What Body Language Tells People about You
Even if you don't particularly believe that gestures and motions contain a hidden language, plenty of other people do. Some of these people are intentionally searching for patterns in your behavior; others are simply intuitive enough to know when there's something amiss (such as when your mouth is saying one thing but your body is telling a completely different story). Fair or not, people tend to look at one another as open books. When the book seems to be written in a language you don't understand, body language is often brought in as the interpreter.
Right on Cue(s)
You can understand someone being interested in gestures if they happen to be a psychologist or an anthropologist (in other words, if they have a “legitimate” reason to study human behavior), but why does your friend analyze every piece of seemingly random data concerning her boyfriend's eye movements? How can she be so convinced that he's lying? (And why is he such a bad liar?)
In Chapter 1, you read that people learn certain body language cues from each other. For example, you might learn from a mentor at work how to carry yourself in a professional manner in the office. People also find — and copy — examples of body language presented in the media. One celebrity exhibits a certain behavior, such as fist-bumping or excessive pouting, fans mimic him, and before you know it you've got a whole new set of body language cues to deal with on a personal basis. Real people might misuse these cues, though, which only confuses things further.
How a gesture is interpreted depends on who's using it and the setting he's using it in. Using “hip” hand motions in a bar makes you look like one of the guys, but displaying those same gestures in the office might make you look unprofessional.
User or Nonuser
Even if you think you don't use body language, you do. Every single day, you move your hands, your head, your legs, and your torso, probably without thinking about the messages attached to those movements.
Most people send off body language signals because they don't know much about the study of physical gestures. They're relaxed and simply going about their business. These men and women are easy to observe and analyze, because they have no idea what their gestures are saying to the outside world.
Some people specifically study and perfect their body language to get ahead in life (salespeople and politicians, for example). Watch out for them — they're very skilled in matching their spoken word to their body movements, sending out a message that seems genuine but in many cases is anything but.
When you first start learning about body language and the ways you physically display the thoughts you believed were hidden safely in your head, it's natural to say to yourself, “I'm going to sit on my hands and not make eye contact with people. I don't want anyone reading my behavior!” But if you read far enough into any body language book, you'll know that sitting on the hands sends a message all its own, as does shifty eye contact.
Darned If You Do, Darned If You Don't
If all body language sends a message, does that mean you're trapped in a form of communication that you don't necessarily want to use? Maybe you feel that there's no point in learning anything else on the topic because no matter what you do, people are going to analyze your moves and decide if what you're saying is genuine. Well … that's true (at least to some extent). And most of the time, this isn't a problem; it's just the way life works. You might find yourself in quite the predicament, though, when the body language you're using is sending the wrong message.
For example, let's say you're rubbing your face while you tell your boss that your project is coming along terrifically. Maybe you have an itch; maybe your face is swollen; or maybe that facial rub just feels good to you. Trouble is, it's also a classic sign that someone's fibbing. And since many high-level managers take actual classes in understanding body language, you might suddenly find yourself under a microscope at work without knowing why.
Many businesses offer courses in body language, for several reasons: Salespeople need to know how to project a likeable persona; they also need to know how to spot a customer's weak points. Your boss, meanwhile, might study body language so that he knows the appropriate ways to deal with his international cohorts. Do a Web search for business-oriented body language Web sites and/or check out