Musings Episode 17: Understanding The Unsaid…Body Language and Reading The Air

Words in my opinion are extraordinarily superfluous. They’re not really how we as humans communicate. It’s been said that 93% of our communication is non-verbal – 38% being vocal (i.e. tone), 55% physical (gestures, facial expressions, posture, eye contact), and only 7% being words to make 100% (check out Dr. Albert Mehrabian‘s book, Silent Messages).

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This got me thinking….if the majority of what we say is how we come across physically and tonally – how often is it that people really pay attention to their day-to-day habits?

…and even if people are self-conscious of the way they talk and act – do they really realize how they’re coming across…? I touched on this briefly in both Musings Episode 14 and 16, and thought I’d elaborate a bit further.

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There’s a vast difference I’ve come to realize since living in both the Western world and the Pacific Rim. One thing specifically still stands out in my mind today – and was something I absolutely had to learn while I was living in Japan until I became proficient enough with the language to carry on a conversation with ease.

It’s a little something called 空気を読む (kuki wo yomu) – or, as best as it can be translated into the English language, “reading the air”…which is not always as easy as one may think. Fortunately, because of my upbringing and the fact I learned how to become a conversationalist well before travelling, this came with a certain amount of ease to me.

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Reading the air can best be explained as, but not exactly kin to, reading between the lines. The Japanese take it a bit further by it being an intricate part of their culture.

When you think reading the air – I want you to think of it as the ability to interpret / understand thoughts and feelings that another person you’re conversing with has – without them necessarily hinting towards or being blatantly obvious about what’s floating around inside their little heads.

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Thankfully, in the West, this is a little less relied upon….unfortunately, for many Westerners visiting a country like Japan – this is a major pitfall for them….but this post isn’t about Japan – it’s about communication in general…

…body language says way, way more than many will ever realize. From people’s hand gestures, to eye movements, facial expressions, to touch – even posture and walk – every single one of these play critical points in the way many are perceived and approached. I’m going to try and keep this to 3 points maximum, as this could easily turn into a dissertation – in future I may touch more and more on things such as these though.

Let’s go with eye contact for starters. In my experience…eye contact is something that can bring out many, many different sides to people. From intimidation, to intrigue, to insecurity, to nervousness. So many people use eye contact in so many ways without really paying attention, to the manner in which they do.

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So let’s say you want to come across as someone that commands respect, but also shows that you’re genuine and honestly interested in what the other person has to say. What do you do?

Well, for starters – and I’m sure some of you may have heard / read this before, but it always helps to look at someone dead center between their eyes or focus on the bridge of their nose.

Don’t focus so much on their actual eyes – shifting from eye to eye can make you seem as if you’re looking for a reaction to what you’re saying. Staying focused on center points out that you’re focused on them and gives conversation a better, genuine, more intimate feel.

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So when you’re speaking, hold eye contact 70% of the time and avert it 30% of the time – giving someone 100% eye contact when talking can make a person feel like you’re forcing them to be engaged in the conversation – breaking away at this ratio gives everything a more relaxed feel.

When you’re the listener, you want to maintain eye contact with the speaker for as long as they do with you and then some – so when they’re talking and looking at you, then decide to look away, you maintain eye contact for 1-3 seconds more, then look away. Absolutely avoid locking eye contact the entire time you’re listening to someone talk – it comes across as staring and can easily make someone feel self-conscious.

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This next part may sound funny, but avoid blinking. This comes naturally to me because when I was younger I had a soft spot for playing high intensity video games – so blinking was out of the question for me. Blink occasionally – and usually only when the other person looks away. Blinking too much exudes that your thoughts are potentially off somewhere else – where blinking sparingly shows that you’re interested in what the other party is saying.

Keep in mind some people – mostly insecure, may be intimidated by this…don’t let this change your way of communicating with eye contact – by having a steady gaze that comes across as focused – in both being the speaker or the listener – you’ll project that you feel confident, self-assured, and certain in your thoughts and opinions.

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There’s loads more in reference to eye contact that I could cover, but for now this should suffice. At the moment I really just want to point out the key aspects that should get you rolling in the right direction…which brings me to my next point – sitting and standing.

Sitting and standing? You’re probably asking. Seems pretty basic and harmless right? Try again. These two actions can make or break how you want to come across…whether you’re going for casual/laid back or serious/suave…there are tiny little actions can make you come across exactly how you want to – or the complete opposite.

