Body Language Basics
The honesty of body language.
"If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them." John Napier
For millions of years, our early ancestors ambled on this planet, navigating a very dangerous world. They did so by communicating effectively their needs, emotions, fears, and desires with each other. Impressively, they achieved this through the use of nonverbal communications such as physiological changes (flushed face), gestures (pointing hand), noises (grunting is not a word) and facial or body reactions (quizzical or frightened look). This has been part of our biological heritage for so long that we still primarily communicate nonverbally, not verbally, and why we need emotional icons in our written communication.
Fortunately for us we evolved a system to immediately communicate to others how we feel and what we sense. If not for this, a room might be dangerously hot - not just warm and a swim in a lake might turn into hypothermia. If we had to think, even for a few seconds, at every perilous encounter (imagine a coiled rattle snake by your leg) we would have died out as a species. Instead we evolved to react to threats or anything that might harm us and not to think (the "freeze, flight, fight response" I talk about in Louder Than Words) are hard-wired.
Whether in business, at home, or in relationships, we can always be assured that true sentiments will be reflected in our body language through displays of comfort and discomfort. This binary system of communicating how we feel has stood the test of time and survived to help us through its elegant simplicity.
Obviously this can be very effective in determining how others feel about us and in evaluating how a relationship is evolving. Often when people sense that something is wrong in a relationship, what they are sensing are changes in body language displays. Couples who no longer touch or walk close together are easy to spot but sometimes the more subtle behaviors are even more accurate. An example of this is when couples touch each other with their fingertips rather than their full hand (distancing behavior) indicative of psychological discomfort. This behavior alone may portend serious problems in the relationship that on the surface may not be so obvious.
And so while there are many aspects of nonverbal communications and body language, focusing on comfort and discomfort can go a long way in helping us to see more clearly what others are truly feeling, thinking, fearing or desiring. Having that extra insight gives us a more honest appraisal of others and it will in the end assist us in communicating more effectively and empathetically for a deeper understanding.
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Joe Navarro is a former FBI Special Agent and is the author of eleven books including the international best seller, What Every Body is Saying. You can find more on Joe at www.jnforensics.com including a free nonverbal communications bibliography or follow him on twitter:@navarrotells. Copyright © 2011, Joe Navarro.
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Navarro, Joe. (2008). What Every Body is Saying. New York: HarperCollins.
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