I've just recently finished a book called Body Language by Allan Pease from the 1980's, which is famous because it was one of the first books to examine non-verbal communications.

The book covers how the way we position or move different regions of our bodies gives away some of our most subconsious thoughts, and how combinations of these positions give even deeper signals.

It also examines how we respond non-verbally while interacting with others and how we communicate through the positioning of furniture in the room that force us into a particular position to affect our behaviour or feelings. Although, it is difficult to fake body language for a long period of time, during short encounters some people are able to deceive and influence with great impact. It is good to identify the positive and negative signals people are giving that can help us build better relationships with others.

The book is quite old and makes sweeping generalisations or references to out-dated cultures. For example, apparently women will touch their faces more discreetly than men, to avoid smudging their make-up (!) or a boss might place an ashtray on an area of the desk so that the guest has to move to flick 'his' ash, in the days when smoking in work places was normal.

But despite this, I found some of the outcomes of Pease's research very interesting, which has made me a lot more conscious when I encounter some of the body language he is describing.

While I am aware that some of these are generalisations and they are not absolute truths, please allow me to share some of my favourite points in the book and perhaps you can give me your thoughts on Pease's interpretations:

  • Palm gestures: To determine openness and honesty, look at someone's palms. Open palms indicate truth, honesty, allegiance and submission. Just as some animals lie on their backs showing their belly to indicate a feeling of trust, safety and permission, humans subconsciously show their palms.

  • We place our fingers in our mouths when we feel nervous or under pressure and Pease argues that this is reverting back to the security of the child sucking on it's mother's breast. He goes further to suggest that smoking cigarettes and putting a pen to our lips is an extension of this.

  • According to Pease, somebody who disapproves or objects to your opinion, but feels constrained to voice it, will pick imaginary lint and often look down at the floor. This can be useful to know if you are conducting a meeting of some kind and you recognise this gesture. Perhaps you can invite that person to speak out.

  • Look out for the head tilt. This will indicate a person is interested in what you are saying. This is also helpful to know during a meeting or presentation. It may also be an indication that someone is attracted to you, so look out for this also.

  • Pease suggests that pupil dilation (increase in size) indicates attraction or pleasure. Interestingly, he observed that yes, men's pupils do dilate when watching porn, but apparently women's dilate even more so, which calls into doubt the assumption that men are more stimulated by porn.

  • Additionally young babies and childrens' pupils dilate when in the presence of adults which makes them look cuter and gains them more attention. It was observed that centuries ago prostitutes became aware of this power and actually put belladonna in their eyes to make their pupils dilate and look more attractive.

  • Professional poker players have been know to look out for pupil dilation in their opponents, so they can infer the kind of cards they hold, which is believed to be the reason that some poker players wear tinted glasses during games.

  • 'Mirroring' is a commonly known behaviour that can indicate the relationship between people. If two people chatting in a bar are mirrored in their posture then it is likely that they are discussing something with which they agree. If you notice someone mirroring your gestures or position, then it is likely they are attracted to you or feel some sort of connection to you. If you want to put someone at ease, in a meeting or interview situation for example, then mirror their body language to build rapport.

These are just a few examples that I found most interesting in the book, but in general, how can a better understanding of non-verbal communication help us? For me, it is about raising our consciousness, not taking things people say at face value, but having a slightly more critical view. We are clever creatures, often with hidden unspoken agendas, that can be to the detriment of others, or, left unexpressed, allow missed opportunities, and we sometimes have to get better at identifying when this is the case.

When I am Life Coaching, it is sometimes the body language of clients that give me clues about an area of vulnerability that I can then help the client explore and understand better. Imagine if we were all able to do that with our friends and colleagues, how much more of an open, honest and productive society we would live in.

So while we can read body language, and make assumptions on what people are thinking and feeling, there have been further studies on how you can consciously adapt your body language to help influence a situation for the better or become empowered when you feel you are not, and this is something I will be writing about in the future.

But in the meantime, stay true people as your body will tell no lies!

Take care for now.


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