Last week we talked about the science behind body language, especially facial expressions. However, the rest of our bodies also have a lot to reveal. Hand gestures not only underline your message, but they also help you think. That’s why we use our hands even when we’re talking on the phone. And our feet can be even more accurate than the face. Usually, the direction they’re pointing towards shows where the person wants to go. So if the feet of your interlocutor is pointing away from you, you know that their interest might be waning and you should either change the topic or end the conversation. Concerning the feet, it is also helpful to observe how somebody walks. Our walk reveals a lot about us and our mood, as it is more difficult to fake than our face.
Another indicator is our so-called Power Zones, body parts, that can also say something about the person in front of you: First, there is our suprasternal notch which is the hole at the base of the throat/neck. This is our safe zone and we like to touch it if we feel unsure or genuinely shocked about something.
The second Power Zone is our heart. We put our hands there when we express love and kindness.
Our navel is the third Power Zone. It stands for connection and just as the feet show if a person is fully engaged in a conversation or actually wants to leave, depending on where the navel is pointing.
The 4 Cs
When looking at other people, it is important not to overestimate one specific body movement. Rather, you should observe the person as a whole and notice bigger changes in the sum of their body language. The body language expert Linda Clemons names 4 Cs which we should think about when reading others:
- Clusters: Does my conclusion come from just one movement (= cluster) or have I observed several clusters before I made my assumption?
- Congruency: Do the words, tone, and the nonverbal match?
- Context: Does the action fit with the context, the place, time and circumstances?
- Culture: Do I respect and honor our differences and understand that their culture might be different from mine?
Body language The Other Way
It is not only that our emotions can be revealed in our body language, but also the other way around: Our body language influences our emotions. If you are happy, you walk differently. But if you start walking in a happy way, you become happier. In a way, your movements tell your brain how you (should) feel. If you want to uplift your spirit before a presentation, take a minute before and stand in a strong position (super(wo)man) and feel how strong your body is. This will give you and your mind the needed power and confidence to give your best speech. Have a look at this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy if you want to find out more about this topic:
Summing it up, there are many different possibilities to observe the body language of those around you. It takes some practice and learning to notice the specific gestures but it will make you a better listener and speaker. And don’t forget that body language also works the other way: How you move influences how you feel.