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
My mind is going a million miles a second to every worst case scenario that I can dream up. I need to actually be asleep and dreaming but my head has other ideas. I’m in a battle against myself and I’m losing. Staring at the clock and willing myself to sleep is an exercise in futility. The onslaught seems relentless. I’m either replaying past events of my biggest regrets or I’m envisioning a future that is so dismal that my life seems hopeless.
I am sure I’m the only one in the world that does this. Just in case I’m not, I did find ways to battle the beast inside me and win a good night’s sleep. It’s not perfect and negative thoughts still rear their ugly head, but I have a better handle on it.
I read a great book called “What To Say When You Talk To Your Self” by Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D. I highly recommend it if you want to change the bad opinion you have of yourself to a more positive one.
“Self-Talk is a way to override our past negative programming by erasing or replacing it with conscious, positive new directions. Self-Talk is a practical way to live our lives by active intent rather than by passive acceptance.” Shed Helmstetter, Ph.D.
We do have more control over our thoughts when we force ourselves to speak them out loud. It’s like holding a mirror up to our face and realizing our impending doom is not even close to being realistic. We need to get out of our heads and look at what’s really bothering us. I found writing down my concerns and worries helps me to see them in a better light. Am I trying to control things that are out of my control like an earthquake, a hurricane or tight fitting jeans? Ok, maybe the last one can be controlled by eating less cookies, but I’m sure the science is still out on that one.
Many of the things we worry about never come to fruition. I find confiding in a friend about my fears does help in alleviating them. I get a sense of reassurance that comes when someone who cares about me lets me know that everything will work out. We all need that lifeline that connects us to each other. It’s a nice reminder to reach out to our family and friends when we are dealing with insecurities and self-doubt.
One of the ways I’ve found to help me stop the negative voice in my head is to flip the script I’m telling myself. I go back through my day and find something to make me smile. Sometimes it’s just remembering a funny moment. My favorite memory is a recent conversation I had with my six year old nephew, Kent. He said, “Aunt Celeste how old are you?”
I said “I’m 56.”
“56! Wow! You look like you can be in your 40’s”
“Thank you, I’ll take it”
“Yeah, I knew you’d like to hear that”
Yes, every time I think of this, it cracks me up. I love his sense of humor and it makes me happy. It also helps me relax and think of more fun times in my life. I feel a sense of gratitude and hope. I think about how soft and nice my pillow is and I fall asleep. That’s when I realize, all we really need is a fluffy pillow to help us sleep.
Four words that will get everyone’s attention: Once Upon A Time. Those four words have the power to ignite our imagination and get us excited for an adventure. We have been telling stories from the very beginning- Stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Stories teach, inspire, and motivate us.
The one question I hear many times, as a motivational speaker, is “How do I present my ideas and keep everyone’s attention?” The simple answer is: Tell them a good story.
I believe the best stories are true personal stories. Let’s face it; facts are always stranger than fiction. Yes, once when I was bellydancing a monkey did grab my foot and started sucking on my toe, and yes I did take a knife away from a big biker dude and yes, I was almost eaten by a shark.
I found that telling personal stories connects us to each other. It teaches us compassion and empathy. It gets our message across in an emotional way that stays with us.
We are all hardwired to want to hear other people’s stories. That’s how we get to know each other. That’s how we learn from each other. That’s how we know to stay away from the crazy person who seemed normal until they started talking.
Researcher Paul Zak presented his findings in a paper called Empathy, Neurochemistry and the Dramatic Arc: How Stories Shape Our Brains. He took blood samples from people before and after they watched an emotional story. Two primary emotions that were elicited was distress and empathy. The brain produced two interesting chemicals: cortisol which is released when we are feeling distressed and focuses our attention, and oxytocin, which triggers our emotion of care, connection and empathy.
Storytelling can change our behavior by changing our brain chemistry. To quot Zak: “By knowing someone’s story-where they came from, what they do, and who you might know in common, relationships with strangers are formed.”
The opposite was true when participants were asked to watch a video where there was no story. People started to let their minds wander. There wasn’t anything happening to keep their attention.
We have all experienced this. A presentation that is devoid of any emotion, just an explanation of facts and statistics. Our minds would dissolve into day dreaming just to keep us awake. I am sure most of you have experienced that. I think if someone is going to show a powerpoint presentation they should also pass pillows out to the audience.
I think our greatest fear in public speaking is that we will be boring. Here’s a few tips that I’ve learned that I think will help take away that fear.
There is a universal story structure. It comes in three parts. Beginning, Middle and End.
