The Body Language Rules (2 page)

BOOK: The Body Language Rules
Pa r t O n e

B ody

lA ngu Age

BA siCs


his first part of The Body Language Rules will take you

through the psychology of bodytalk, enabling you to understand the how and why of all those nonverbal signals .

In these chapters you'll learn fascinating facts about animal signals that link us with our evolutionary ancestors much more closely than you probably realize . Did you know that flirting at work is all about status submission and keeping the peace in the office? Or that shaking a client by the hand and smiling to create rapport are 2 T he B O Dy LA ng U A ge R U Le S

both gestures evolved from ape behavior? Did you ever wonder why, when you get agitated by a colleague or boss at a business meeting, you end up chewing your pen or dismantling a paperclip? All these things and more will be explained here .

The information in this part of the book will help you understand the processes of communication in a way that will enable you to be far more effective at reading and transmitting high-impact signals . You'll gain a unique insight into the instinctive methods both animals and human animals use and how and why we read other humans in the same time it takes to blink an eye .

chapter One


dy Lan guage


w orks I

t's hard to define "perfect" body language but of course

I'm going to because that's what I'm here for. I aim to help and I aim to please! Here's your first killer fact, which is all about the breakdown of the perceived effect of your three forms of communication. It's one of the most important facts in this book, so get it tattooed on your body somewhere lest you forget: In face-to-face communi- cation your words account for as little as 7 percent of the perceived impact of the communication. Your vocal tone is about 38 percent, but your nonverbal signals take the lion's share with around 55 percent.

PerceIved ImPact of your message

Words: 7 percent

tone of voice: 38 percent

nonverbal: 55 percent 4 T he B O Dy LA ng U A ge R U Le S

Your second killer fact: how you use these three forms of communication can make all the difference between successful communications that have meaning and effect and the type that nobody believes or notices . Congruence is key .

A BRief guide To CongRuenCe This is the perfect communication, meaning your words, tone, and nonverbal gestures are all dancing to the same rumba . They give out a matching message and they complement one another . This means you'll look honest, genuine, as though you really mean what you're saying . Congruent bodytalk is going to be your goal throughout this book .

It's vital that your communications look congruent . You'd think this would be easy enough when you genuinely do mean what you say, but it's not . Incongruent communication doesn't just happen when you're lying or trying to mask or deceive . Your body language signals can go skidding out of kilter for several reasons . The most common one is shyness or embarrassment . Shyness produces physical awkwardness . The more you feel you're being watched or scrutinized the more awkward your body language becomes, so by the time you try to speak it's unlikely you'll manage to produce a full set of signals . h O W B O D y LA n g U Ag e W O Rk S 5

You could tell a client you're pleased to see them and this could well be true, but if shyness makes your eyes flick to the floor as you say it, or your handshake is weak, or you fold your arms into a protective barrier, it's unlikely they will believe what you've just told them .


I Focus on your goals before you speak . This will motivate

you, making your words feel real, which should

make your gestures feel genuine, rather than coming

across as rehearsed .

I Sell your message to yourself first . If you believe what you're

saying, then your body will fall into synchronization .

I Avoid exaggerations when you're trying to be convincing . The

more you stress your point the more chance your

gestures will let you down .

I control your breathing and de-stress your body before you

speak . When pressure builds up your muscles tense,

making natural-looking body language impossible .

Breathe out slowly to relax your body and give your

hands and feet a little shake to relax the muscles in

your arms and legs .

I If your shoulder muscles are tense, then your entire body

will look awkward . Drop them back and down and

stretch your neck upward as this will unlock

your posture . 6 T he B O Dy LA ng U A ge R U Le S

I genuine gestures precede your words by a split second . If you

feel yourself struggling to add a gesture to endorse

something you said, drop it and do something else

with your hands .

I Talk to yourself in a full-length mirror . If you're not naturally

a body language chatterbox you could feel awkward

when you do start endorsing your words with

gestures . One small workout every day will make

you look and feel more confident .

