Today you'll learn how to gather and "compile" non verbal cues together.
The focus here is less on the "what does it mean when...", I assume on this page that you're already somewhat familiar with body language signals and what could they possibly mean. What I want to share with you here is a template to read non verbal cues, a mental checklist that covers most aspects of body language in a glance.
Once you have this checklist imprinted in your head, you create a habit - scanning one's body language quickly while taking small notes on the way. This way you stay focused on what matters without sidetracking to unnecessary complications.
Before we start with the list, I want you to keep in mind 2 things:
1. This is by no means the only way to do it! It may not even be the best way. Remember that the purpose is to help you to get more focus on the non verbal information others project all the time. Don't strain yourself with it - tweak it to work for you.
2. It's not a comprehensive guide! Just the basics you can get in a few glances. On the other hand, not all the things in the list will be always present.
In short - it's only a method, adapt it to your needs and comfort.
This is the first thing you usually observe - the general way the person holds his body.
Be it sitting, standing or walking - it has a certain 'quality' to it - is it closed and defensive? Is it open? Loose? Confident? Reckless? Poor? Dominating? Aggressive? - The list goes on and on...
I won't give an example to each option because I'm sure you can imagine what could be the characteristics in each case, and I discuss many of them in detail throughout the site.
A good way to quickly get the right impression is to imitate it (in your mind!). How would that feel to stand or act in that way? Try imagining yourself in their shoes at that moment and let your intuition guide you.
Don't fall into the trap of generalizing your observation - it's a common mistake!
We often look at something common and immediately know what it's all about; we have a fitting scheme for it. For example, we have a scheme for an 'old lady', we have a predisposed certainty regarding who she is - how she walks (pacing slowly and slightly crouching) the way she speaks and what she likes (her grandkids) and so on...
And while schemes are an efficient (and natural) way to see the world (we sacrifice accuracy for efficiency) when we want to get accurate with body language reading it's actually blinding us! We overlook things easily because we're already sure we know what they might be.
So on final note: get the general idea without too much generalizing it...
Orientation of the body (or parts of it) is an excellent way to see where one's interests lie or what he wishes to avoid.
Legs are a good starting point because they are honest, if we want to go somewhere we'll usually point there - with our feet.
The orientation of the main body (the torso) is also a good signal, albeit more upfront. "Giving the cold shoulder" is not only an expression. But the other extremity isn't much better; standing squarely face to face means it's a 100% attention, which can easily trigger a 'flight or fight' response.
The head can also give you hints regarding intentions, but it's harder to isolate and recognize them, since they are subtle and temporary. But other head gestures can tell you things such as...
Attention and rapport (or lack of them) are easily spotted by signals such as:
Head movements - nodding and tilting are obviously good signs! (But be sure that they're not rather a symptom of impatience with a fast nodding).
Resting the chin in the hand is also an attention signal, but it's very passive and usually means that whoever's listening - isn't very taken by the words.
Anxiety or nervousness that expressed through twitching, tapping or other meaningless gestures are signs of discomfort. Therefore it can be a sign to lack of attunement with the conversation, or that the content give rise to troubling emotions.
Eye contact - one of the biggies, I won't elaborate here, but of course it's a good sign (in a healthy amount)
Body orientation (which I mentioned before).
Facial expressions - you want to see some emotions...not a blank face.
Leaning in or out - a very honest signal on the level of involvement.
Even if you don't know or notice every hand gesture someone makes, you can still learn a lot by observing how much they use them and in which body level they keep it.
It's highly culturally dependent, but the general rule is this - less gestures usually signify someone who's more calculated, perhaps more quite by nature, and often associate with higher social status.
A comment on social status and the use of gestures - It's quite similar to the idea that the truly strong don't make too much noise about it. Dominant individuals who feel confident in their position has usually less urge to express and explain themselves, in turn they use less gestures and appear less empathetic and warm.
Another thing to consider is at what level of the body the gestures are made:
Low level gestures - say about waist level are "quieter", calmer, calculated and more sophisticated - it shows control and restraint.
As we go "higher" - the gestures begin to be more emotional, chest level gestures are usually more honest and expressive. Higher than that, head level - usually involve strong feelings such as anger, sadness, and spirituality.
It's quite similar to what I mentioned in "gestures" but it refers to a more general feel of the non verbal cues of whom you observe.
How animated, edgy, nervous or stoic, calm, collected they appear?
Do you notice any unnecessary motions that signify nervousness - such as: darting eyes, erratic movements or self-comforting gestures?
Or do they seem full of energy and very upbeat and dynamic?
Such things are actually very easy to identify quickly, but always try to be more specific in your observations. Does he look nervous because he wants to get away or because he's excited? In both cases you'll see some shared signals because in both the person experience stress and the symptoms are similar.
Also, keep an eye out to see how lengthy and accurate their actions are. Are they aware what they do with their body or do they seem absent-minded?
Distance kept from others is also has a very strong cultural component, we have the same concept of personal boundaries but we measure them differently - the norms established by what is acceptable in where we live.
So we have basically 2 types of scenarios here:
One that involves people from different cultural backgrounds (e.g. people who live in a city VS people who grew up in rural places). In such case there might be a type of cultural clash - someone is not going to be happy about the distance kept and will try to fix it by moving closer or away.
The other case is when both sides are from the same background; in such event the distance the parties keep can teach you a lot about their relations - physical nearness is obviously an indicator to an emotional bond, but also to the amount of comfort and social respect.
We can also include in this section any haptic information (meaning "that of a touch") you might observe.
So here we made it...
Consider this template as a basic guide to get the "gist" of body language in a glance. It doesn't go very deep and shouldn't take too much of your time either - but it gets the job done, and it's a good practice!
As I already mentioned in the introduction, it's a good technique to create a baseline for someone's nonverbal behavior. I didn't focus on deceit or other unusual signals because they're hard to assume from a single observation. But once you establish your baseline you can notice deviations from this standard, they are the hotspots, signals that something unusual is happening.
I hope this helps you get more focus when reading body language, the detailed explanations regarding the signals I mentioned you can find easily on the site.
Good luck out there!