Woman with hands over mouth

Did you know that a large percentage of communication is unspoken? In fact, according to some sources, nonverbal communication accounts for anywhere between 55% to 93%. While exact numbers vary, what everyone seems to agree on is that unspoken communication is even more important than what is actually said during any interaction.

Since one of the key aspects of emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the feelings and motivations of others, reading body language can play an important part. You do it all the time unconsciously, so let’s look at how you can start to do it consciously.

Some Basics
There are many examples of individual body language elements that can suggest what someone is thinking or feeling. Let’s start with a few to get the ball rolling:

  • Arms folded: Someone with arms folded is displaying a very “closed-off” body language, suggesting they aren’t interested in what’s being said or they don’t agree with it.
  • Foot direction: The direction someone’s foot points in when they’re standing or sitting can tell you what they’re really interested in. If their feet point towards the door, it may be that they want to leave. The same often goes for the angle of their body.
  • Finger pointing to the temple: If someone is resting on their hand and their finger points at their temple, they’re likely interested in what you have to say.
  • Mirroring: If you see two people whose body language mirrors each other, this suggests they have rapport and like one another.
  • Touching: When a man pats another man on the back or shoulder, this is often a sign of dominance and marks the initiator as the “alpha” male.

Context and Grouping
Woman keeping warmWhen reading body language, many mistakenly look at these individual signs in isolation and forget the context. For instance, you might think that someone who has their arms crossed is “closed” and uninterested in what you have to say, but if it’s cold, they may just be trying to stay warm. On the other hand, if they’re holding a glass of wine, this can prevent them from crossing their arms, however they may also create a barrier with one arm by holding it in front of themselves.

Successful reading of body language requires you to observe clusters of signals and to consider the context.

This concludes our series of articles on Emotional Intelligence. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Journey Within: Reading Body Language
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