Human Body Language
When we think of human communication, what examples spring to mind? The
internet? Books? The spoken word? Of all our forms of communication,
one of most often forgotten (and least understood) is probably the
humble art of body language: The indications we give off - generally
unconsciously - by means of our posture, our gestures, our facial
expressions, and even our clothes. It performs a different function to
verbal language - verbal language is for communicating abstract ideas
or facts. But for communicating the feelings of a person, few forms
are as effective as body language.
You're talking to your teacher - the class ask for a day off homework.
The teacher listens to you, and says that she'll "think about it".
This might sound open, but you didn't notice the steeple shape formed
by the hands, or the distracted way in which she rubbed her nose.
Unimportant? Certainly not. You've probably been given an answer
already, whether you've realised it or not.
It is one of the most powerful forms of communication; very few people
will ignore or not notice signs of anger or stress. Lord Chesterfield
probably said it best in Letters to his Son when he intoned that
"learning is acquired by reading books, but the much more necessary
learning, The knowledge of the world, is only to be acquired by
reading men, and studying all the various editions of them."
How important is body language? Interestingly, studies have shown that
we give more weight to the messages given off by a person's body than
to what is said. If somebody claims to be interested, while
simultaneously staring off into the distance and twiddling a pen,
we're unlikely to be in any doubt as to their true opinion. It goes
further: Experts claim that ninety percent of our opinion of somebody
is formed within ninety seconds of meeting them in person. That is
maybe a slightly unreasonable generalisation, but there is certainly
no doubting the indelible effect that these first impressions have on
This goes back to basic instinct; a hangover from our animal ancestry.
In the animal kingdom, there is obviously no verbal communication, and
so we have grown quite adept at recognising indications given off by
the body. Plenty of animals manage very sophisticated hierarchies.
These are established purely by communication through bodily
indications. Anyone with two or more dogs, especially, will be very
aware of this. As humans, we retain this instinct, but it now takes
second place to language, relegated to the realm of the subconscious