The Science Behind Body Language – It’s All About the Things You Don’t Say


I can’t hear what you’re saying because who you are being is getting in the way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

How often do you have a conversation with someone when what the person says somehow doesn’t feel right? It probably happened because their words didn’t match with what their body was saying. This makes total sense if you think that 55 % of the message we are sending out into the world is through our body language.

For ages, people have been searching for those specific cues that reveal a lie or the thoughts of a person. But it is never a specific movement, rather it’s the whole appearance and body language of the person and how it might change during a conversation. In the following lines, we will explore some cues of body language that you can look out for. Many might seem like common sense, but the challenge is to learn to notice these signals.

Your Face – Revealer of Your Emotions?

The Science Behind Body Language - It’s All About the Things You Don’t Say

There are seven universal facial expressions that are understood in every culture and every country on the planet. These are anger, disgust, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. Studies have shown that even people who have been blind since birth show these feelings on their faces. Back in the days, when we were hunters and gatherers, these expressions were vital for our survival. Identifying what the faces of our companions were saying helped us make the right choice. If someone showed fear or anger, it was better not to get close to them. If they were happy on the other hand, we could approach them safely.

Body Language: Micro-Expressions

Today researchers, especially Paul Ekman, have developed a Facial Action Coding System (FACS) which breaks down all possible facial expressions into 46 action units, each of which describes a specific muscle movement. The system is now widely used by psychologists, investigators, market research, and even in computer animation studios to create the most realistic characters.

It can be helpful to have a look at these action units as they are often revealed in so-called micro-expressions. Micro-expressions are facial reactions that occur involuntarily and within a fraction of a second. They show a person’s true emotion, mostly without them even noticing. The best example is if someone presses their lips together (action unit 24), it is very likely they want to say something but are literally holding it back. Of course, these gestures can be quite difficult to detect, recognize and interpret but learning this skill will bring your emotional intelligence to a whole new level.

Stay tuned for the next blog post about body language next Monday, which will be all about how to notice and learn from someone’s body language. If you are interested in a similar topic, check out this blog article about 7 Skills of Social Intelligence.

Tagged as body language, growth mindset, mindset,

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