How To Apply It In Personal Circumstances

Communicating is one of the most essential things we do in life. Due to its many aspects, it is also highly susceptible to misinterpretation. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have as much awareness about it as possible–not only to be more clearly understood–but to more clearly understand others, as well. Unfortunately, a number of the most powerful aspects of communication are often unrecognized consciously, much less used with mastery. They fall into the category of body language. In my Witness Preparation Service, I’ve seen unnecessarily disastrous results with witnesses inadequately prepared in demeanor, or body language.

Many of us simply don’t realize the unintended messages we’re sending out. Whether with family, friends, opponents, colleagues, public speaking or doing such things as giving legal testimony–it’s valuable to know what we are conveying every minute. Even when we’re silent, our body language is broadcasting. And when we do speak, our actual words are only part of the message. The rest we verbalize is in our tone. Many mothers have been known to caution, ‘Don’t use that tone of voice with me!’

In the late 1800’s the now legendary Charles Darwin wrote The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. This became the earliest known scientific research into what has become known as body language (including nonverbal communication) and behavior, often referred to in humans as “demeanor.” Subsequently, there has been an enormous amount of research on the types, expressions and effects of both spoken and unspoken communication and behavior. While these signals are often so subtle that we’re not consciously aware of them, research has identified a vast variety. Unlike Darwin, in this article we’ll be focusing solely on the human kind. However, to the chagrin of mankind, it’s worth noting that animals seem much more adept at tonal and non-verbal communication than many of us humans.

So what does body language mean and how do we recognize it? Does having arms crossed solely suggest someone is protecting herself or blocking others from getting too close, as is the general assumption? Could it also mean the person is physically uncomfortable, such as cold or in pain? Could it mean she might be scared? Or possibly angry? And what about shifting eyes or not establishing eye contact? These are often perceived as indicative of dishonesty. However, what if the person is actually shy? Perhaps confused? Or even scared?

As the fields of personal growth and psychology became popularized since the 1970’s, research on body language has grown significantly. Nevertheless, after the publication of Julius Fast’s acclaimed book, Body Language, public media and even some so-called “experts” still focus on the overly simplified interpretation of defensive-seeming postures like arm-crossing and leg-crossing. While these nonverbal behaviors can indicate certain feelings and attitudes, research plainly shows that body language is far more subtle, multifaceted and less definitive than originally acknowledged.

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