I Visualize yourself talking and gesticulating . The imagination

is a powerful tool and spending a few moments

doing some virtual rehearsal will be almost as good

as the real thing .

I congruence can also apply to group scenarios . When you're

with other people, sitting or standing like them is

called postural congruence and can imply group

uniformity or acceptance .

A BRief guide To inCongRuenCe Okay, who stepped out of line and who stepped on whose toes? This is where your words are doing a tango; your vocal tone's waltzing while your body language is busy break dancing . Your signals just don't match, which makes anyone watching think there's something fishy about your main point . You don't look as though you mean what you h O W B O D y LA n g U Ag e W O Rk S 7

say . Even your own body's not convinced . I also call this type of body language Personal Heckling .

When your words, tone, and body language all say different things it's incongruent . For the listener or audience this creates a state of cognitive dissonance--that is, they receive conflicting signals and are unsure about which message to believe . For their own intellectual comfort they'll opt for the most reliable and this means it's the body language that they will usually assume to be the more honest communicator . We think it's harder to fix and rig, and in many ways we're probably right . The only variable is if the listener is keen to collude with the "lie," in which case they will opt for whichever signals are giving out the message they want to hear . So a besotted lover could believe a partner who says they love them too, even though they're eyeing up someone else as they say it .

So, avoid sending incongruent signals . Or as somebody else said once: say it straight, or you'll get it crooked .

If your words aren't going to sit happily with your gestures you'd be better off not speaking at all because at best you'll look insincere and at worst you'll appear to be a liar . Imagine smirking when you tell someone you love them, or staring wide-eyed in horror as you try to convince your best friend that you like her new hairdo! Think of this behavior as your Personal Heckler .

Incongruent gestures can also be what are called 8 T he B O Dy LA ng U A ge R U Le S

ambivalent signals . This is where there's no desire to deceive but by saying one thing while your body language suggests another means that you are presenting conflicting thoughts to an audience, which can end up confusing them .

I once attended a presentation by a mind-numbingly dull speaker from the financial sector . If his brand of delivery could have been bottled and sold to hospitals it would have eliminated the need for an anesthetist . This man was so dull even dishwater was trying to sue for libel . Somewhere around the end of his talk he decided to tell us that his company "feels very passionate about our clients ." This flamboyant claim was accompanied by a deadpan expression and the very briefest of glances at the audience . If that was his idea of passion I just felt very sorry for his wife . While I didn't expect him to start dry humping the light projector to add emphasis to his words, I did expect a flicker of enthusiasm to light up his features . His incon- gruent delivery made a sham of the entire statement .


I Try not to copy other people . Although we all learn via

imitation it is possible to be too obvious about

"borrowing" a signature gesture from somebody

else . These are called absorbed actions . They might

look good on them but appear phony on you . h O W B O d y La n g u ag e WO rk s 9

I Video yourself speaking, both socially and professionally,

if you give talks in your job. Spot the differences in

delivery. Are you Jekyll and Hyde? Do you seem

to be putting on an act? If so, spend time studying

the more natural-looking signals and delete the rest

from your repertoire.

I avoid using the poker-face technique. By sitting very still

you'll never fool people into thinking you're more

sincere, as they'll just wonder what it is you're trying

to hide. Small genuine movements are better than

sitting like a statue.

I Watch out for what's called nonverbal leakage. This is the

essence of incongruence, when your words say one

thing but your smaller gestures signal something else

entirely. Find out what your pet fiddles, or "adaptors,"

are. Adaptors are those small self-comfort touches

we do when we feel anxious or unsure. Do you fiddle

with jewelry or your hair? Do you straighten your

glasses more times than is necessary? Find other

things to do with your hands as they could be giving

the game away as you speak.

When you first begin to work on your own body language you'll find yourself doing what are called "self-policing" movements. This is where you go to place your hand in your pocket but then quickly pull it out again because 10 T he B O Dy LA ng U A ge R U Le S

you don't feel the gesture is appropriate . This is a natural stage of learning, but you need to move out of it as quickly as possible as it will imply incongruence . Try telling yourself what you do want your hands to do, instead of what you don't .

