8 Tips for Reading People’s Minds (Hint: Body Language)

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July 11, 2012 Blog 1 Comment

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Peter Drucker

It makes the most of all our communication, yet there is so much we’re not aware of. Learning the secrets of body language could get you inside people’s heads and help you see what they are really thinking.

Non-verbal communication is one of the most fascinating things in the world. Decoding it is at least double as fascinating. Some bodily expressions are universal across the borders of culture and even species. Hunched posture implies weakness and lower status, whereas spreading out indicates power among humans as well as chimpanzees. However, there’s much more to it.

Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell estimates that we can make and recognise around 250,000 facial expressions

The exciting thing about body language is that it’s unconscious. We are born with the innate ability to express ourselves with our bodies, e.g. think of a crying baby or dilated pupils when the mother is in sight. Verbal expression comes later. Many visual clues are automatically interpreted, but many of the subtleties easily go unnoticed if you don’t know what to look for.

Notice these subtleties and you might turn a whole new page in communicating with others. Much of this wordless communication goes without saying, but if you become consciously attentive, you can improve your body language reading skills tremendously from understanding people more deeply to spotting a lie.

Look for these key indications to get into the needs, feelings and intentions of your companions:

1.   Pay attention to distance
How far your companion is from you, may reveal more about their attitude towards you than a thousand words would. The warmer the person’s feelings towards you, the nearer they will get to you. It’s good to keep in mind that various cultures have different rules of social distance.

2.   Head position
Tilted head is considered to indicate sympathetic feelings. Lowered head could mean that the person is hiding something. This might also be a sign of respect in some cultures.

3.   Arms position
Crossed arms usually indicate defensiveness and could be a sign that the person is not receptive to your suggestions.

4.   Eye movement
One of the hardest to control and thus the most sure-fire way to sneak into the person’s thoughts. Spotting a lie isn’t an easy task, but eyes turning upwards left indicate composing an idea out of nothing. Trying to recall something familiar would take the eyes upwards and right. Constantly moving eyes from side to side could indicate nervousness.

5.   Pupil size
Virtually impossible to control, pupil size is connected to autonomic nervous system and therefore a good indicator of a person’s interest level. Expanded pupils signal interest, love or fear whereas retracted pupils reveal indifference. When tracking your companion’s eyes, remember that specific medication or drugs might induce dilated pupils.

6.   Mirroring
If your companion is mimicking your gestures, it might be a sign of deeper interest and fondness.  Test it out by changing your position and see if they change theirs too.

7.   Look out for fidgeting
Feelings of guilt and nervousness might be revealed by excessive movement, playing with hair or watch, biting nails etc.

8.   Listen carefully
The human voice has many qualities. Watch out for the tone and notice the differences on how things are being said.

This collection of tips is a loose reference for non-verbal communication and gives you an idea what kind of things to consider and pay attention to. The interpretation of various features of body language should never be black and white and always depends on the situation and the person interpreting. Practise cautiously and don’t jump to conclusions.

It’s not all about others

While analysing others can be fun and useful, paying attention to your own body language is well worthy too. The various gestures, postures and expressions are mostly subconscious and you might be surprised how divergent your body language is from how you think it is!

In TEDGlobal 2012Amy Cuddy showed how powerful effect can consciously controlled body language have on our emotions. Cuddy says: “Fake it till you become it” and points out an experiment in which acting out a high-power pose led to increased risk and stress tolerance.

It seems that pretending to be as bold as brass makes you feel powerful and helps taking control of the situation, whether it’s a presentation or a public speech.

Are you observing the people around you for non-verbal messages? Share your story.

Johanna Peltola

Johanna is a TEDxSalford blogger from Tampere, Finland.

One Comment to “8 Tips for Reading People’s Minds (Hint: Body Language)”

  1. Ryan
    I am trying to learn body language so that I can be more interesting and not bore people

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