Friday, November 1, 2019

Understanding Body Language

What is body language? A simple definition is that it is everything except the words. A complex answer would be that body language comprises the non-verbal elements of human communication the ones that complement the verbal elements, emphasize them, contradict them, administer them, repeat them, substitute for them and most of the time it tells the truth. 

Having said that about body language, let me also tell you that it isn’t really a language, it is an oxymoron or a poor description with incongruous words of what experts call nonverbal communication or more correctly non-linguistic communication.

It is the conscious and subconscious signaling of attitudes, desires and our inmost feelings of our bodies, movements, actions and tone of voice, sometimes challenging to interpret by the novice but understanding the truths reduces uncertainty and it is highly necessary, because they are more powerful than the spoken words. As it’s the supreme language of motion, tone and vibration all living species on planet earth enjoys, practices and communicates.

The elements of non-verbal language involve external signs such as posture, gesture, movement and voice tone, and include the strategic positioning of oneself and office furniture in relation to other people. In other words, body language is non-verbal communication through gesture, postures and positions. For example by watching and reading the behavior and actions of those we come face to face with, we improve our skills in handling people and gain insight into communicating with them. We also learn to sell ourselves effectively and in the process understand both others and ourselves better. 

Research on the non-verbal aspects of communication only began seriously and actively after the 1960’s when Desmond Morris, Michael Argyle, Edward T.Hall, Paul Ekman, and Julius Fast first promoted their books on body language in the early and mid-seventies. Today, some people are still ignorant of the existence of body language as a subject, let alone its importance in their lives.

Falling in love through eye contact, love at first sight, failing a job interview through wrong posture, discovering what your child’s emotions really are seeing behind words, identifying the signals of deception when truth matters, when to close a sale, are all examples of body language at work. Truly there are a lot of benefits in understanding body language, and they are for all people.

Truly it’s my personal belief that body language skills are essential for human success. Even though some do know that in a conversation more than 8% is verbal and less than 92% per cent is non-verbal, they are not constantly aware of this fact when dealing with people. The ability to read correctly and understand body language signals can mean the difference between winning and losing a sale or a negotiation, interview or in deception detection.

Sigmund Freud used body language as a tool in understanding his patients and people have since begun to realize that body language is here to stay. Today, it is taught in all colleges and universities in the west and east as a subject.

To my salespeople who attend my seminars, none would deny that the handshake aspects of body language are a revelation to them. At the same time, I have always stressed that awareness and an understanding of the various cultures in our community, their history and origins of gestures is important to a correct understanding of the behavioral aspects of body language.

Someone once asked me, why “if we all watch others and we read them, why do we need to study body language?” My answer is, “we can walk and we can run but we are not always athletes. The athlete has to train, and once he has reached a certain level of competence, he does not think about his training. He just does it.” Similarly, what a course in body language tries to give you is a trained eye, so that you understand the behavior of others through understanding body language without consciously having to go through the process of recollecting what you have learned.

American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, in his book The Hidden Dimension speaks of man’s spacious needs and has divided distance into four distinct zones; intimate, personal social and public zones. The distances of these zones vary depending on the culture and the area one is brought up in. To diplomats or businessmen travelling abroad, understanding the cultural differences of the people and the country they go to is important if they do not wish to be misunderstood.

As an example, I often quote an Arab practice called the Elbow Culture. When meeting someone an Arab stands very close to him so that if they were to fold their arms, their elbows would touch, because the Arabs believe in, “touch and smell”. In Malaysia, it’s the “palm culture’, that is, when you meet someone, you stand close enough so that if you stretch out your hands your palm would fall on the other person’s shoulder. As we believe in “sight and touch” more than the “smell and touch” of the Arabs.

So if an Arab comes close to you, closer than palm length, to your intimate zone, you may unconsciously feel threatened. You may try to take a step backwards, whereas the Arab is only adjusting to his culturally comfortable distance. If you travel abroad regularly, then it is to your benefit to become a gestural linguist. As gestures vary with different cultures and are very often misunderstood. With a lot of foreigners in Malaysia especially the Arabs, Malaysians can get into a fist fight easily with them if they do not tolerate these Arabs. 

