5 Mistakes People Make Reading Your Body Language
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Your nonverbal signals don’t
always convey what you intended them to. In fact, when people read your
body language, you can count on them making five major mistakes.
language was the basis for our earliest form of communication when the
split-second ability to recognize if a person or situation was benign
or dangerous was often a matter of life or death.
nonverbal signals play a key role in helping us form quick impressions.
But, as innate as this ability may be, not all of our impressions are
accurate. Although our brains are hardwired to respond instantly to
certain nonverbal cues, that circuitry was put in place a long time ago
– when our ancient ancestors faced threats and challenges very
different from those we face in today’s modern society. The problem is
that the world has changed, but our body reading processes are still
based on a primitive emotional reaction that hasn’t changed much since
humans began interacting with one another.
example: In our prehistory, it may have been vitally important to see
an approaching person’s hands in order to evaluate his intent. If hands
were concealed they could very well be holding a rock, a club, or other
means of doing us harm. In business interactions today, with no logical
reason to do so, we still instinctively mistrust someone who keeps his
hands out of sight -- in his pockets, below the table, or behind his
The following is adapted from
my new book, “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can
Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.” Here are the five mistakes people make
when they read your body language:
1) They won’t
consider the context.
When it comes to body
language, context is king. You can’t really make sense of someone’s
nonverbal message unless you understand the circumstances behind it.
Context is a weave of variables including location, relationships, time
of day, past experience, and even room temperature. Depending on the
context, the same nonverbal signals can take on totally different
Your team members, and
colleagues won’t always have access to this insight. So if you yawn in
a staff meeting because you were up early for an international business
call – let people know why you’re tired. Without this context, you’ll
look like you’re just bored.
2) They’ll find
meaning in one gesture.
People are constantly trying
to evaluate your state of mind by monitoring your body language. But
all too often they will assign meaning to a single (and sometimes
irrelevant) nonverbal cue. And, since the human brain pays more
attention to negative messages than it does to positive ones, people
are mainly on the alert for any sign that indicates you’re in a bad
mood and not to be approached.
So – you may be more
comfortable standing with your arms folded across your chest (or you
may be cold), but don’t be surprised when others judge that gesture as
resistant and unapproachable.
3) They won’t know
One of the keys to accurately
reading body language is to compare someone’s current nonverbal
response to their baseline, or normal behavior. But if people haven’t
observed you over time, they have little basis for that
Remember this when meeting
people for the first time. They won’t know that you habitually frown
when you are concentrating. (And you may not realize it either unless
you ask a friend or coach for feedback.) Others will most likely think
the frown is a reaction to something they said or did.
4) They’ll evaluate
you through an array of personal biases.
There is a woman in my yoga
class who liked me from the moment we met. I’d prefer to believe that
this was a result of my charismatic personality, but I know for a fact
that it’s because I resemble her favorite aunt.
Sometimes biases work in your
favor – an example of the so-called “halo effect.” But biases
can also work against you. What if, instead of someone they like, you
remind people of someone they despise? You might overcome it with time,
but you can bet that their initial response to you won’t be a good
5) They’ll evaluate
through a filter of cultural biases.
When it comes to nonverbal
communication and cultural differences, you can expect to be judged by
behaviors that include how close you stand to a colleague in
conversation, how much or little you touch others, the degree of
emotion in your voice, the amount of eye contact you display, and the
kind of hand gestures you use. And what feels so right in one culture
may be seen as highly insulting in another. (So before you attend that
international business meeting, do a little research to on the
nonverbal business practices that you’re most likely to encounter.)
These are the five mistakes
you can expect people to make. Understanding them, and trying not to
make the same mistakes, will help you be a more effective nonverbal
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2011-03-11 14:42:00 in Personal Articles