(First of a series)
How can we use body language to influence others?
Body language or nonverbal language accounts for more than 50% of what we express when we interact with others. Intimate knowledge of body language can help you achieve two things:
- You will be able to align your verbal message with positive and open body language. This will improve your overall projection as an authoritative and influential speaker. Your subject will perceive this strategic projection and he/she will be more willing to trust you during the interaction.
- You will be able to read your subject’s body language and determine if what’s on his mind is the same as what he is verbally expressing. Reading another person’s body language is a method of eliciting feedback, which is a central concept in NLP.
How can a person read and understand body language?
Nonverbal or body language has its own special structure that is loosely based on the structure of verbal language. People can express “words,” “phrases” and “sentences” through their body language. However, it is easy to misread body language if it is not analyzed correctly.
Here are some important guidelines when discerning the meaning of another person’s body language:
- Context – There are gestures like arm bars that denote negativity and resistance to ideas. However, there are some practical situations where a person performs gestures as a result of environmental conditions.
For example, if it is a chilly day then people would most likely fold their arms in front of their chests to feel warm. Gestures should always be read and understood in their proper contexts to avoid misunderstanding.
- Gesture Sets – Body language can be read more effectively if you try to make sense of your subject’s gesture set.
Gestures can be few and far apart, but that doesn’t mean that these gestures are not associated with each other. In most situations, people use interrelated gestures to convey pleasure, happiness, disagreement or even anger.
In addition to reading your subject’s body language in the proper context, you should also try to make sense of the connections between their gestures.
For example, if your subject keeps touching his mouth or nose while speaking to you and folds his arms most of the time, this can mean that he is not being completely truthful and he is guilty (arm bars typically express discomfort and defensiveness).
- Avoid Over-reading – Sometimes, a person wants to agree but he does not completely understand every detail that is being presented to him. Other times, people have already made up their mind that they will agree with what is being proposed and they are just waiting for the right time to show their agreement.
When there is an element of uncertainty in your subject’s mind, it is possible for him to show signs of resistance or defensiveness. You can end up over-reading these signals and you may overcompensate as a result.
If your subject is sending mixed signals, try to focus on the most prominent gestures and tie them up with the verbal expressions to understand what the subject is really trying to convey to you.
- Be Observant – Like other NLP techniques, reading and expressing oneself through nonverbal language requires keen observation. If you are not observant, you will miss subtle changes in your subject’s body language.
You will get better results if you are able to detect these minute changes and adapt as soon as possible. Keen observation will also allow you to veer away quickly from an issue that is creating resistance or friction.
Being observant is an important skill in neuro-linguistic programming. Luckily, you can develop this skill at home by performing “perceptiveness exercises” that will train your senses to focus on the smallest details in your surroundings.
- Cultural Sensitivity – When you are speaking to someone from another country, chances are this person would have a slightly different set of nonverbal signals.
There are universal signals like smiling, frowning and pouting so make use of these universally-recognized gestures and expressions to communicate clearly with the other person.
If you have time to prepare beforehand, it would also be useful to research the other person’s culture so that you will have an idea as to how to behave when interacting with the foreign national.
Remember: it is a big mistake to think that every foreign guest will be willing to adapt to the new culture immediately. You must be considerate and you must be sensitive to what is acceptable or not in your subject’s culture. If you were in his shoes, you’d probably want the same courtesy to be extended to you.