I was in the Blue Line bus, a free service bus, in Kuala Lumpur last week, when a big sized Arab who was with his two other friends in the bus, cheerfully and loudly singing a tune went and sat in between two Indonesian elderly women and held them with his arms around them. While the two elderly women were visibly feeling rather awkward, a Chinese middle age gentleman got up from his seat and protested at length to the Arab man’s behavior and was almost going to hit him. Luckily the other two Arabs sensing trouble quickly sounded and got out of the bus followed by the rude Arab.

Similarly, if you are in Greece and if you used a gesture, often used in Malaysia when you are crossing the road, it can be a big insult to them. Let’s say you are in a restaurant in Greece and the Greek waiter approaches you for an order and because you don’t want to be disturbed momentarily and because the restaurant is noisy, you gesture with your hand stretched out with your palm opened to the waiter. It’s would be downright rude to a Greek waiter. As the origin of this insulting gesture dates back to the Byzantine period or during the Roman Empire where prisoners were often lined up with bonded chains and the public could show their hatred on them by carrying mud from the ground and had it rubbed on their faces with their outstretched palm as a sign of disgust and this gesture has lived to this day in Greece as a sign of insult to those when shown to them.

Likewise, a common Malaysian gesture of holding a closed hand to the ear to signify a telephone, if used on an Italian can be insulting too. To the latter, it means that he or she has been betrayed by his or her spouse. Another Malaysian gesture is the pointing of the thumb, with other fingers clenched, to show direction. This sign is an insult in certain parts of Europe as it means “get stuffed”. So beware if you want a lift in Europe, it’s safer not to use that signal at all. Motorist may mistake you for a gay. 

Another insulting gesture that Malaysian's use without realizing it, is the closed fist with the partly erect thumb used in showing direction in Malaysia. It is an offensive sign in Ghana.

Malaysians too have their share of been in the news for road bullying. I would suggests that the Road Transport Department here make it compulsory for learner drivers to learn positive hand gestures, eye contact and other body language signals to signify friendliness during their course before gaining the licence to drive. As I believe the right gestures can nip potential violence in the bud because by using positive hand and body language gestures, one can signal concern, approval, friendliness, understanding, empathy and the like. 

The study of the non-verbal aspects of communication may be new in Malaysia, but that does not mean that body language is new. It is as old as Adam and Eve. The Chinese have been aware of body language for a long time. If you listen to their proverbs it even warns you of a con man, “Watch out for the man whose stomach does not move when he laughs.” 

Jackson Beyond Learning International PLT would be organizing a 2 days course on the 3rd & 4th December 2019, at the DoubleTree By Hilton, Kuala Lumpur, on Critical Interviewing & Deception Detection. The science of this course is in its systematic approach to deception detection, proven in countless situations that through observation (Body Language) & listening, you can get to the truth successfully. 

To get to the truth, the course teaches you to overcome beliefs that people will not lie to you, teaches you how to overcome reliance on behavioral myths, how to overcome your communication difficulties and how to overcome your inescapable biases that can prejudice your chance to a correct judgment of truth during an interview, investigation or interrogation.

Since it’s a truth that behavioral clues to lies does not continually provide absolute evidence to crimes, it does however alerts you to further investigation and a scientific like analysis, where they can then uncover lies and reveal evidence on the truth, systematically rather than speculatively.

You would learn two other risks in detecting deceit, disbelieving-the-truth (judging a truthful person to be lying) and believing-a-lie (judging a liar to be truthful). Absence to signs of deceit is also not truth, because some people don’t leak. The same is in signs of deceit that is not always evidence of lying, as some people appear guilty even when they are truthful. Yet, you will learn that more than one indicator, a cluster, within a few seconds after a strategic question is asked or a stimulus given, the result is often the truth, which the suspect, witness, or the guilty is LYING.

If you need more information please email us.

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