by choosing not matching their body language). This means, quite simply, that we now have the power to attract what we want and release what we don’t need.
Don’t believe me? Challenge yourself to move and use vocal intonations that you don’t normally use and begin to experience the subtle dynamic shifts with the people you encounter. By controlling our own body language in response to the situations we find ourselves in, we can take back our own power and actively give ourselves choices instead of waiting for them to be given to us.
Coach Leslie’s Questions To Ask Ourselves:
1. Think back to when you or someone else de-escalated a dramatic situation? What physical things did they do? How did they sound? How did the dramatic/upset person react?
2. Think about your own body language reading skills for a moment. When meeting new people, do you watch how they move and adjust your physical and vocal intonations accordingly? Can you tell when they are incongruent to your own body movement?
3. What is your common body language “vocabulary”? Do you say the same “words” over and over again? Can you challenge yourself to act/sound differently?
4. When was the last time you noticed a person’s body language? How did their body language reveal about their feelings/moods?
5. Think about someone you want to avoid. How do you physically move or sound? Now, think about someone you want to attract. How do you act? Now, think about situations in which you are indifferent. How do you act compared to when you are trying to attract something? What are the subtle differences?
Leslie’s final thought: Let your language be love and speak it so fluently that any other language is indecipherable.
Leslie Juvin-Acker is the contributing career and leadership expert at Malakye.com, a job board for the action sports and lifestyle industries based in Southern California.