Those who lay claim to have an ability to read people
accurately and be able to decode the non-verbal cues precisely, enjoy a
certain mystique. They really pique everyone’s interest when they throw
in the claim to be able to tell when someone is lying.
This hot topic gets a lot of attention. Several books have
been written on the subject. There are numerous articles about body
language as it relates to job interviews and customer satisfaction,
business and personal relationships and so on. There was even a
television show recently, in which the main character could simply stare
into someone’s face and get to the ‘bottom of it all’ in just a few
seconds. As a parent, a teacher, a spouse, an entrepreneur or a small
business owner, a good working knowledge of this field can be very
All of us know how to read the body language of others, at a very
basic level. Joy, sadness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust, rage and
sexual attraction – these are just a few of the expressions that are
universally recognized and readily understood by almost all cultures.
An infant learns to read the body language of her parents before she
learns how to speak. When two people come together in a relationship,
they unconsciously start to figure out each other’s body language. A
teenager knows intuitively how to decipher his mother’s body language
and tonality, and how to work around it. Any sports coach worth his salt
can gauge the student’s skill level by observing him for a brief period
of time. The fact is that within narrowly defined and very specific
segments of our lives, we are all experts at reading body language. We
already know more on this subject than we recognize. The challenge is
that as we step out of this narrow range, our body language reading
skills diminish rapidly.
It is reasonable to state that a certain aspect of being able to read
body language comes to us intuitively, as one of the ways to understand
communication. We can perform this function at an unconscious level. However, to become an expert at it can appear to be a daunting task.
The so-called body-language experts that one may see on TV
after a celebrity or while promoting their books on the subject, in fact
fall short of being anywhere in the vicinity of accuracy. The primary
reason being that they rely solely on conjecture and on superfluous,
observable visual cues. They lack an understanding of the process that
occurred before these cues became available to be observed.
To be persistently accurate at reading the body language, one must possess;
- A thorough understanding of the human information processing system,
- A thorough understanding of which specific observable cues may be relevant to a particular situation.
- An ability to identify and fully comprehend the world-view of those being observed.
I have written extensively on this subject. Numerous articles and
videos are available on my website for more details. Here is a brief
Every single bit of the information that is received by us, must be
accessed through one or more of the five senses – visual, auditory,
kinesthetic, gustatory and olfactory. This newly received information
then must pass through three phases.
- Access; during this phase, the external stimuli are received by one of the five senses.
- Reference; during this phase we cross reference against similar data
that is already stored in our database and decide exactly where does
this new data fit. This is how the data becomes information.
- Representation; during this phase we decide how to react or respond
to this newly processed information. We decide on a strategy to
re-package and present it after taking into account all of our relevant
beliefs, held deep within the unconscious mind.
This entire process takes place in a very short period of time – a fraction of a second. The entire process is concluded before any response becomes visible to the observer – in other words, before you see any gestures that maybe called body language.
It takes in a fraction of a second for the human body to involuntarily demonstrate its reaction to all external and internal stimuli. This occurs as soon as the reference phase is concluded and prior to the start of the representation phase. The observable cues provided at this instant are unfiltered and unaltered.
Most of these self-proclaimed body language experts appear to be
clueless to this specific, key aspect. To those who develop the skills
to observe and accurately decode them, these clues are like a million
watt telepathic broadcast that cannot be ignored. These individuals can
justifiably lay claim to being the body language experts.
The sequence in which we use one of our five senses for each of the three phases is the human frequency of intrapersonal communication.
There are six layers of personality. These are listed below in order
of being most visible and readily available, to deeply embedded.
- Linguistic Patterns
- Observable Cues
- Behavioral Patterns
- Behavioral Strategies
- Sub-Belief Systems
- Basic Beliefs
Our basic beliefs are so deeply embedded that even we are not consciously aware
of them. It is reasonable to state, at least for this discussion. that
one could think of this layer at the very core of our being, as our
Sub-Belief systems are those upper layers of our basic beliefs that
we are consciously able to acknowledge. These beliefs dictate our
conduct in everything we do. Our view of the world is filtered through
various frames that are created as a result of real-life experiences.
This starts at a very young age. As an example, an infant’s experience
of getting burned by touching a hot plate and feeling the pain, becomes
an experience that in turn creates a frame through which all situations
that bear a resemblance to the ‘hot plate’ are viewed and reacted to –
for the rest of her life.
To be able to fully comprehend someone else’s world-view, or to be able to relate to their perspective, requires
a thorough understanding of the inner workings of our personality
layers. Specifically, it requires an ability to correctly identify the
filters and frames through which the other person looks at the world
around them – it is this world-view that determines their representation phase and provides the observable cues.
This article does not cover all, or even most of the information
required to understand this very complex subject. This is the most basic
level explanation of how the human information processing system works.
I do hope that this article leads you to dig deeper into this subject
and recognize that a great deal of expertise is needed to be a body
language expert. Just being able to observe the folded arms or the head
turned slightly is no way near enough.