Observation Training For Body Language
Part 1

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magnifying glass

"God is in the details"                                                

Today I'm going to talk about a tool we can use to help us read body language in a more profound and accurate way – Observation.

What do I mean by being observant?

It's the act of applying attention to certain details and sorting them out of the total information we receive.

In terms of body language - a good observation skill is necessary to get all the little and sneaky non verbal cues others display. Of course we prefer to do it automatically and efficiently, without really thinking too much about it.

In order to achieve and improve that skill I made this guide of observation training for body language.

So, grab your magnifying glass and let's get down to the details...maybe we won't find god, but we will have some good time nonetheless.

How Keen is Your Observation?

First, let's test your observation skills - take a careful look at this video:

I'm quite sure that if I told you prior watching the video to look for a dancing bear - you would've noticed him right away… But as the video suggests, it's very hard to pay attention to something we're not looking for.

Want another example? OK, read this paragraph and answer the question that follows, it involves some "out of the box" thinking.

"A man dressed completely in black– he wears a black shirt, pants, shoes, and even a black mask, walks down the street with all the street lamps off. A black car is coming towards him with its lights off, but the driver somehow manages to stop the car before hitting the man. How could the driver see the man?"

Got it?
This time the solution was in the details I didn't give you:

Solution: It was happening during daytime, it doesn't matter if everything else was black or the fact that the lights were off.

It's a lateral thinking exercise but I show it to you to demonstrate the power of the little unnoticed details. More lateral thinking exercises here.

Don't feel bad if you didn't observe and answered correctly on the exercises, they are meant to be tricky and distract you from the main object. I wanted to demonstrate to you the power of keen observation and attention to details.

What's Your Point?

My point in these exercises was to show you that there's a little misconception when it comes to perception – we think we get the whole picture, while we can actually miss a lot of info going on.

Why is that? Because our observation is not completely objective, and it's very selective:

Imagine that I would've told you to find 1 match in heap of wooden chips (I know... how cruel of me) – You would automatically filter any information you get from the 'non-important' chips and concentrate on the one thing that separates the match from the chips – its ignitable "head".

So when we look at things around us we automatically filter the important and interesting facts for us. What is important and interesting? – It really depends on whom you'll ask – a physician might look at people and focus on their physical condition while a salesman will try to determine their potentiality as customers.

heap of bikes

Can you help me find my bike? It has a red marking on it's right grip

Image Source

In short, this selection on what to focus on is based on our experience in life, our expectations, and our current thoughts (ever noticed the fact that after you bought something you see it practically everywhere? Is it suddenly magically appeared there? Hmm…)

Why Do We Need Observation Training?

As you can see we have a little problem here – we know that non verbal cues are important (don't we?) but we ignore a lot of them, not because we choose to do so, but because we're simply not used to pay them much attention.

Remember that I said that reading body language is mostly subconscious – our brain knows how to do the job, we're not completely blind to it, but when it comes to the small details – we might slip. So the purpose of observation training is to consciously take control and record the details that we consider important. We want to expand our awareness and alert our brain to these details.

So How is it Done?

Naturally, the mere interest in body language might help you become more aware to it, just like when you learn any other new info – it makes you suddenly aware to it almost anywhere in your life.

But there is an even better observation training technique that I found to be very effective – asking questions.

You see, when you order your brain: "be alert to body language now!" Your brain responds by: "Come again? What specifically do you want me to look for?"

By asking questions you direct your mind to look at details you'll otherwise miss. You can ask questions like:

  • Posture - How does this person stands? Is he using open or closed body language?

  • What’s the look on his face?

  • What does he does with his hands?

  • What about his legs?

  • Does he make eye contact?

There are plenty of questions you may ask, it all depends on what you see, and what signals you already know. As you become better you might ask more relevant and specific questions to help you read faster and more accurately.

angry man

Do you think he's angry?


Even if you think you don't have a clue about body language you can still ask yourself more general questions that will help you learn and be aware:

  • What type of personality is this person has?

  • Does he look welcoming or defensive?

  • If I had one word to describe this person, what would it be?

  • Can I create a background story for him?

The purpose of these questions is not to judge people, and your answers may be very far from the truth, but, you train your mind to look for details that support your assumptions. If you decided that someone looks defensive - ask yourself why you think that way. Because he has a glaring stare? Because he crosses his arms? Because he wears a T- shirt that tells to "back off"?

Train Yourself to Observe Automatically

The whole point of this observation training is to help you notice and read body language more easily. If you train your brain to be more receptive and aware, you won't need to work hard to notice non verbal subtle cues. It will become your second nature to get them as soon as they surface.

Observation is a very useful tool if you know how to use it; it's also a component in many learning skills. That's why I also highly recommend doing some observation training exercises to sharpen your mind. In the next part of I'm going to explain why and how you do some practical exercises and games to improve your observation skills.


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