Response to a comment about the Body Language web page....

QUESTION / COMMENT:

Relating to the Newsletter article and web page on Body Language:

i WOULD AGREE THAT SOMETHING AS BENIGN AS FOLDED ARMS AND A BODY LEAN AGAINST A POST OR CCOPIER OR WHATEVER OCCURING IN A PLEASANT AND CASUAL CONVERSATION, NEED NOT BE GIVEN IMPORTANCE ESPECIALLY SO IF THAT PERSON, SO POSTURED, IS ACTIVELY AND POSITIVELY ENGAGED IN THE CONVERSATION.

hOWEVER, MORE NEGATIVE SIGNALING VIA FACIAL EXPRESSION AND VOICE TONE CAN PROVOKE QUITE NEGATIVE REACTIONS IN THE LISTENERS, IF THE CONVERSATION IS CONFLICTUAL, DIFFICULT, OR EVEN JUST MORE FORMAL. CONSIDER THE EFFECT, OF SMIRKING, SARCASM, EYE ROLLING, AUDIBLESIGHING, REFUSING TO MAKE EYE CONTACT, FINGER POINTING, AND A HOST OF OTHER DISCOMFORTING NON VERBALS.

OUR HUMAN/ANIMAL REACTIONS TO THESE SIGNALS CAN LEAD TO FURTHER DIFFICULTY FOR THE COMMMUNICANTS.

MM - United States

Dear MM

In response to your comments below, which I assume to be related to my page on body language or the slightly adapted page on ezinearticles.com I would say the following:

I note various types of 'body language' in your list such as smirking, audible sighing, refusal to make eye contact and others. All of these are subject to our interpretation of their 'meaning' and my concern is that when the interpretation of body language is portrayed as a 'science' in which we claim to 'know' what these behaviours indicate about what someone is thinking or feeling, it can easily lead to a breakdown in communication through withdrawal from the conversation by the 'interpreter' or it can lead to responding to our assumption about them in a negative or aggressive manner. Alternatively it can lead us to assume we can be less formal with someone than they are actually comfortable with.

These responses decrease the effectiveness of our communication and are based on a subjective interpretation that we may have read, or been told, or even been trained to believe is an objective 'truth' about the person.

I know that I have been told I was 'smirking' once when in fact I was attempting a cautious smile to try to lighten a discussion that was becoming heated. It was taken as 'mocking' when my intention was anything but. An audible sigh could mean all sorts of things and I would find it difficult to accept that it can mean only one thing in particular.

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I'm also interested in the phrase 'refusing to make eye contact'. I assume you mean this to be something negative and would wonder why this is so. What would lead to a 'demand' for eye contact in the first place and what meaning is attached to a 'refusal' to give it?

I can listen intently to someone without having to give them eye contact and I am concerned that there is an unquestioned notion that to make eye contact 'means' good listening. Many people give eye contact while speaking to others but their minds are elsewhere.

As mentioned in the article, I fully accept that we all interpret others' body language, but to suggest that we can know we are right in our interpretation as if some sort of generalisation can be applied to different forms of body language as 'meaning' something in particular is not only incorrect but can be extremely damaging to the effectiveness of our communication and our connection with others.

Our assumption leads us to believe we don't need to communicate verbally with people as we think we already know what they are feeling or thinking. In this way disconnection with others occurs. Unfortunately the assumption about what they are thinking / feeling is more often used to demonise others than it is to develop rapport with them. 'They were smirking at me', 'Their body language was aggressive'.

Your last sentence which follows a list of different forms of body language says : 'Our human/animal reactions to these signals can lead to further difficulty for the communicants'. And I would agree. But only if they assume they know these forms of body language to 'mean' something. If they were to let go of any firm belief they have of what they think they mean, then many false interpretations would not occur and more open verbal discussion would ensue, unhindered by their negative interpretations of body language.

My discussion with my colleague remained benign because she did not make such assumptions. Folded arms and folded legs are frequently included in the list of other forms of body language that you give as being discomforting. But her discounting of these actions as meaning anything in particular kept the door open for a positive and interesting discussion.

Alan



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