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How to read body language: nonverbal communication

Sending a message?
Sending a message?

Heads swivel when a sexy lady walks by with hips swaying and her long, loose hair floats across her shapely shoulders. An invitation? Maybe.

Some sociologists think clothing helps us establish our identity. If that's true, then follow the lady if you're interested. But on the other hand, we may look a certain way that doesn't show the "real me". For many years, IBM employees had to wear white shirts and a necktie, or skirts and heels, to work. You can bet the employees ditched the look as soon as the 5 o'clock bell rang.

Everybody thinks reading body language is easy, and it is. Getting the right answers is tough. Over half of our communication involves ‘reading’ the other person and we might be wrong if we start by believing we already know the answer or don’t pay attention to all the signs.

How much can we read into body language? A lot if you are careful about it. Read ‘happy’ if both the mouth and eyes are smiling. Read ‘relaxed’ if the body and the hands/feet are all relaxed. We can control some of our messages, but nobody can control them all, so look at more than one body sign,.

Teachers are sometimes accused of picking on the kid who slouches because they believe he is  A) lazy,  B) belligerent, or C) both.   Ask the student who slouches and the answers will be different -   A) bored, B) tired, or C) both.   When we act on what we see without knowing if it's true, we can really create problems.

Manda, a counselor at a southern Indiana school sees literally hundreds of students from top scholars to dropouts, from energized to depressed. When students come into her office, she checks out their eyes "because you can learn a lot there," but holds judgment on that behavior until it is backed up with more information.

Really different body language can cover the same emotions . Someone with a problem can get  tense or go to the opposite end and hardly hold up his head. Manda remarks, "Everybody just wants to be heard and understood."

Sometimes body language is displayed on purpose--a girl sighs, shoulders droop, eyes look down, and she sighs again. What happened? Her cat died? No -- maybe she had a hard day and wants you to suggest dinner out.

So what do you do? Hi, kiss on cheek and turn on the TV. Definitely not. Hug and how did your day go? And listen to the answer.

Here’s the formula:

  1. Read the body language and environment (have dishes been thrown at the wall?),
  2. Get some info (ask what’s going on),
  3. Listen to the answers.

These three simple steps can save you a lot of grief and may make your life much more livable.


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