Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Body language: Reading body language

There is more to body language than meets the eye. Isn't that an interesting way to put it? But I'm being serious.

One aspect of body language is proxemics, the study of spacial distances between people. How do people maintain their personal space, how do they interact with other people's personal spaces? These are questions which reveal much about who is aggressive, submissive, open, closed, confident, fearful, overcompensating, and overreaching.

Another aspect of body language is kinesics, the study of body movements, gestures, and expressions. How do people express themselves silently? This area of body language is probably the most commonly written about topic on the Internet (and perhaps in books). Kinesics gave rise to some interesting myths, such as the oft-cited (and nonsensical) 7-38-55 rule that tells us 90% of our communication is non-verbal.

Another area of body language, which is especially admired by fast seduction fans, is kinesthetics or kinaesthetics, which they often call "kino". Technically, kinesthetics is the ability to feel movements of the limbs or body. But seduction practitioners refer to the use of touch to seduce another person as kino. I'm not sure how they managed to twist the word's meaning around, but base ignorance often gives rise to new uses for words.

Kino fans don't simply use touch to communicate with their targets. Rather, they use it to anchor or associate feelings with certain actions that the seducers control. Kino-based body language can be very obvious if you know that two people are virtually strangers to each other. Women often use touch to communicate their interest in other people. A woman offering emotional support to someone will touch that person, usually on the arm or shoulder. Men who use kino to seduce women often resort to arm and back-touching in order to create a false emotional bond with the women, as well as to encourage the women to become comfortable with their touch.

When you research body language on the Web, you'll find a plethora of hard-core sales and seduction FAQs, tutorials, articles, and blogs. Most of them are worthless, except as brief introductions to some standard tips and tricks. There are very few in-depth body language resources that I have found.

One interesting resource on handshaking is offered by Robert E. Brown, a management and leadership consultant. I'm not entirely sure I'd trust him in person, as his picture makes him look like an evil corrupted Yoda. But maybe he was just on the 17th take of a very long photo shoot and getting a little tired of smiling for the camera. You never know. Maybe that's what he genuinely looks like when he is happy and feeling good about himself.

Another area of study is photo analysis. Dr. Gabriel Raam's site and Kevin Hogan's site provide interesting case studies about photographs and what they reveal about us. My sister-in-law can look at a picture and evaluate a person's emotional state, maturity, and basic personality in the space of a few seconds. It's an amazing gift.

Patti Wood, the self-proclaimed Body Language Lady, maintains an infrequently updated body language blog that I wish she updated more often. She offers insights from both personal experience and occasionally she shares her interpretations of photographs.

Still, these resources just barely skim the surface of the study of body language. Robert Brown's handshaking tutorial, for example, doesn't touch on the romantic side of handshakes. R. Don Steele, one of many dating experts, wrote a book on body language in which he talks about how women convey interest in men through hand shakes. He says they give you a "Yes", "Maybe", and a "No" handshake. I've often wondered what the "Yes" handshake feels like. I think I've encountered it, but if you ask women about this they act like there is no such thing. Maybe some women convey yes/maybe/no and some don't. Maybe it's entirely subconscious.

Steele is a professionally trained and credentialed psychologist who specialized in body language. After his second marriage broke up, he applied what he knew about people to himself and developed a program for men to help them find, meet, date, and win the girls of their dreams. He doesn't believe in fast seduction and he advises against the use of kino. But studying and understanding body language is central to his philosophy.

Note: For those guys who are curious, I found an audio file where Steele describes the "Yes" handshake in a radio interview. He says the girl gives you a firm, lingering handshake, where she trails her fingers through your own as you release your grip. I have experienced this kind of handshake, but only from women who were unquestionably on the liberal side of sexual behavior. Many more conservative women have given me lingering handshakes which I think were more subtle "Yes" greetings based on their subsequent actions.

Some body language tutorials will focus on minutiae such as lint-picking. According to some guides, if a person starts picking lint off their leg or arm, they are indicating boredom or lack of interest. But lint-picking has also been described as a preening gesture, which is in fact an indication of interest (in fact, it's a sign of sexual anxiety -- "I am nervously attracted to this person"). Lint-picking can also be a signal of arrogance or dominance: "You are less important to me than this piece of lint that just grabbed my attention."

How do you tell the difference? You have to look for clusters of signals. If a girl is picking lint because she is interested in you, she may be very gentle and sensual in her movements. There will be a sinuous quality, and her eyes will be submissively downcast. Her body will be pointed toward you, and she won't position any protective barriers between the two of you. She leaves herself in a vulnerable position. A man who is conveying his disregard for you and lack of respect will not make eye contact and he'll find other things to play with besides imaginary lint on his leg. He'll position things between you and him.

A romantic case of lint-picking is more open and honest. A fearful case of lint-picking may be surreptitious or hidden behind a barrier of some sort. My point is that lint-picking by itself doesn't tell you anything. You have to look at the person's posture and demeanor and understand what you are being shown collectively. But the tutorials and articles really don't go into such detail. More often, you'll find lint-picking listed as a bullet-point in a "good stuff" and "bad stuff" format.

Remember those cute auditors who have been here this week? It's been interesting to watch the men, even married men, find excuses to interact with them. Who people choose to interact with says a great deal about what is going on in their minds. In a dance class I will be very ambiguous about, there was a gentleman who has a noticeably strong body odor. If I can smell it, you know it's strong. Women avoid him like the plague. Watching the dance teacher maneuver a woman to be his partner was a bit painful, but the man seems to be genuinely unaware of how much he reeks and how uncomfortable other people are around him because of his body odor.

