Reinforce Your Message
Scientists, sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists all have their own reasons for studying body language. The average person also has a reason: to make sure that the messages he’s sending with his body backs up his verbal statements. Many studies have shown that when verbal and nonverbal massages are at odds, people tend to trust the nonverbal cues. This tends to lead to a lot of confusing situations. For example, you may analyze a date and think, “He said he likes me, but he was really standoffish. So does he like me or not?” Classic verbal/nonverbal confusion.
What Are You Doing Wrong?
Spot the flawed body language in these situations:
• You’re out to dinner with your significant other, professing your love while staring intently—with raised eyebrows—at your water glass.
• You’re arguing with a friend. You stand with your legs crossed at the ankles and your arms crossed tightly over your chest, flaring your nostrils as you insist your point of view is right.
• Your coworker asks if you’ve finished the report you’re working on; he needs it. You make direct eye contact, rub the back of your neck, and say, “It’s just about done.”
In the first situation, the lack of eye contact detracts from your message. Generally, eye contact is made during conversation and held during intense moments such as this one. The eyebrow raise (something you’ll read about later) indicates a person believes what he’s saying, so that may save you here.
In the argument scenario, you’ve pulled your body in tightly, making yourself as small as possible, indicating that you’re protecting yourself against your friend. But why would you need protection if you’re right?
In the coworker situation, that neck rub betrays the fact that your report is nowhere near complete. Self-touches are comforting measures, used to ease the stress of an uncomfortable situation (like when you’re lying to someone’s face). The hand to the back of the head or neck is a classic sign of anxiety and fibbing.
The point of learning body language isn’t to help you become a better liar. Body language helps you project a confident, genuine message and also helps prevent misunderstandings, no matter what the situation.
Do Two Wrongs Make a Right?
If two gestures contradict each other, do they simply cancel each other out? This is the very question that confuses so many people! Take that first scenario again—maybe you are madly in love with this guy, but if you continue to avoid eye contact with him, he’s going to start to wonder about your intentions. The other two scenarios are similar. Regardless of whether you’re telling the truth, the other person is picking up a nonverbal message from you. If that message happens to say, “I don’t believe what I’m saying,” the other person is going to run with it. It won’t matter if you’re 100 percent right in the argument with your friend, for example; she’ll continue to argue her side of the issue because she sees the chink in your armor.