4 Body Language Myths That We Need To Stop Believing
Many of us don’t realize just how much we communicate nonverbally. I can usually tell when someone isn’t feeling well even when they say everything is fine. The other day I met up with a friend and before she even spoke I said, “What’s wrong?” She looked at me in surprise and said, “How can you tell? I purposely put on a smile and yet you can still tell I’m upset?”
We all have “tells”: a poker term that is used to describe what our bodies do unconsciously. Professional gamblers are looking to see certain body movements that the other players do. For example, they will pick up on subtle signals that a person does when they are holding a winning or losing hand. They notice if a person holds their breath when they like their cards or a subtle frown when they know the outcome doesn’t look good. That’s why so many gamblers sitting at a gaming table will cover up with a hoodie and sunglasses. They know how hard it is to keep their nonverbal cues in check. Trying to have a poker face is very hard to do with your body.
A one size fits all understanding of body language doesn’t work. We have to consider other elements that come into play when we are meeting people. There can be cultural differences that explains why one person moves into your personal space and another that seems to stand a little farther back. When people are trying to decode what a person is thinking simply by watching how they sit or stand may be interpreting it all wrong.
Here are four body language myths according to Joe Navarro a former FBI Counterintelligence Agent and expert on nonverbal communication and body language:
1. Crossing our arms doesn’t always mean we are on the defensive or needing to block out someone’s ideas. For most people it feels comfortable to cross our arms like a self hug. A person may feel cold, tired or the chair doesn’t have arm rests which causes them to hold their arms. Many women automatically sit with their legs crossed in the name of comfort.
2. Touching our face or covering our mouth is not an indication that we’re trying to cover up a lie. Sometimes it’s just a nervous tick that we are doing unconsciously. We all have ways of of reassuring ourselves when we feel a little anxious.
3. Lack of eye contact is not an indication that someone is not being truthful. Many times a liar may use excessive eye contact just to help make the lie more believable. Sometimes our eyes will move past the person we are talking to when we are trying to recall a memory. We tend to move our eyes from left to right as a way of processing information. Many people who are shy have trouble looking people in the eyes. They are not trying to be deceitful, they are lacking confidence in themselves.
4. Putting our hands in our pockets or behind our backs doesn’t mean we are trying to hide something. It’s again, a way to self soothe. It’s what makes us feel comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.
Mr. Joe Navarro explains that we are constantly giving each other nonverbal cues. The most important thing we can do is be aware of how we are coming across. How we are dressed, what our posture is and if we are smiling. Are we taking the time to really listen and care about what the other person is saying to us? All of this helps us to be more empathetic to each other and our own nonverbal cues will be communicated in a positive way.
I know how my friend walks, and talks when she’s in a good mood. It was easy for me to pick up that she wasn’t doing well. She told me what was bothering her and was glad that she didn’t have to hide her true feelings. I’m happy that she felt safe to let me know what was going on in her life.
We all need people to care about us and take the time to recognize our body language as well as listening to what we are saying. We also need to be the person who takes the time to observe and pay attention to the people around us. This is what connects us to each other and helps us build solid relationships.
For more information please read “The Dictionary of Body Language” by Joe Navarro
Celeste DeCamps has a B.A. in Communications from the University of Miami. She worked in radio and television, was a professional belly dancer, drummer, percussionist, nightclub owner, and a sales rep for Southern Wine and Spirits for 12 years. Throughout her different career moves, speaking to and teaching women how to be more confident is Celeste's most fulfilling job.