Friday, October 23, 2009

Body Language

Body language is a form of non-verbal communication involving the use of stylized gestures, postures, eye movements and physiologic signs which act as cues to other people. Humans, sometimes unconsciously, send and receive non-verbal signals all the time.
It is often said that human communication consists of 93% body language and paralinguistic cues, while only 7% of communication consists of words themselves. Albert Mehrabian asserts that between 60 and 70 percent of all meaning is derived from nonverbal behavior. Body language may provide cues as to the attitude or state of mind of a person. For example, it may indicate
aggression, attentiveness, boredom, relaxed state, pleasure, amusement, besides may other cues. The study of body movement is known as kinesics Humans move their bodies when communicating because; ease the mental effort when communication is difficult. For instance
Hands on knees: indicates readiness.
Hands on hips: indicates impatience.
Lock your hands behind your back: indicates self-control
Locked hands behind head: states confidence.
Sitting with a leg over the arm of the chair: suggests indifference.
Legs and feet pointed in a particular direction: the direction where more interest is felt Crossed arms: indicates submissiveness.
One of the most basic and powerful body-language signals is when a person crosses his or her arms across the chest. This can indicate that a person is putting up an unconscious barrier between themselves and others. It can also indicate that the person's arms are cold which would be clarified by rubbing the arms or huddling. When the overall situation is amicable, it can mean that a person is thinking deeply about what is being discussed. But in a serious or confrontational situation, it can mean that a person is expressing opposition. This is especially so if the person is leaning away from the speaker. A harsh or blank facial expression often indicates outright hostility.
Consistent eye contact can indicate that a person is thinking positively of what the speaker is saying. It can also mean that the other person doesn't trust the speaker enough to "take his eyes off" the speaker. Lack of eye contact can indicate negativity. On the other hand, individuals with anxiety disorders are often unable to make eye contact without discomfort. Eye contact is often a secondary and misleading gesture because we are taught from an early age to make eye contact when speaking. If a person is looking at you but is making the arms-across-chest signal, the eye contact could be indicative that something is bothering the person, and that he wants to talk about it. Or if while making direct eye contact a person is fiddling with something, even while directly looking at you, it could indicate the attention is elsewhere. Also there are three standard areas that a person will look which represent different states of being. If the person looks from one eye to the other then to the forehead it is a sign that they are taking an authoritative position. If they move from one eye to the other then to the nose, that signals that they are engaging in what they consider to be a "level conversation" with neither party holding superiority. The last case is from one eye to the other and then down to the lips. This is a strong indication of romantic feelings.
Disbelief is often indicated by averted gaze, or by touching the ear or scratching the chin. When a person is not being convinced by what someone is saying, the attention invariably wanders, and the eyes will stare away for an extended period.
Boredom is indicated by the head tilting to one side, or by the eyes looking straight at the speaker but becoming slightly unfocused. A head tilt may also indicate a sore neck or Amblyopia, and unfocused eyes may indicate ocular problems in the listener.
Interest can be indicated through posture or extended eye contact. Such as standing and listening properly.
Deceit or the act of withholding information can sometimes be indicated by touching the face during conversation. Excessive blinking is a well-known indicator of someone who is lying. Recently, evidence has surfaced that the absence of blinking can also represent lying as a more reliable factor than excessive blinking.
Interpersonal space refers to the psychological "bubble" that we can imagine exists when someone is standing way too close to us. Research has revealed that in North America there are four different zones of interpersonal space. The first zone is called intimate distance and ranges from touching to about eighteen inches apart. Intimate distance is the space around us that we reserve for lovers, children, as well as close family members and friends. The second zone is called personal distance and begins about an arm's length away; starting around eighteen inches from our person and ending about four feet away. We use personal distance in conversations with friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions. The third zone of interpersonal space is called social distance and is the area that ranges from four to eight feet away from you. Social distance is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances. The fourth identified zone of space is public distance and includes anything more than eight feet away from you. This zone is used for speeches, lectures, and theater; essentially, public distance is that range reserved for larger audiences.
False friendship:
Invasion is often done under the cloak of of familiarity, where you act as if you are being friendly and move into a space reserved for friends, but without being invited. This gives the other person a dilemma of whether to repel a 'friendly' advance or to accept dominance of the other.
When you go inside the comfort zone of others without permission, you are effectively invading their territory. The close you get, the greater your ability to have 'first strike', from which an opponent may not recover.
Touching the person is another form of invasion. Even touching social touch zones such as arm and back can be aggressive.
Facial signals:
Much aggression can be shown in the face, from disapproving frowns and pursed lips to sneers and full snarls. The eyes can be used to stare and hold the gaze for long period. They may also squint, preventing the other person seeing where you are looking.
Cross cultural body language:
In north America people can use left hand for eating, whereas in our part of the world, left hand is used for bath room hygiene, and considered disturbing to say the least. Similarly the familiar A-ok gesture is which expresses approval and pleasure is likely to be insulting to a French person who reads the message as you’re zero. the thumbs up gesture we take to be good job could get you in trouble in Australia where it means something else.


Cindy said...

Hi Omar, thanks for putting this up.
It is shocking that according to the research is done, 93% of the message is conveyed through our body language, instead of the words we speak.
But I wonder what if people read the signals wrong due to the different cultural/family background?
For instance, the personal distance(comfort zone). I am sure compared to Americans Pakistani have literally 0 distnace. About touching as well, we can not take that as aggressive can we.
About blinking when lying, oh well we all know good liars lie based on some real facts, he does not need to make up a story but telling someone else's story as his own. So he/she won't blink. And some shy people, who might be less confident about themselves, might blink even when they are simply telling you their names or birthdays.
Last point I found this article interesting is the locking your hands behind your head indicates confidence. WHY? For me it seems impatient (eg. Oh weather is so nice, I want to play baseball outside. Hmmm.... why isn't this conversation over yet? FIne, I wil start stretching.)

But that's just my comment. I don't think human being nowadays can judge people's body lauguage that well. First because back in history people lived in a homogeneous group. Second they did not depend on cellphones or internet. Seriously, when we are used to communicate through emails, SMS or phone calls, we are losing this habit of reading body language.

Alina Lodhi said...

Hey Omar, geat post. It shows that we need to put in effort in our hand gestures, accents, and other movements, besides just concentrating on what we are saying. Depending on what is comming out of our mouths, we can send out a different message with our gestures.

Omar, said...

Thank you. You are quite right about people misinterpreting these singals, depending on their cultural background. That is why; it is very essential for an international businessman to learn about cross-cultural signs.
About the distance zone, as stated above, these are signals which are followed in the states and even there they are not adhered to as a diktat. However, they are understood generally. Ever heard the phrase ‘Keep your distance’? On the flipside, in Pakistan being too close is considered being warm and genial.
In the case of lying; it’s just a common rule that liars blink a lot or tend move around. However, there can be exceptions which you already have stated. As far as writing is concerned be it on email or texts people, now a day, are using smilies or emoticons to communicate. That’s enhances the context of your written message

Cindy said...

Hi the author of the article :)
See i just put a smile there to communicate better with you. (Haha)
What I meant that when people get very used to text lol, haha, rofl, :) ....etc, they may not rely on the 93% body language when they actually 'talk' in the real life.