The biggest component is the battle between good and evil. The struggle and success against tremendous obstacles.
The beginning: The main character, who sets out on an adventure.
The middle: They face daunting, sometimes frightening, challenges like a fire breathing dragon.
The ending: Our hero learns to defeat the dragon, understands the lesson that they have been taught and comes away with the success of those efforts.
Use descriptive words that helps our mind see the people and envision the scene they are in.
Give details. Give us an idea of why you are telling this story. We want to know where the story is taking place. We want to know what you are thinking and feeling. We want to know how the story will end.
Three parts to a story:
1. The hero of the story is your message.
2. The fire breathing dragon is your challenge.
3. What the hero learned is your call to action.
We all have experiences of facing challenges that shaped our perception of the world. There’s a very good chance that someone in the audience needs to hear your message. This is our chance to help someone who is looking for answers or reassurance that they are on the right track. This is our chance to connect with each other. We all come from different places and different backgrounds but our stories are universal.
Take that leap of faith and tell us the story that inspired you. The story that helped you turn a corner and put you in a new direction. Tell us about your fire breathing dragon.
I read the following a few years ago: When you take a group photo and you look at the picture, who do you look for first? Yes, you look for yourself. You want to know how you came out. You want to know if your eyes are open. It’s not that you are completely disinterested in seeing the whole group, but you want to make sure you look okay.
That analogy stuck with me. Whenever I worry about how I came across at a networking event, or a social get together, I remember nobody really cares. They are at home going over the same concern. “How did I do? Did I get my thoughts out clearly. Did I make a fool of myself?”
I’m not suggesting that nobody noticed you or you shouldn’t always try to make a good impression. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t sweat the small details of an entire evening. We get so wrapped up in other people’s opinion of us that we lose sight of the reality; most of the time people never gave us a second thought. I can assure you that they are not at home thinking about all you said and did. Unless of course you got really drunk and broke a lamp. That’s a different story. Everyone will be talking about that.
Social anxiety is difficult to control when you feel you are constantly being judged. The first question I would ask is “How much do you judge other people?” Many times our feelings of inadequacy are projected onto others. When we don’t feel good about ourselves we automatically believe others see our short comings as well.
It’s human nature to form impressions of people that we are meeting. We cannot control what people are thinking of us and they can’t control what we are thinking of them. What we can do is be open to finding the best in people and hope that they are doing the same.
Once, I was being interviewed after I gave a speech and I was asked what my favorite quote was. I said Oscar Wilde’s “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”
I explained that it summed up my feelings of never taking myself too seriously. I will make mistakes and not always say the right thing. My hope is to never intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. People may not remember everything I said or did, but they will remember how I made them feel. They will remember if I listened to them and cared about what they shared with me.
Whenever you are beating yourself up over how you may have come across at an event, stop and think about this instead: Did you insult someone? Did you just talk about yourself and not ask how the other person is doing? Did you have too much to drink and were obnoxious? If you did any of this, you can redeem yourself by apologizing. Otherwise, think about the people you talked and laughed with. Take a mental picture and realize you had fun. Save that as your memory. I hope you kept your eyes open.
No one likes to fail. We definitely don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of someone, or especially a group of people. Who in their right mind would voluntarily get up and give a speech for an audience? Why would we put ourselves through the agony of knowing that there’s a really good chance we will bomb?
At some point in our lives, we will need to step up and take that chance.
Whether it’s an oral report for school, the toast at our friend’s wedding or a nerve-racking presentation for work, there’s a good chance of screwing up.
Let’s talk about failure. I’m sure every one of us can conjure up at least one memory of a time we messed up—yet somehow we survived. If we could really die of embarrassment, I would’ve died many times. Looking back, I realized that my failures were all lessons I needed to learn. I wouldn’t change any of them, because those experiences made me a better speaker. I approach every opportunity to present to a group of people as invaluable stage time.
Just like anything else done well, effective public speaking takes practice. The more opportunities we take to refine our speeches, the more chances we have to create impactful messages. We all learn from each other, and the only way we can do that is to communicate and share our experiences.
When we take a look back at our lives and see how far we’ve come, we’ll realize something important: All those failures, all those cringe-worthy moments, left us with life lessons that inevitably led us to our successes. It’s that knowledge we need to share with each other. You never know who in your audience needs to hear that message that day.
Keeping ourselves safe from embarrassment will keep us from growing and really knowing our potential. I love Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Yes, we may fall flat on our faces, but we will get up and be better than ever. Let’s give ourselves permission to fail. We may never know where that will lead us until we do.