Comfort/Discomfort: The Core Of Body Language
Body language helps us to understand one another.
If you encounter a friend and their body language shows sadness, you know to ask them what’s wrong.
If you start to tell a story and your friend’s body language shows interest, you know to keep talking.
It’s useful stuff.
Unfortunately, body language is very complex. There are hundreds of different signals our body can send, and unless you are this guy or are willing to put in decades of work, you can’t learn them all.
Fortunately, you don’t need to learn them all.
In fact, there are only two signals you need to learn: “comfort” and “discomfort.”
- Comfort signals tell you that the person is feeling good. People give off comfort signals when they like the person they’re interacting with, they enjoy their current activity or interaction, and there is nothing troubling them.
- Discomfort signals tell you that something is wrong. People give off discomfort signals when something is bothering them, when they’re not feeling happy, or when they are not enjoying their current activity or interaction.
Responding To Comfort And Discomfort
Comfort and discomfort signals are the clues that tell you how your partner is feeling. Once you know how your partner is feeling, you know how to respond.
Here’s how it works:
Think of these signals as red light/green light. If you’re picking up “I’m feeling comfortable” messages, then you’ve got a green light.
When you get a green light, your job is simply to relax and enjoy the interaction. Keep an eye out in case their body language changes to discomfort, but otherwise, just relax and keep doing whatever you were doing.
If you’re picking “I’m not comfortable” then that’s a red light (or at least, a yellow “Caution” light.) When you get a red light, your job is to help your conversation partner feel more comfortable. Try to learn what caused them to feel uncomfortable, and see if you can remove the source of the discomfort.
In other words, this is how you use body language in social interactions:
- Look at body language signals to find out if your partner is comfortable or uncomfortable.
- If they’re comfortable, then relax.
- If they’re uncomfortable, try to find out what’s wrong and fix it.
Comfort And Discomfort In Practice
In practice, this is very simple. Let me give you an example.
A few days ago, my friend asked me a question and I launched into an extremely long-winded answer. Midway through my response, I checked their body language and realized they were giving off several discomfort signals. Oops.
I realized the source of their discomfort was my long-winded answer (they had wanted a short response, not a massive lecture.) I cut my long-winded explanation short and was rewarded with my friend’s body language becoming more comfortable.
My friend never told me that they were bored, but their body clearly communicated it to me. Because I knew how to understand their body language, it was easy for me to see their discomfort and realize I needed to cut my answer short.
People communicate comfort and discomfort to you with their bodies all the time. Learn to understand and respond to these body language signals and it will be much easier for you to have positive interactions.
Of course, in order to respond to body language in this way, you need to be able to notice when someone is signaling that they are comfortable or uncomfortable. You also need to be able to look at the context to understand what is causing your partner to feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Fortunately, we’ll cover all of these topics in the next few lessons. To start with, let’s study the different ways someone can signal comfort. Onwards!