Reading a book vs reading a person. Which comes easier to you?
Most would say the book. Yet we all seem to have that one friend who can always tell when we’re upset and who effortlessly finishes our sentences. They understand us, even without having said a word.
No, no. Calm down. Just the budding field of body language and nonverbal communication.
Question is, why and how, are certain people more skilled at perceiving and interpreting nonverbal cues? And, how can one can get better at perceiving another’s body language?
Body Language in the Media
Articles in popularized magazines. Shows like Lie to Me. The topic is fascinating, far-reaching, and front-page worthy.
Self-help books and magazines aim to guide people on how to better interpret the signals of their friends, employers, or significant others in the attempts to gain leverage of some sort in their daily interactions.
This bing search for how to decode a romantic interest is proof alone on how widespread it has become. And for good reason.
People are starting to catch on that sometimes, the things that come out of our mouth holes is not always, how shall I put this, sincere?
We are emotional, touchy-feely beings (no matter how much you try to fight it). We feel people out, no matter what they may be saying.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the term “energy vampire“? If not, it pertains to the way we exchange energy, something you are always doing.
More importantly, did you think of someone specific when I mentioned energy vampire? Worth thinking about…
As a Reiki practicioner (a sub-art of energy healing), I can attest that energy transference is real and it is potent. Alas, a post for a different day.
Body Language in the Workforce
Body language and deception are closely linked; law enforcement officers read people on a daily, nay, hourly basis. Besides the polygraph exam, FBI profilers are keen body language observers of any tip-offs their perps might give out, verbal or nonverbal.
Health care workers (physicians, nurses, caretakers) need to read patients to provide better care, especially when their condition makes speaking hard or even impossible.And, when entering the workforce, first impressions are everything. In my blog post from 2 years ago, I posted a video of Amy Cuddy explaining power poses and how to get ready for job interviews and high-stakes public speaking.
Why depend on body language?
You could just be assertive and say what you want from a person. No need to be subtle and shy about everything, right?
There are times when you can’t talk. Or you talk, but only nonsense comes out. Nonverbal communication is often:
- more informative
- more genuine
Plus, reading people encourages a more observant and empathetic society; you actually have to look and want to understand the other person.
Body Language Benefits
Research boasts of the benefits of nonverbal communication because it is both a). versatile and b). subconscious. Nonverbal communication also boosts empathy.
Usually, people are using multiple senses in any given interaction. For example, a person will make certain facial expressions along with varying the pitch or inflection of how they talk.
What does that mean for the person reading them?
The reader is processing that nonverbal behavior as a ‘gestalt,’ or taking the person in as whole and not just the way they talk or move their face.
Nonverbal cues are usually intentional, but subconscious, making them seem unintentional. And that is exactly why the cues you give off are more genuine than what you say.
Some even argue that it is impossible to accurately convey emotions without using nonverbal cues. 
Research on mirror neurons and facial mimicry shows that on a neurobiological level, what we observe is reflected back to us. We actually end up simulating what we see in others, which could lead to more empathy and an intuitive understanding of other people.
Wow. Doesn’t this inspire you to show more empathy?
Are men or women better?
Women. Yupp, I said it.
Females exhibit higher sensitivity to non-verbal cues than males.
But putting gender aside, people with a higher emotional intelligence are more likely to perceive, understand, and manage emotions in themselves and others.
Also, reading others comes easy to people that are better at perceiving microexpressions. Microexpressions are the brief and subtle facial movements, lasting as short as a tenth of a second, that can reveal an emotion a person is trying to conceal (or bring attention to) .
Woah, that’s impossible. How am I even supposed to see that?!
We judge people by first impressions. All the time. And those impressions last seconds. You can bet your sub-conscience is at work, taking apart those milliseconds and forming your positive or negative opinion.
Becoming the Best at Body Language
How do you do it?
Easy. You need:
- high emotional intelligence
- a lot of mirror neurons
- enhanced perception of microexpressions
Get to work! I jest.
Ok, to be fair, a lot of people are gifted with these traits. Or they inherit them.
But nonverbal communication is just like any other skill. Train yourself. Take each daily interaction you have and work on increasing your awareness. Have a fun game night with friends and act out certain scenarios and try to read each other.
Learning a language, especially a nonverbal one, takes more than one day.
P.P.S My original teacher and inspiration in the subject, Leil Lowndes, has a wide variety of books to choose from and her writing style is like having a conversation while reading. She is the queen of communicating like a ninja.
 Riggio, R.E. & Riggio, H.R. 2012. Face and Body in Motion: Nonverbal Communication.
Body Image and Human Appearance. 425-430.
 Zhejiang, J. 2012. Effects of the Duration of Expression on the Recognition of
Microexpressions. Journal of Zhejiang University Science. 13(3): 221-230.
 Likowski, K.U., Muhlberger, A., Gerdes, A.B.M., Wieser, M.J., Pauli, P., & Weyers, P.
2012. Facial mimicry and the mirror neuron system: simultaneous acquisition of facial electromyography and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.