HIDDEN messagesby Dr Leow Chee Seng, Regional Director,British Institute of Homeopathy within usWhile it is difficult to fully understand how a person really feels and thinks,observing the body language can glean a lot of clues about the silentmessages being conveyed. E ven among people who are very close, miscommunication often arises because people aren’t exactly very open most of the time about what they really want to say. There are various reasons why this is so – ranging from personal expectations to instincts honed by upbringing and cultural mores – and we can observe this happening all around us daily. Take a typical example of a lady who told her boyfriend that she could take public transport to return home after work. In actual fact, she had hoped in her heart the boyfriend could fetch her from the workplace – a hint he clearly missed and failed to respond accordingly. The end results are pretty obvious and this happens so often because what people say is not always what they truly meant or were feeling at that time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to read what their real emotions and intentions were so we could respond appropriately to what they needed? MAY / JUNE 2011 • OH! | 41
“ Expressing feelings without words is body language especially seen among couples. “ which includes the way people dress, societal norms on dress and behaviour, jewellery people wear, distance between people, the way people spend their time, the pitch of people’s voice and such. As for body language, there are several categories of these communications that we can observe everyday – and such gestures are usually classified as repeating, conflicting, complementing, substituting, moderating and ever-regulating. CATEGORISATION The easiest understood category is body language which serves to repeat, reinforce and elaborate on what is said verbally.Hoping for this to ever take place may bewishful thinking, but there could be one To illustrate, note when you ask your childway to reduce such miscommunications – to put down a book, you would also pointif all of us actually made time to pay to the table. As such, your child understandsattention to the silent cues of our partner’s the book should be placed there. Thisbody language. communication by gestures, of pointing to the table, repeats the verbal request and directsA SECRET LANGUAGE where to put the book.Body language is a sub-branch of non-verbalcommunication that is known as kinesics. The direct opposite is body language thatMotivational speaker Kevin Hogan, in his conflicts with the verbal message, makingbook The Secret Language of Business, it clear to anyone paying attention that yourdescribed body language as referring to cues mind is actually not in agreement with whatfrom body positions, gestures, eye contact and you’ve said.the whole body stance! As an example, when you tell your friend theIt isn’t easy to spot these cues if you’re not movie you’ve just watched was nice – buttrained to read such silent messages and your eyes dart away – that’s conflicting bodya lot of people get confused due to lack of language.understanding between the differences in bodylanguage and non-verbal communication. The conflicting body language indicator is usually bright and flashing, even to thoseTo better understand the differences between of us who wouldn’t pay attention to suchthese, it is perhaps best to describe non-verbal details. This form of body language appearscommunication as first impressions while body when you lie, disagree, feel trapped, feellanguage could be seen as postures adopted nervous or just ambivalent about something.and gestures made. Naturally, when there is conflict betweenAlternatively, it might be easier to understand verbal and your body language, people tendnon-verbal communication from a context to believe in your body language.42 | MAY / JUNE 2011 • OH!
The third type of body language would be For example, we can nod our head whenaction complementing the words spoken, and is listening to a presentation. We can use ourintertwined with the conflicting categorisation. hand gestures to invite other presenters to start presenting their ideas. At times, bodyTo illustrate, let’s refer to my friend Vanessa, language can also be used when some can’twho is a very good driver. She never speeds seem to stop talking once they have initiatedwhen driving and she follows all traffic rules, their thought processes.not even jumping queues when in a rush. IN THE WORKPLACESo, imagine her surprise when she was once Body language is essential for the successpulled over by the police because she was not of a salesperson. Such a sales executivepaying attention to her driving speed while is able to study the clients’ attitude andrushing to the hospital. By the time the officer purchase behaviour at close range, havinggot to her car, she was crying and very upset the opportunity to predict and improve theirwith herself. negotiation skills based on their body language.Police officers are generally very good atreading body language because most people If a person folds their armsthey encounter try to avoid being penalised when rejecting your ideas,and start to lie. This wasn’t the case with you need not wasteVanessa and the police officer could read her time to explain furthernon-verbal behaviour of crying and shaking because the defensivewas real, and not faked. mechanism has been shown.So, she was given a chance to continue herjourney to the hospital because her non- With knowledge ofverbal behaviour complemented her verbal body language, youstatements. are further able to easily identify theHumans tend to use substitution like touch to sincerity of a client andexpress feelings they do not wish to express you won’t be cheatedwith verbal communication. This body language easily.can be especially seen among couples.Moderating is another category where the When discussing with thebody language enhances a verbal message. client, if their legs are facing anyFor instance, when your employees had made direction except towards you, youa mistake, you should moderate the message have to