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The Seven Basic Principles of Body Language

Like so many people, I have long found the topic of ‘body language’ irresistible.  It feels as if there should be some deep secret – known only to adepts – and some magical understanding of our fellow human beings to be gleaned from its study.

Of course, neither is true.  Anyone can understand the signals that our bodies leak into the social environment and any understanding you gain is far from magical – it will remain flawed.

One more for your Body Language library

But I welcome any addition to my little library of Body Language books and so the long-awaited Body Language Pocketbook got an instant read.

Body Language Pocketbook, by Max Eggert

And my impression was very positive.  What I especially like was Chapter 2: The Seven Basic Principles.  In these, author Max Eggert efficiently sets out the ground rules for trying to interpret body language.  They put the lie to any assertion that you can read a unitary thought in a single gesture, and replace it with the more subtle, but real practice of careful observation.

Let’s look at them

1. Body Speaks Louder than Words

As I would expect with Max, he wisely interprets research findings here with care and fails to fall for the Mehrabian trap’. 

2. Context is Everything

FoldedArmsMax cites my own favourite example – the many different meanings that I could infer from you folding your arms.  It isn’t just defensiveness or opposition, it could be many things:

– I’m comfortable this way

– I’m feeling insecure

– I’m cold

3. Look for Clusters

Interpret a pattern of gestures, expressions and postures together – not each on its own.

4. Recognise Individual Consistency

We each have our natural patters, so a single expression may mean nothing in the context – it’s just what we do.  However, …

5. Abrupt Changes are Significant

When we make a change or break our normal pattern, that signifies something. Now you need to apply your knowledge to context and cluster you observe to interpret that meaning.

6. Body Language always Precedes Speech

Indeed, I’d add that it also precedes our conscious awareness of the gesture or expression.

7. Beware Contamination

Our own body language will affect that of the people around us.  Also, I’d add: beware Projection – inferring your emotions and beliefs in another person’s body language.

The Body Language Pocketbook

With such a wise opening, we know we are in safe hands.  The Body Language Pocketbook is a nice addition to the series, not designed as a reference to all body language, but as a useful introduction to the subject – in the workplace context.

You can download a sample of it here.

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