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Both sitting and standing are fairly straight forward – though the latter relies slightly more on posture than the former. Improper posture, though not intended, can make you come across as insecure or unsure. If you’re tired after a long day or a difficult workout, it may seem difficult to pull yourself up straight – but it’s worth making the conscious effort.

Also, as a quick side note – shoes play a BIG part in this as well – when your feet don’t have proper support / your arches aren’t properly taken care of, this can cause you to naturally “slouch,” and actually make sitting / standing up straight more difficult. So, get out to the store, and get yourself some proper footwear – and no, they don’t have to be something your grandparents would wear.

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Whenever I want to get my posture sorted out, I’ll shrug my shoulders until they touch my ears then relax – I also like to imagine a “hook” is pulling my front chest cavity up thus straightening my spine and shoulders. You’d be amazed at how both of these work.

When it comes to standing, if you’re going for the laid back look, it helps to avoid things such as crossing your arms / digging your hands in your pockets.  The latter can be an exception to the rule IF, you know how to do it right. Check out the photo below – this can be applied to both men and women, contrary to popular belief (I’ve seen many women in Portugal have their hands in their pockets and actually be able to pull it off).

Fashion Woman with Hands in Pockets

If you want to seem more serious, simple – avoid any casual movements, making sure your actions are more regimented and controlled. There will be a certain amount of control in your more relaxed movements as well – but they’ll be smoother.

Sitting is practically the same thing – except hand / leg placement plays a much bigger part. The simplest way I can explain it is to suggest avoiding any sitting positions where your “energy” is constricted – i.e. crossed arms, crossed legs….however, if you’re shooting for casual, crossed legs where one leg has a sort of playful “bounce” (both for the men and women – for women I call it the “foot dangle”, men I call the “casual tap”), is acceptable and can come off as casual and relaxed. Grasp the idea of that, and you can grasp the idea of hand / arm placement as well.

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Sitting when it comes to being more serious / suave, is similar to the casual example, but slightly different. Again regimented, and more slow, controlled movements…a girl can cross one arm while holding a drink in the other next to her chin/face, while a man can sit with one arm across the couch and one leg casually crossed over the other…

…both genders can rest one arm across their leg that’s being supported, while maintaining excellent posture.

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Got all that? Good…this brings me to my final point – facial expressions and hand movements. These two kind of go hand in hand…the latter getting someone to focus on the former. Think about it – if you’re sitting and having a conversation with someone, who uses no hand gestures whatsoever, but instead just sits there and talks with very little movement – how engaged do you think you might be if a distraction occurs? Or the subject slowly begins to die off…? Or you haven’t had a chance to respond in a while…?

You’ll more than likely look away. It’s not that you mean to – it’s just that the other person hasn’t really pulled you fully into the conversation – you’re not invested in it.

I’ll give an example….

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Have you ever watched a girl/guy drum their fingers on their cheekbone – or run their hand through their hair to push it back (or for girls) off their face? Like you’ll be sitting there, listening to what they have to say – and your eyes wander – yet once they do that your eyes instantly go back to focusing on them, more specifically their face.

They’ll do this and maybe look in the air while they’re thinking or dart a look off to the side while they pause before they continue on with their thought…and somehow paired with their facial expression, eye movements and hand gestures they’ve got you paying attention to them with much more investment.

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Now think about expanding this concept to other ideas…someone says something you’ve got to think on, or there’s an odd silence where they’re waiting for your opinion on something – you rest your jaw in your hand…look over at them, and let a slow, warm smile spread across your face – almost like you’re about to laugh – and they end up laughing before you do – they may be a bit puzzled by the reaction, but you’ve got them engaged – without saying a single word.

The goal here with all these points is to put across the most effective messages as possible – with the least effort and minimal words. Even though as humans we speak and use words, subconsciously our brains interpret deeper meanings and constantly read off of many more things than just the bits we use to piece sentences together…deaf people are excellent at picking up on whether or not a person is lying – where they lack the ability to hear words, their sense of body language is heightened thus making it easier to understand exactly what is being said with minimal effort.

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So stop analyzing words, and start studying gestures, eye movements, touch, mouth movements (i.e. frowns, lip quivers, smirks, etc)…and start paying attention to what people are really saying – without them having to spell it out to you.

Stay focused.

– Rego

Musings Episode 17: Understanding The Unsaid…Body Language and Reading The Air is a post from and appeared first on Rego’s Life

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27 thoughts on “Musings Episode 17: Understanding The Unsaid…Body Language and Reading The Air

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