observe other gestures to checkof forgiveness with the palm-up gesture, a on their sincerity. Such a negative gesturereassuring smile or a pat on the shoulder for indicates the other person really wants toencouragement. leave but is forced to stay.This body language shows that you are very When the sales executive identifies thisserious about the mistake, but you want them negative gesture, they should change theto learn from the error and perform better in way of presenting their ideas or use differentthe future. approaches to close sales. Hence, knowledge of body language can help boost yourWe also apply regulating body language when business!moving from one topic to another, or to giveanother person the chance to speak. These Body language skills are also widely used bygestures are very visible during a group human resource department personnel, whomeeting. use these skills during the recruitment process. MAY / JUNE 2011 • OH! | 43
During interview sessions, human resource Politicians too should be trained to understandmanagers should identify the congruency the components of body language. Theof the interviewer and the information given application of body language can enhanceduring the interview. their public relationship with others.Employees about to leave the firm could also For politicians, their body language shouldbe giving fantastic explanations for resignation. be friendly, welcoming and give confidenceHuman resource officers should observe to the public. When giving a speech, thetheir body language to further enhance their politician would display open palms toinvestigation of these resigning employees to indicate friendliness towards others.see how to persuade valuable staff to remain. Further, his palms should also face down toPROFESSIONAL BENEFIT exude confidence and exert authority. A firmCounsellors often apply the skills of body handshake during greeting gives confidencelanguage in their therapy sessions. In the to others.first stages of psychotherapy, trust betweenclients and counsellors need to be established Body language also enhances the applicationin this relationship building process before of criminal detection as we are naturally ableit is possible to move on the next stages of to detect if suspects are providing truthfulassessment and diagnosis. facts or if they are trying to hide something. By observing their gestures, we can determineCounsellors can observe the clients body the congruency of their statements.language to determine if they can proceedto the next stage. The application of body A person tends to touch their mouth and nasallanguage is more useful among introvert cavities when they try to lie. The legs too areclients who not like to express themselvesthrough verbal communication.“ For a business executive, knowledge of body language can help boost your sales! “Someone with low self-esteemand self-confidence can betrained on how to give firmhandshakes at the initiativestage of behaviour modification.When they apply the actionkinesthetically, the action wouldmanifest in their subconsciousmind. When repeated, thegesture becomes habitualaction and the client would beable to apply the gestureconfidently after trainingover a period of time.44 | MAY / JUNE 2011 • OH!
good indicators if someone is stating the truth, So, while verbal communication can be easilycrossed legs in a defensive position often disguised by an experienced husband, thesignify lies. lack of congruency between body language and verbal communication helps reveal to theIt is also possible to check the veracity of wife when there is any inconsistency.someone’s statements by shaking their handsbecause our body temperature tends to drop With children, understanding body languagewhen we are telling lies. Not only that, we can result in a far more fulfilling interaction.should also observe the eye movements.When a person is telling lies, their eyeballs Good communications will always be anmove upward at the left side because humans important parenting skill. Understanding ause the right brain to create stories when child’s capabilities and limitations is verytelling lies. important if you want to communicate effectively with them.INTIMACY CUESIn a crowded environment, the ability to read Knowing the right techniques inbody language can be a real advantage. communicating effectively with children canImagine being in a crowded disco or lounge – make parenting enjoyable as a positivebody language can help you predict which girls parent-child relationship is then firmlyor guys you could probably hook up with and established. So, whether you are parentingmaybe have a chance to develop something a toddler or a teenager, give focus to goodmore. communications – as that is the key toInterpersonal skills are also improved with building self-esteem as well as establishingthe understanding of body language. As guys mutual respect.aren’t usually good at expressing out loudtheir love towards their partner, they would Also, take note that constant adaptabilitysometimes use touch as a substitute to show is needed as the period from birth totheir feelings of care and love. adolescence contains dramatic developments in cognitive functioning and social maturation.The opposite is equally true too. Most of Children slowly develop abilities to gous would probably be able to tell when a beyond perceptual appearance to think morewoman isn’t happy with the husband as abstractly about their environment.the face would be black and their wholeposture would show off the unhappiness. This then leads to them acquiring informationFurther, couples are able to evaluate each other processing skills so that they can more readilythrough body language. While the husband organise and use what they learned aboutcan use body language such as touch to their environment. As such, listening to yourincrease intimacy between them, a wife is able child and paying close attention to non-verbalto detect if her husband is telling lie through cues play a critical role in establishing healthy the observation of his body language. communications. OH! MAY / JUNE 2011 • OH! | 45