On Understanding Body Language

by Sandra Williams

Below is what I to be to have discovered about myself. Body language can be as complex to us, as spoken words are in regards to communication. But, like spoken words, we process in various fashions, body language. Although, this mode of reading people has its deviations too, I think it has a higher success rate with familiar people, than with unfamiliar people. The reason being we tend to process a pattern to people that becomes consistent and predictable to us.

Group 1:
For me I find I can read people with cognitive deficits most clearly, as they are people with high body language in regards to gesturing and low-verbal, although their body language is more expressive. For example when angry they display this in more pronounced ways of sudden rigid and jerky body movements, sudden change in behavior, and voice tones increase in speed and intensity. Their whole presentation changes so drastically that is it clear what emotion they are expressing.
When they are happy, the same type of things happen, except they may jump happily, clap their hands, smile, grab at you, and try to hug you, clearly indicating they are happy. Now, while I can read these two emotions, I simply may struggle at times in interpreting what triggered the emotional changes. My interpreting what triggered the emotional changes is easier if, when doing an observation I then tend to watch everything going on in the room, hyper-absorbing every little piece of detail, and watching every subtle change in their behaviors and facial expressions. I am able to turn all my senses on hyper-alert systems and can absorb rapidly the whole picture as the fragmented parts come in rapidly forming a picture to me. This is one aspect of me that allows my area of work to be successful.
Group 2:
Now another way, in which I read people, are those I would term as high-verbal/low body language. These are people who tend to use words as their main outlet to communicating. I tend to focus just on the spoken words, as usually this type of person tends to not use much in the gesturing to enhance communication, but totally relies on the spoken mode of communicating. Thus, I tend to read what is being implied verbally, but not able to always infer more beyond the spoken words. This type of person can often be a challenging for me if they speak rapidly with words I have little or no exposure to. One thing that will interfere with me reading this person is I tend to get stuck on the sounds of the words and not the meanings behind the words.
Another interference is if the voice tones are unfamiliar. My brain needs to process the melody of this persons voice tones first, but after much exposure my brain does process at high levels the voice tones. I then can begin to develop a pattern to them and can begin reading some things about them.
Group 3:
This type of person is high both in verbal and body language and although intrigued by them, I can't read them, but am drawn to them. To me it is a mystery to be solved. I simply cannot process both coming in at once. I tend to find I am mesmerized by the melody of both body language and rapid spoken words with up and down tones flowing at the same time, but rarely get anything more from the interaction except for the melody.
Group 4:
High-verbal, mixed non-verbal. This person tends to use advanced words all strung together in a sentence that takes a brilliant mind to process what the words mean, but their non-verbal gesturing does not match what is being said. An example, rapid and quick movements, voice tones fluctuate in up and down tones, while their hands and arms move around like group 2 or group 3 people. Although intrigued by them I am more fearful and on guard with them as their patterns is not predictable.
Group 5:
People who use sarcasms, idioms, and metaphors, as their main way of communicating, while keeping low body language is the most difficult of all for me. This is a type of person I would avoid at all cost, as I will have no success in interacting with that person in back and forth conversations. It is as though they are speaking a foreign language. I cannot read anything from this type of person.

That is how I organize people.

Now to read them:

I have to have exposure to them frequently, and then process almost like imprinting the style of that person in a file in my brain. In this way, I mentally store my interactions with them, and have a strong memory to the way in which they express them selves. As their particular pattern becomes consistent, over time I can read some of the expressed emotions simply by the consistent change they display while feeling that emotion. As an example, I might pick up the angry tones reflective of that person, but still be clueless to the whys of it.

With some they may share why they are angry and although I now know why they are angry I may not be able to match in good timing my response to their distress.

Some will assume I know the whys of it and I honestly don't have a clue. This will escalate my fears and anxiety, which further complicates an already struggling interaction.

Another example is, if I hear loud tones with rapid words, maybe a hand slapped at the counter or table. When I hear this, anxiety and fears surge through me and freeze my system. I then have all my senses on hyper-alert states, on guard so to speak, trying to discover what changed that persons behavior; am I safe or in danger. What will happen next? So while my radar if you will has picked up something; it has delayed interpretations of the event. I may in time process a similar expression but misread it as anger, when it was maybe this time being expressed in rough house play, but my brain is not aware and responds like my first exposure to the anger, my body now in the fight or flight state.

So to summarize I think we do pick up things, we do somewhat read things, but we may struggle interpreting what the expressed behavior meant.

Written by Sondra Williams
Copyright © October 14, 2002

First posted 21 Oct 02.

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