How to read body language

NLP techniques - an NLP secret

The first communication

How to read body language is important to us because body language signs are usually the first means of communication between human beings. 

In fact, the interaction of body language and eye contact often take place long before the first words are spoken.

In those moments we gain our first impressions of people and they of us.  Once those initial assessments are made, they can be quite difficult to shift.

How to read body language - finger pointing

I entered a shop that I visit regularly the other day.  A customer was in the course of being served by the owner who was frantically searching the shelves for a particular item and tossing others aside as he did so.

Suddenly, he turned to his assistant, pointed his finger and exclaimed angrily, “The trouble is, you can’t get decent staff around here.”

From a combination of the words and gestures the owner’s meaning was crystal clear:  he couldn’t find what he was looking for and he believed his assistant had put it in the wrong place.

How to read body language - the blamer

The owner was one of those people we would describe as a blamer.  He was placing the responsibility for what had gone wrong on somebody else.  The language was a generalisation:  “You can’t get decent staff around here.”

The challenging questions we would ask might be:  “Do you mean you can’t get any decent staff?”  “When you say ‘around here’ do you mean around this shop, around this locality?”  “What do you mean by ‘decent’ staff?”  “Who says you can’t get decent staff around here?”

By his whole demeanour he was really saying to his assistant, “You are inefficient” or “You are useless”.

How to read body language - aggression

The assistant was doubtless used to this form of abuse and didn’t respond. 

You may well think that it is not the sort of communication that will evince the best response. 

It is more likely to result in disagreement and bad employer/employee relations.

Finger pointing is regarded as very offensive in most cultures. 

When finger pointing starts, tempers often become frayed, language becomes strong and fights break out.  It sends a hostile message.

How to read body language - children

So it is also extremely important that if you are a parent or a teacher, or have any responsibility for children, that you do not point a finger at them when you are attempting to convey a message.  And don’t do it to your partner either!

At best it is a distraction from the nature of the message you are attempting to convey, and at worst it is intimidating, bullying and offensive. 

Even if no words are being used, the mere pointing of the finger is often sufficient to convey the feeling.

During my time as a court advocate I have seen these types of behaviours from counsel and witnesses over the years. 

I naturally “talk with my hands”.  That is to say, I gesticulate when I speak – but never point.

How to read body language - the court room

I have seen counsel who point.  They point at witnesses.  They point at the jury.  They point at the judge. 

They are not successful advocates.  No-one likes to be pointed at and judges and juries are singularly unimpressed by such behaviour.

In fact, when I cross-examine a defendant and he becomes riled and starts to point at his accuser or to me as he attempts to ram home his argument, I know I have him on the run.

He is fully into the “Blame everyone else except me” mode and no-one is going to be impressed by his evidence or behaviour.

The act of pointing is not confident, assertive behaviour. Outwardly, it is dictatorial, implies fault and may lead to conflict.  Inwardly, the feeling may be isolation, lack of success and lack of confidence.

How to read body language - snapping fingers

Snapping your fingers at someone else is equally regarded as rude.  Quite apart from the rudeness aspect, it is really foolish to attempt to get someone’s attention in this way.

Many years ago I had an acquaintance who was an embarrassment to be with in a restaurant. 

He made a point at some time during the meal to snap his fingers at a passing waiter – and it was always to complain about some perceived in efficiency.

Did he get better service or greater respect in that way?  Certainly not.  Did he impress his companions or other diners in the restaurant?  No.  On future occasions I and others made excuses not to dine out with him.

It won’t surprise you to know that this particular individual was also someone you would place in the blamer category.  He was a finger pointer as well. 

The behaviours may be designed to impress – which they completely fail to do – but they point instead to uncertainty and lack of confidence.

How to read body language - talking with the hands

Body language signs

I mentioned earlier that I have a natural way of speaking with my hands, although I certainly avoid pointing. 

Hand gestures, properly used, enhance effectiveness as a speaker and contribute to persuasiveness.

It is, for me, a natural gift that I probably acquired from my father as I was growing up, and I do it without thinking about it.  As I speak, so my hands operate. 

But if it doesn’t come naturally, and you are prepared to work at it, you can be trained to communicate in this way.

How to read body language - visible hands

It is quite important, I believe, that when you are communicating with someone your hands are visible.

A professional photographer taught me when I was a young, keen amateur photographer, that when taking pictures of children always make sure to get their hands in the pictures.

It applies equally with conversation.  It adds warmth and a degree of comfort.  Try having a conversation with someone across a table when the other person has her hands out of view under the table.

There is an uncomfortable feeling about it.  Somehow we expect to see the hands of other people.  They form an important part of the communication between us.

Used improperly, they can be offensive, bullying and hostile, but used properly, they can command a feeling a comfort, security and confidence.

Now you might benefit from reading Body Language Signs.



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