I have learned to make a point of being friendly to people even when I don't need to interact with them. You never know when you'll need their help, and you have to look beyond more than just the first impression. Think about how people feel about you if you only talk to them when you need something. You're conveying the message to them that they don't matter to you except when they have something of value (an answer to a question, a stapler, or the skill to perform a function you cannot perform for yourself).

For many years I felt that people who spent a lot of time chatting at work were wasting time, but I've learned that there are important reasons to allow this kind of behavior. You need to be sure co-workers respect each other and treat each other as people, not as faceless servants. They have to have opportunities to bond and form workplace friendships so that they value each other's company. Saying "good morning" and "good night" to everyone, even if that's the only time you talk to them, raises your value in their estimation.

The study of group dynamics is very closely related to the study of body language. Groups form and breakup continually, and one expert says they go through four phases of "life". Some groups may get stuck in the third phase, but eventually all groups hit that fourth phase, which you can call the breakup phase. There is the "Meeting Phase", the "Passion Phase", the "Comfort Phase", and the "Dissasociative Phase". These are my names for the phases, because they correspond to the phases of personal relationships.

Many relationships (and many groups) never get past the "Meeting Phase". And sometimes they die in th "Passion Phase". If a relationship or group reach the "Comfort Phase", things may last a very long time. The "Disassociative Phase" can be traumatic or it can be a quiet denoument. It just depends on how solid the bonds formed during the first two phases proved to be.

A handshake really goes through those four phases, too. When you meet someone, you decide whether you are going to risk being vulnerable enough to offer your hand to that person. One body language tutorial I've read says that a handshake is equivalent to three hours of conversation. If that is true, then refusing to shake hands with someone means you don't want to associate with that person for any length of time. So, when you meet someone, and you offer to shake hands, you are getting past the "Meeting Phase".

How you grasp the other person's hand, and how you respond to the way they grasp your hand, constitutes the "Passion Phase". I often find taller men grasping just my fingers. It's very awkward and they make no effort to adjust their grip to fully envelope my hand. This is a clear signal of discomfort. There is no passion at all, and it usually indicates that things aren't going to last long. On the other hand, if a woman holds my hand just a tad longer than usual, I know I can expect her to strike up a conversation very quickly.

The "Comfort Phase" of the handshake corresponds to the actual shaking. If there is no shake, there is no comfort. If there is a vigorous shake from one side, there is no comfort. Both partners have to genuinely welcome the contact, and when that happens they equally contribute to the shaking process. Men who crush your hand, women who break the contact prematurely, people who collapse their hands usually do so in this phase.

The "Disassociative Phase" is where you let go of the other person's hand. Sometimes I'll get a little playful and refuse to let go. Then I'll be mean and say, "Okay, you can let go now." Usually, if I say that, you know I'm the one who won't let go. Refusing to break off a relationship is a power play. It's a sign of ownership and dominance. It can also be a sign of weakness and neediness. A child may be very reluctant to let go of a parent during a hug or when a father and son shake hands as one leaves the other for an extended period of time (usually for the first time).

I've noticed similar phases with dance partners, although they are more subtle -- especially with fellow dance students. If I provide a very good lead, even advanced dance students will be reluctant to leave me during a rotation. If I provide a particularly bad lead, they cannot wait to get away from me.

When you come together with a woman to dance, you have a "Meeting Phase" where you are paired up. The "Passion Phase" is where you establish rapport and one partner establishes the lead. If the man establishes a good lead, the woman continues to dance with him. If he fails to establish a good lead, she dances with herself. Sometimes the man is at fault and sometimes the woman is at fault. Some women just don't know how to follow, or they don't want to follow. When the man fails to establish the lead, there is no "Comfort Phase".

The bulk of the dance constitutes the "Comfort Phase". If there is no rapport and the two people stay together out of politeness, it's more like a "Discomfort Phase". You cannot wait for the song to end, and it seems to take forever. I usually won't walk away from a stranger, but I have done it on one or two occasions. I've walked away from my friend Maggie a few times because she and I know we'll dance together again.

I can tell if a girl is interested in me by how close she stands when we dance. If I have to keep pushing her away, she is almost certainly attracted to me. If I have to keep drawing her closer, she is almost certainly not attracted to me. I was dancing with someone earlier this week who kept backing away from me. I had to constantly pull her in. Maybe she was just really excited and trying to control herself, but I got the distinct impression she would rather have been dancing with a rock. They say you should trust your gut instincts, so there are times when I'm just not as good a dancer as a rock.

Take that for what it's worth.

4 Comments:

Blogger boinky said...

Body language and gestures differ from society and class to other societies. So a Spanish or south American talking to me at 2 feet is "normal speaking" distance, but an American man who does the same is being sexually aggressive.
Much of the oversees anti Americanism is this failure of Americans to change to the body language of another society.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Michael Martinez said...

That's a great point. One of our television networks did a documentary on the Battle of Mogadishu last year or the year before. They interviewed some of the soldiers who fought in the battle, and one of them made an interesting comment.

He said that in Somalia, it is customary for people to show the soles of their shoes as an insult to someone who has offended them. He said that American soldiers regularly sat along the sides of helicopters with their feet hanging over the side. This posture facilitates quick unloading of troops.

But he noticed the people on the ground often held their shoes up and waved them as the helicopters flew overhead. He deduced that they saw the soldiers' boots as an insulting and arrogant gesture.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Gabriel Raam, Body Language expert, Israel

The updated link to my above mentioned website on photo-analysis is: www.photo-analysis.net

more about body language:
www.nonverbal.up.co.il

thank you!

2:04 AM  
Blogger Michael Martinez said...

I have updated the link in the blog. Thank you for dropping by.

9:27 AM  

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