What should you trust, words or body language? What words hide, body communicates!
Every evening as families brace together in front of their television sets, the coliseum of a talk show is set for them to watch real life thrillers where politicians and anchor persons engage in fervent battles. While popularity of the anchor persons is scaled on how stimulating a topic and ensuing discussion can they come up with, politicians struggle to win the hearts of viewers. During these forty five minutes long battles, winners come alive as heroes and harness the public opinion, while losers portrayed as villains die a temporary media death.
As a viewer you are facing a twin handicap if you are willing to found your opinion solely on the viewpoints expressed because talk show hosts and participants are experts in portraying their good images using their gift of gab. On the other hand, if you are not a keen observer, you would be missing on what research proves to be seventy to hundred percent of total content of communication- the un-spoken body language. So next time you watch your show, remember, there is a lot more to be observed than simply gnawing at the viewpoints expressed.
Every battle is a confidence game and a confident body language is very important especially at the start of show, where anchor person defines topic - provoking enough to capture viewer’s attention. Doing this they lean forward into camera with confidence and intent to engage but if you see them slightly rubbing their hands together in an upward position, you may be reminded of someone doing this in anticipation of their favorite food. In this case it hints upon a playful plan. Participants- if their body language matches with anchor persons they are feeling strong. Ones, who lean forward a bit, clench their lips; with their eyebrows coming together and having a straight focused gaze are showing aggression, just like marathon runners at the start. However, if you see someone sitting deep inside the chair, with shoulders slightly hunched up, eyes, little wider than usual, and mouth slightly opened, you may think of the individual feeling nervous, and insecure. You should ask why?
Show proceeds and the battle thicken into probing questions, counter arguments, direct blaming, personal attacks and clarifications. This is where paying attention to body language will help you understand the real intent of the participants. All you have to do is to identify the dichotomy between the spoken words and the body language. Their words may purport up to confidence but their body language conveys confusion. They might say they are happy but their body language conveys anger.
For a starter, pay careful attention to the hands gestures- resting on table is relaxed, rising above a bit in the air is asking for turn to speak and going high in the air is resistance. Any time during the show hands resting on table coming together, fingers interlocking into each other convey silent resistance.
Hands clasped together- one palm over the other is a defensive position. When hands come together in a way that tips of all five fingers of one hand touch the finger tips of the other hand, it is a steeple gesture. Low steeple conveys favorable position to the proposition while listening, and high steeple is the natural position of hands for a speaker who is very confident.
Hands movements are used to demonstrate words to convey viewpoints with accuracy for example hands going apart to convey the idea of something big. But when the speaker is confused on a topic, you would notice a sudden rise in the frequency of hands movements, which is sometimes so much that it may appear to be the last haywire efforts of a drowning person.
Maintaining calm under stress is what you expect from leaders. But while answering a deep probing question, or handling a personal attack, some participants suddenly come up with increased hands movements, combined with a lot of manipulative movements like nose or ears touching, caressing their hair, or cleaning imaginary dust on the table. On one hand it reveals shattered confidence and on the other a possibility of lying or taking a very controversial position. This usually happens when participants are defending the obviously negative acts of their own or their leaders or controversial stance of their respective political parties.
On the face sometimes you would notice a participant suddenly wear a one-sided smile either in left or right direction, which is a sign of contempt. One may expect a personal attack from someone with this smile. But if the eyebrows come together and lips clench and may be the hands also clench in fists, the participant is going to spit fire.
What should you trust, words or body language? Solving this dilemma way back was rather easy for researchers. We can exert voluntary control over language and words we speak but body language is controlled by part of nervous system that’s not under our voluntary control. What words hide, body communicates!
|Organizational psychologist, Wali Muhammad is a Behavioral Skills Consultant available to his clients in public/private and civil society sectors as behavior skills trainer and management consultant. He has handled a wide variety of behavioural training and consulting assignments for various public, private and civil society organizations.|