Your Body Language
In the previous lessons on body language, you learned how to understand the body language signals of others. If you detect a body language that signals someone is uncomfortable, you know to look for the cause of their discomfort and then try to remove it. If someone signals that they are feeling comfortable, you know that you can relax and enjoy the interaction.
But how do people interpret the body language signals that you give? It’s true that only a few people have trained themselves to consciously analyze body language. But even if your conversation partner never consciously thinks about your body language, they will still subconsciously react to it.
For instance, if your body language exhibits warmth and friendliness, your partner is likely to sense that and relax. If your body language demonstrates disinterest or boredom, your partner will think twice before sharing something personal with you.
When Your Body Language And Your Words Don’t Agree
Unfortunately, most people don’t think about their own body language. They might spend a lot of time thinking of the perfect words to say, but never realize that their body language and their words are sending very different messages.
For example, say you have had a long, hard day, but your friend wants to talk with you about something that they are struggling with. You obviously care about your friend, so you tell them that you want to talk.
But if during the conversation you are yawning, looking at the clock, and leaning back in your chair with your arms crossed, your friend might conclude that you don’t really want to talk with them after all. They storm off, and you are left wondering what you said wrong. (Of course, you didn’t say anything wrong—that’s the point!)
That’s just one example; it’s easy to think of other ways your own body language can create misunderstandings. When your words and your body are sending different messages, people will tend to go with the message that your body is sending. If you didn’t mean to send that message, trouble ensues.
The Power Of Self-Awareness
Fortunately, that trouble is entirely avoidable. Just be aware of the messages your body is sending. Your body is going to communicate—that’s just part of being human. Take the time to notice what it is communicating, and you can make sure that your body and your words are sending the same message.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about changing your body language to mask deception—if your words are communicating something untrue, then you should change your words instead of your body language. Relationships built on deception will never give you the long-term satisfaction and intimacy that you need.
Instead, focus on presenting a cohesive, genuine message of the thing that is both true and most important. If you are tired but you care about your friend, the message that is most important is “I care about you” not “I’m tired” (even though both messages are true.) If you are excited to meet someone new but also nervous, the message that is most important is “I am excited to meet you” not “I am nervous.”
The message of “I care about you” is more important than the message of “I am very tired”, because your commitment to your friend runs deeper than your physical fatigue. The message of “I am excited to meet you” is more important than the message of “I’m feeling nervous” because your desire to make a new friend is greater than your nervousness.
It’s ok to make sure your body language communicates the message that is most important. That’s not deception, just making sure the most important message is communicated well. When you are aware of your own body language, it allows you to be sure that both your words and your body language reflect the message that is most true.
So take the time to be aware of your own body language. The lists of comfort and discomfort signals are just as useful when you are using them to understand your own body language. Be aware of what your body is communicating, and make the effort to mute discomfort signals and broadcast comfort signals. You’ll find that as you match your body language to your words, you will have much greater success in your interactions.