Reading Body Language
How do people communicate with each other? What is the most effective form of communication?
In today’s world, more and more, texting seems to be the popular choice for communicating. It has taken over from emailing, which replaced phone calls. Letters is really a relic from the past. However, when it comes to discussing matters of great importance nothing is better than a face-to-face conversation. It’s even better than facetime calls. This is a message from a Chicago political activist group working to recruit members to support a growing community movement.
With the exception of a face-to-face conversation, all the other means of communicating only provide 10% of a person’s message or reaction to a question. If you have a matter of great importance losing a possible 90% of a reaction to a suggestion or question is not acceptable to activist group in building mode.
The missing ingredient in all the other forms of communication is body language. If fully reading a person is important to a business or political recruit, it is just as important to a writer who wants a reader to identify with the characters in a narrative. An alert, caring character would pick up on a friend’s body language. By the same token, a writer can use body language to clue a reader into another character’s deepest feelings.
So what all is included in body language? The simplest answer is the body movements of a person. In the selection below Jill’s tension is shown by three actions: she hides her hands under the table something that Mary can see, and Jill squeezes them tightly. Jill also looks at Ed’s shirt pocket to avoid eye contact so he can’t read her fear. Thanks to Mary’s words, “Relax” and Mary’s smiling face, Jill smiles and her hands relax. Note: she isn’t completely at easy because her hands remain under the table. Where people sit is also an indication of how close the characters feel toward each other. Mary sits beside Jill while Ed is across the table. Mary is close enough to reach over and comfort Jill by holding her hand if it was above the table. Visual clues like these are missed by people who rely on a telephone, email or text.
One afternoon at the end of the day, Mary locks the door as Jill cleans up. Ed calls out to Jill, “When you’re finished, I’d like you to join Mary and me at the table.” While Ed often helps at the busy noon hour, he rarely remains to the end of the day. His unusual presence at closing time worries Jill.
“Shall I bring some cups?” asks Jill, thinking that Ed is joining Mary and her for their usual cup of tea and review of the day.
“Not today,” responds Mary. Jill sits down at the table, concerned that someone has complained about her service. Ed sits directly across from her, and Mary is to his right.
“I’d like to talk to you about your performance review,” begins Ed.
“Performance review?” Jill hides her hands under the table, squeezing them tightly. This isn’t fair. I haven’t had time to prepare myself. You’ve likely been considering this for some time. She looks at Ed’s shirt pocket to avoid his eyes.
“After three months, many businesses do a performance review. It’s a little early for yours, but I don’t expect much to change in the next couple of weeks.”
Detecting Jill’s concern, Mary interrupts, “Relax, Jill. I think you’ll be very happy with what Ed has to say. Relax.” Jill looks at Mary’s always smiling face, then at Ed’s.
“I’d like to start by saying we can’t be happier with your work at the bakery. You’ve exceeded my expectations.”
Jill smiles. Her hands, still under the table, relax. “You know customers not only by their names but as individuals. They like that. It brings them back again and again. They kind of feel like they’re coming home.”
What is the message of hand holding? Many factors come into play in this next selection. Friend-Mary’s hand-holding suggests support as does husband-Bill for Donna. Bill’s not certain of the effect of his holding Jill’s hand. Being touched unexpectedly did once upset Jill. Still Bill’s wife’s comment about the benefit she felt when he held her hand causes him to take a chance and hold Jill’s hand.
Maybe the warmth of my hand will help her.
Other cues to detecting a person’s reaction to information or a question include the sound of the person’s voice. Does it become louder or softer? Does the speech come faster or slower? Has the person’s sitting position changed? Forward––eager. Leaning back in the chair––relaxed or as Jill interrupts that action from Bill––professional, a detached-duty-interest not a caring interest. Yes, body language can mean different things to different people at different times.