Shortfall signals are those that appear to be an under- reaction to stimulus . For instance, you lose out on a job you wanted but sit poker-faced, wearing the slightest hint of a frown . Everyone knows you're seething inside and if this form of masking doesn't work it will look incon- gruent . Take yourself to the next level of honesty if you can, or leave the room to let rip out of earshot .

A BRief guide To oveRCongRuenCe This is when your words, tone, and nonverbal signals are all in step--which is good--but you're trying too hard and getting carried away--which is bad . Your tone is too strong and your movements are too exaggerated . You look like a very bad conman . Or a politician . Nobody's that convinced about what they're saying . Take a cold shower and calm down . Come back when you can manage to look sincere .

Overcongruent communications are the enemy of sincerity, so avoid them at all costs . Cheesy doesn't sell unless you're employed by a TV shopping channel . h O W B O D y LA n g U Ag e W O Rk S 11

Also known as overkill signals, overcongruent deliv- eries are almost more of a pain . They used to be quite rare, apart from the odd TV expert, but now the cult of overcongruence has reached a town near you . It involves overdone gestures and facial expressions that squeeze the last breath of sincerity out of any communication .

Overcongruence is Tony Blair going misty-eyed and blinking back the tears over any subject matter that could be labeled "a little bit sad ." It's Prime Minister Gordon Brown playing at a giant invisible piano as he stabs the air in a downward thrust with two index fingers as he talks about nothing very important . It's the girl at the check-out counter asking how you're feeling today with a fixed grin, and it's the team leader who's jumping up and down like an overexcited cheer- leader as he heads up yet another dreary, soul-rotting team-building day .

Get it too right and you'll get it all wrong and people will hate you because they can sniff out a phony a mile off .


I keep your hand gestures within the zone of congruence--that is,

between your shoulders and your waist . The higher they get

the less congruent you look .

I Ask yourself: am I genuinely a wild and zany person with a 12 T he B O Dy LA ng U A ge R U Le S

barrel-load of enthusiasm for my subject? If the answer is

"no" (and it's best to be honest) then tone it down

several notches .

I get in front of that full-length mirror and work your way through

a decreasing scale of body language wackiness . Repeat this

phrase: "We sell the biggest products for the

smallest prices" and try to look as though you mean

it . Begin with wild arm waving and work downward

until you're virtually immobile . Then work your

way back up until you reach the level of movement

that works .

BRief guide To mAsking But not all your body language will be about projecting your "ideal" message . Unlike animals, humans spend a vast amount of time trying to suppress their negative signals . This suppression of thoughts and feelings is known as "body language masking ." When animals mask they tend to do so for personal survival . Apes tend to mask pain and illness because in the wild any sign of weakness could lead to them being attacked . However, while most animals signal their other thoughts and emotions freely and honestly, inhibited humans prefer to throw a modesty blanket around any spontaneous or instinctive displays . Like prudish Victorians covering up chair and table legs, h O W B O D y LA n g U Ag e W O Rk S 13

humans go to great lengths to avoid flaunting any naked, raw emotion, unless it's during a football game, when all bets are off .

This emotional queasiness has made us all prolific verbal and nonverbal liars . We tell people we're fine when we're really feeling like crap; we play it cool when we're drooling with lust or love; we blink back the tears at a funeral; we feign indifference when told we've been turned down for promotion or missed out on that top award; and we act out denial when our partners ask if they're losing their hair or turning into a fat-ass . Our entire lives have become a silent struggle between our animal, instinctive side and the strategic, social, human side of our nature . By masking our true feelings we feel somehow superior and more evolved .


I Full-body masking is a hard stunt to pull off . In general

your biggest giveaways of true emotion will be your

hands and your feet . Bring these in on the act or

keep them out of trouble by doing something while

you're masking . If a friend asks if you like his or her

ghastly partner, make sure you're zipping your boots

or straightening your tie as you answer .

I If you feel enormous pressure building before you mask, the best

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