Raise your hand if you’ve done a course, or read an article, on reading body language. I bet it’s many of you. It was all the rage twenty years ago. “Ooo, you can tell what someone’s thinking by interpreting what they’re doing with their body.” It’s not as esoteric now and people do it all the time.
My advice is not to bother.
I think we’re all clued up enough to know when someone is annoyed with us, happy with us, is in love with us. Trying to read further in to which way a person crosses their legs, how they flick their hair, how they pick their nose, is a road to misunderstanding. Not to mention that it totally destroys mindfulness. Who wants to engage with someone who is constantly watching them like a hawk, trying to determine what’s going on in their head?
It is a constant source of aggravation for people and they don’t even know it.
Take Rebecca for example. I know her through my Foundation work. She has what is often known as a “resting bitch face”. I’m not a fan of the term for more than one reason, but those were her words. If you’re not conversant with that piece of vulgarity it means that when not concentrating on her facial expressions she may appear angry or dismissive. Rebecca told me that her boss at work had said to her recently, “I’m so pleased that you perform so well. When we first met I knew that you would be trouble, you just have that look about you.”
What a bloody awful thing to say to someone! Judging on appearances, no matter how amazing you think your interpretive abilities, is a fool’s errand. And we do it all the time.
Many of us in fact, capitalise on that. When I want to impress someone, I wear a nice suit. People judge me immediately, most often positively. I could be an absolute moron, as many people who wear suits are, but that’s not what people think when they see me. If I wore instead a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, I would get a different reception, that’s certain, and I’m the exact same person. I often advise people to dress in a particular way entirely because of this. The stereotypes exist. You can either spend years trying to change global opinions or you can prove them wrong in your own specific case.
Three Things You’ll Get Wrong the Majority of the Time
A person’s general manner. I’ve lost track of how many times people have said to me, “You’re not as fierce as I thought you’d be.” You can substitute fierce for any number of synonyms relating to approachability or friendliness. I put this down to a number of things, the main ones being:
- I walk with purpose. I don’t mince about or dilly-dally. I don’t waste my own time or that of other people.
- I’m direct and to the point. I appreciate honesty and don’t have anything to do with being offended.
- I speak very precisely.
Now, people, incorrectly, take those very visible traits of mine and make them mean that I am not an affable gentleman, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I have infinite patience and amazing listening skills, but you’d have to spend time with me to know that.
When we meet new people, we view them through our filter. We inadvertently employ transference to judge those people by experiences we’ve had with other people in our past. It’s certainly true that we are using methods of deduction to come to conclusions, but often they are the wrong conclusions. So, trying to determine a new person’s character or mood by the physical actions they are taking is a risky proposition.
I scowl a great deal and narrow my eyes. I’m not in a bad mood when I do this. It’s my concentration face. Mr Body Language would say that I’m angry.
I fold my arms when I stand and listen. I’m not being closed off or unreceptive, I’m merely crossing my arms instead of letting them dangle like an ape or hooking my thumbs in my belt like a 50’s Greaser.
My education and upbringing means I have a clipped tone when I speak. I’m not annoyed or frustrated. It’s my accent.
If you’re feeling confused about someone’s manner, why not just ask them? “Hey, Rand, I’ve noticed that you’re very direct, is that a learned trait or have you always been that sort of person?” I’d love that sort of question, mainly because, like every other human being, I like to talk about myself.
If someone is attracted to you. I suspect this is the main reason people “study” body language. I say “study” because that’s the sort of thing people say isn’t it? “I’m a student of body language.” “Yes, I’ve studied body language. Your constant yawning when I speak means that you’re bored shitless.” I get it, you’ve read a thirty page book on body language and how to tell if a woman fancies you by which way she crosses her legs. I’d say if she’s crossing her legs, she probably doesn’t.
I know an excellent way to determine whether someone is attracted to you. It works every time.
Ask them out on a date. If they say yes, they’re attracted to you. If they say no, they’re not. Oversimplifying? Yup. Making your life easier? Yup again. Nobody ever analysed a person into bed.
Whether someone is telling the truth. This one is huge in NLP. Maybe I’ve over-egged this particular omelette when I say “get wrong the majority of the time” as there’s a fifty percent chance you’ll get it right, but it’s not worth the hassle. If they look up and right when they’re talking they are using their memory, but if they look down and left they’re inventing something so they’re definitely lying. Of course, if they are left-handed it’s the opposite, so looking up and right means that they’re lying etc.
Why are you even having a conversation with someone who might be lying to you? If you’ve read my book, Pull Yourself Together: The Non-Nonsense Guide to Assuming Control of Your Life, you’ll know that I advocate dumping bullshitters from your life. Get rid of them, don’t waste your time trying to figure out if they’re not telling you the truth.
I’m sure there are experts out there who get better odds than evens and hats off to them, but unless that’s you, use your time in more a more productive fashion.
Three Simple Reasons You Shouldn’t Bother Trying to Read Body Language
These reasons are simple, but powerful.
- You might get it wrong and then you’ll draw conclusions and employ confirmation bias to prove yourself right. It’s a sticky slope.
- You’ll miss out on engaging fully with that person. You won’t be in the moment.
- It’ll make you paranoid. You’ll start looking out for things and then you’ll start noticing things that aren’t really there.
Try this instead: