Things to do instead of obsessing over body language

Body language, properly non-verbal communication, has become something of an obsession. I’ve written a number of posts about the supposed 55-38-7 rule and how it is often used out of context. A number of people have suggested that if I ‘shoot something down in flames’ (however false it is), I still need to suggest an alternative. Well the whole ‘body language’ thing is almost a cult, largely promoted by the evidence-less NLP (neuro-linguistic movement). I’m sure that no one would suggest I provide an alternative to a cult. I will anyway. Don’t join one.

So what are the alternatives to hours spent poring over body language books and attending expensive courses. They are surprisingly simple. Mostly body language devotees are concerned about deceit. Such as, how can I present myself as a genuine person?

There are tips to appearing genuine: (i) Relax; (ii) Be yourself; (iii) Don’t tell lies.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodRelaxation is the basis of confidence. Invest time in relaxation and spend more time on activities where you feel comfortable in your own skin (that don’t involve drinking, talking drugs or binge eating). Body language often happens ‘naturally’. When we try to force it, we look phoney. Over analyzing our every non-verbal signal in minute detail can only have a paralyzing effect. All that happens is that we give out mixed signals which are more likely to be interpreted as deceit. These are all principle keys in my book Unlock your Confidence. I emphasize techniques that unlock our inherent abilities.

A lot of the obsession about body language is the need detect or hide deceit. Detecting deceit in not an easy thing. There are so many factors to take into account. Non-verbal communication needs to be interpreted in clusters. No individual signal is definitive. Context is everything. There is also so much rubbish written about non-verbal communication that we can never protect against someone else’s faulty interpretation. Non-verbal communication is about ‘broad strokes’. Many pop-psychology books just make things up that might look good in a press release and so picked up by newspapers and radio programmes that need to fill space with a bit of whimsy. So take the easier path, invest all that time that you would spend on studying body language on finding ways to relax and control your stress response. This in turn will make it more likely that you are comfortable in your own skin and are able to be yourself.

The original  Albert Mehrabian body language research was concerned with first impressions and also congruence between verbal and non-verbal signals. We have to bear in mind that the original experiments were laboratory based and so lacked a little real-world significance. As systems theorist Peter Checkland commented ‘Life is too quixotic to be modelled’. So, we need to take the non-verbal communications statistics with a dose of scientific scepticism. Unfortunately, self-help writers, television producers and magazine and newspaper editors simply don’t have the time, space or training to do this. Body language is often the favourite bit of ‘science’ to slot into analyses of reality TV. It’s a great lever to shoe-horn in a bit of cod-Freud.

Considering the role of body language in forming first impressions. Relaxation and being yourself are key. These are far more important than having to remember lots of manipulative bod language tricks that invariably look phoney. One important from the Mehrabian research is that we are all pretty good at working out when words and gestures are at odds with one another. The signals are meant to be taken as a whole to give us a general impression. That’s as often as much as we need. If you set about trying to find out if someone is truthful in an encounter, you’re behaviour may become so odd as your eyes flick here there and everywhere that the other person may interpret you as a liar. They in turn react to their perception of your deceit and become more guarded. You interpret this as their deceit because you have neglected to consider the effect your weird behaviour is having.

Confidence doesn’t come from having a set of party tricks and cod-psychology at your disposal, it comes from relaxing, being yourself and putting others at ease. If you get the impression that someone’s words and gestures do not match, then use more words to find out. Get more information. Ask questions.


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Being Hung. . . up on X Factor Politics and Body Language Myths

Throughout the analysis to the run up to the 2010 UK General Election, the subject of ‘body language‘ or non-verbal communication has dominated. Faced with the first presidential style leaders’ debates, it’s often the simplest most televisual form of analysis. So, why discuss politics or policies when we can be discussing ties, smiles and hand gestures? The whole spectacle seems to have placed hair-line recession far higher on out list of priorities than global recession. So as the three leading men took to the stage and sound like the new cast of ‘The Last Of the Summer Wine’ it’s all became rather ‘X-Factored’.  When when faced with a buffet of mediocrity, the one with the nice smile gets the vote. It doesn’t matter that they have a voice that sounds like the wind whistling through an aardvark’s rectum. Better than the rest is not always that much of an endorsement when there’s not much on offer.

Part of the problem with the media’s obsession with body language is that it easily passes for ‘scientific’ analysis. Unfortunately this is at the expense of more serious, evidence-based analysis. It’s also partly due to fakesperts who have either not read or not understood the research available on non-verbal communication. What happens is that a misunderstanding is so routinely and frequently passed off as ‘fact’ that it has been accepted. I refer of course to the 7% myth.  I’ve blogged about this on several occasions and there’s not a week goes by tha some ‘expert’ repeats it on twitter, with all the originality of a bigot, who regurgitates, parrot-fashion, the old unfounded, unsupported myths of prejudice.

So let’s be clear.  Non-verbal communication does NOT account for just 7% of any communication. Just try watching a foreign language film without subtitles. Would you really understand 93% of the film? Non-verbals take precedent when we are forming a first impression. So for instance, in the first leaders’ debate, Nick Clegg’s non-verbal communication was probably more important than Brown’s or Cameron’s. This is mainly because he was the least known of the three due to lesser media coverage. It helps to explain why he did so well in the first debate. He’d made a really good first impression. In the following weeks, we’d already formed a first impression and so his words became more important, and the ‘nice bloke’ style wasn’t as impressive.

Non-verbal communication is also important when trying to decide whether someone is lying. If there’s a mismatch between words and gestures we suspect that someone is lying or trying to hide something. Now the cynical might argue that using body language to try to decide whether a politician is lying is a pretty redundant activity.

Non-verbal communication is also very context dependent. So for instance, we tend to behave quite differently with family and friends as we do with work colleagues or at an interview. Now put on the spot-light, turn on a few cameras, invite an audience and realise that you won’t be seeing natural non-verbal indicators of private thoughts or personality traits. Instead you will see the different levels of ability in media training. But coping well in front of the camera doesn’t necessarily make a good Prime Minister. However, it is a good skill for would be politicians. Far from helping us to see the truth, good media training can help to control and obscure it.

If you’ve ever seen those confessional chat shows you’ll notice that the guests are often placed centre stage on a chair without arms. So they are forced to do something with their hands. If they fold their arms to feel more comfortable, it doesn’t mean they are being defensive and lying. It may just mean that they feel at a loss what to do with their arms because there are no arms on the chairs. The fact that they are caught out lying has little to do with ‘reading the body language’. Of course someone on the stage is lying.  That’s the whole point orf the show. But let’s not pretend that the ‘expert’could tell from a producer-contrived defensive geature.  Now consider the leaders’ debates. All three stood at a podium and could grip the sides. This certainly helps control the upper body. So people who want to present themselves as truthful or calmer will make fewer and smaller upper body gestures. Too little moving of the arms and it comes across as disinterest. Too much waving of the arms and it looks like someone who needs to get a grip (on themselves, and on the podium). Analysing the three leaders and David Cameron was more controlled in his upper body, compared to when he is out on the streets in his shirt sleeves. Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg used bigger gestures so that their hands were visible in close-up shots. Cameron’s were not. Now how you read this depends on your politic beliefs since you interpret everything through the filters of your attitudes.

Smiling often increases likability but only if it’s a genuine smile. Gordon Brown’s smile looks forced or nervous. Or else it was  attempt to seem less dour and serious as he has been portrayed in the media. So we saw lots of Gordon Brown’s teeth. However, we barely got to peek inside David Cameron’s mouth. He was quite tight-lipped. Clearly smiling wasn’t so important in this case. So whereas Brown did more smiling or shaking his head when challenged, Cameron did more brow furrowing, which could mean he didn’t agree or he didn’t understand. Again the interpretations come down to your political persuasion.

Nick Clegg perhaps came across as the most ‘human’  and natural of the three. He was less evasive and did answer questions the most directly. However, none of that was by chance. There were lot’s of techniques involved designed to create that impression.  Although by the third debate there were shades of ‘game show host’ in his performance.  By contrast  Cameron throughout each  debate avoided answering direct questions put to him. Brown’s often resorted to  repeating facts and figures almost like as mantra. I suspect some people will never want to heat the phrase ‘tax credits’ ever again. A key strength of both Clegg and Cameron was that they both used simpler terminology whereas Brown was more wordy. For instance, Brown referred to ‘remuneration’ when they other two were more likely to refer to ‘pay’. In a fast paced debated, people often don’t listen, they scan for key words that match or conflict with existing attitudes.

Post-debate analysis  showed that those surveyed in the studio responded favourably when key words were mentioned. So for instance when Cameron mentioned ‘discipline in the classroom’, there was a peak in audience ratings.  In some ways it showed that people were voting with their attitudes.  If you ask someone to rate a like or dislike or something then an attitude is formed on limited information very quickly.  Key buzz words and phrases are far easier than statitistics  to process in the context of existing attitudes. Except when the figures were soundbyte simplifications such as ‘£700 back in your pocket’.

In the first debate Nick Clegg was very diligent in remembering names and making visual context with the audience. However after having established contact he made contact with the TV audience by looking into the camera. This made his approach appear more personal. Cameron followed this lead and adopted this approach more after the first debate although his demeanor was more formal than Clegg’s. By contrast Gordon Brown addressed the studio audience and his opponents on the stage, which although this would have been more personal for the studio audience it was less so for the TV audience. Simply put both Clegg and Cameron made more ‘eye contact’ with the TV audience.

Another interesting point that I have not seen discussed is the stage positions throughout the debates. Gordon Brown was the only leader not to occupy the centre stage. He appeared in the same place throughout the three debates. He also moved his upper body from side to side more that the other two. It’s possible that Brown did not move position from week to week because having his opponents on his right was better for him on account of his blindness in the left eye.  During the first debate, relative newcomer Clegg occupied centre stage which again may have contributed to his high ratings. Context is everything when interpreting non-verbal communication.

Finally, we need to consider the attitudes we held prior to the debates. This will have coloured our expectations and perceptions. It’s become a common phrase in everyday conversation that ‘we need a change’ and Clegg and Cameron in their opposition roles were better placed to work the word ‘change’ into their answers. Brown begun from a defensive position although he did ‘go on the offensive’ throughout the three debates. The problem is that he appealed to ‘finish the job’ and to some this may have been interpreted as ‘more of the same’. It was also notable during the post-debate analysis that those surveyed liked it least when the leaders ‘attacked’ each other. So Brown’s strategy didn’t resonate with the audience whereas Clegg’s ‘let’s work together’ did. Common perceptions of the House of Commons is of a bunch of school children fighting in the playground (and stealing from the tuck shop). Clegg’s appeal to work together to ‘sort out the mess we’re in’ struck a chord that things could be a real difference. However, ‘working together’ and ‘hung parliament’ have very different connotations following lots of media scaremongering.

So did the ‘Browny, Cammy, Cleggy’ show really  enlighten or inform or did it merely entertain? Was it all about the style and soundbyte substance? Although there were appeals to values during the debates, nothing was particularly well articulated instead relying on the old chestnut of ‘family values’. Anyone who actually belongs to a family will know that families aren’t all they are cracked up to be. It’s just a short-hand way of saying ‘wholesome and decent’ and often  a back-door to sneak in sexism and homophobia.

Values are important. They are certainly far  more important than body language debates. Out attitudes support our values and they in turn should inform our politics. Our opinion that they have the X Factor (or not) shouldn’t be the defining quality. We don’t even have to like them, we just have to chose the candidate that represents the party that most closely matches our vision of the world – our values. And if we happen to face a parliament that’s well hung, let’s not get too excited! And as for your vote, it’s not just having one that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts.

For quizzes to help you decide how to use your vote see:

For more on the 7% myth see:

Celebrity Body Language: Fact or Flim-Flam?

Magazines seem to be filled with paparazzi shots of celebrity couples with captions and comments from body language ‘experts’ and speculating who’s in love, who’s out of love, who’s breaking up and who’s faking it. With such amazingly specific analysis, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it all actually means something and we are getting hot celebrity gossip before the news even breaks. It doesn’t and we aren’t. For every stand-out expert ‘hit’ we remember, there are countless ‘misses’ we  forget.

The body language experts with psychological training know that they are not educating or communicating anything psychologically meaningful but rather just there to entertain.Those without a background in psychology will just make it up as they go along in the hope that if they repeat something often enough it will become true. Ultimately the sound byte caption over the pap snap gives us no insight to celebrity relationships but speaks volumes of our obsession with other people’s lives.

Get out your own holiday snaps and inspect them. Do your red eyes mean you are possessed by the devil? Do you closed eyes mean you are actually sleep walking? If you’re caught in a few snaps with your hands covering mouth does it mean you are an habitual liar or trying to wipe ketchup from your chin or simply that you don’t want your picture taken? So despite the talk of hand positions, finger and positions, the authenticity of smiles, it actually means very little. It’s just gossip with a bit of psycho-spin to give it an air of credibility. But credible it is not.

One of the most important things we ‘know’ about body language is not true! It’s based on a distortion of research by Albert Mehrabian. Body language does not account for 55% of the message in all communication. This figure is only relevant The 55% figure is only relevant when we are forming an attitude (like or  dislike) of someone. The fact that some ‘experts’ incorrectly trumpet this blatant misreading of the research (intentionally or through ignorance) simply distorts our perception of the importance of body language over words, and over context in the case of pap snaps. It really means very little in celebrity snap shots and would have to be so obvious that we wouldn’t need an expert to decode it, such as one person strangling the other. Yes, it offers an example of a particular body language sign but to say it actually applies in a particular case (such as a photo) is at best guess work and most likely flim-flam! It’s there to entertain and titillate not to inform or educate!

Setting aside the fact that psychologist shouldn’t be speculating about the private lives of celebrities, body language (non-verbal communication) isn’t as exact as the ‘experts’ would have us believe.  Context and congruence are all important. One ‘classic’ signal may conflict or be overridden by other signals. A snapshot cannot possibly provide all the information necessary to make an educated guess let alone a definite statement. We need to take a video approach over the snapshot approach. To gain any insight into the state of a relationship the signals we need to consider a broad range of signs and behaviours over a longer period of time, rather than cherry pick based on a snap shot. It’s worth remembering that a turd with a cherry on the top is still crap!


Flirting & the ‘Golden’ Age of Gender

In examining flirting tips from the various main stream pop-psychology books on body language I’m struck by the prevalence of gender stereotypes and the absence of the acknowledgement that not everyone is heterosexual and not everyone wants to have children. Surely flirting need not depend on these.

Many tips involve ‘men making themselves more masculine to attract ‘delicate’ women’ and ‘women making themselves more ‘delicate’ to attract ‘big strong, rugged, men’. This all presupposes that we all want the same thing. Some women like ‘skinny’ men who wear glasses and hate football. Some men, small in stature, like full-bodied, amply curvaceous women. Some, delicate, petite, perfectly made-up women, may prefer women in sensible shoes to a hunk in football boots. Some rough and tough, deep voiced, sporty men don’t necessarily fancy women at all. Yes I know it’s all very obvious, so why the hell don’t the pop-psychology books acknowledge it? One reason is that the classic body language books are from ‘the golden age of gender’ when the world was a very different place and, sadly, gender stereotypes do sell.

Different people are attracted to different things and gender roles have moved on enormously since the 1950s. So telling every women to become like a 1950s housewife or a screen siren from the golden age of Hollywood is hardly like to work for all. Telling every man that he needs to ‘butch-up’ and take up forestry  is hardly like to work either, unless of course you know someone who’s into that sort of thing.

Flirting is about having fun. Flirting is about putting yourself across in a ‘good light’. It’s not about aping outdated stereotypes and it’s open to all! So the best advice I can give is:

  • Relax
  • Be yourself but be your best
  • Smile and have fun
  • Avoid any flirting tips that get you to act out a stereotype unless that’s what you are really into.

Links (to other ‘gender-based’ posts):

Oops! Not Practising What I Preach? (Common Courtesy, Manners & Body Language).

I occasionally do media briefings when it’s a positive story and when it’s well supported by psychological evidence. Recently I contributed to a briefing on survey findings into the decline of manners and common courtesy in the 21st Century. Overall, my take on it, was that manners and common courtesy provide those daily little uplifts that can counter the petty daily hassles. Also, that it’s important to recognise that manners and etiquette change over time. So, for instance, saying ‘pardon me’ when you don’t hear what someone has said is not necessarily relevant. After all, why should we be saying ‘pardon me, oh Lord and Master, please don’t cut my head off for nor hearing you. er. . .especially when you’re mumbling’. It’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘Would you say that again please?’ It’s also not necessarily bad manners that younger people don’t go around ‘doffing’ their baseball caps.

However, looking back on the video (see link below), I notice that my body language is all wrong. I look uncomfortable, which I was. The seating was rather like an ironing board, and if you notice, the presenter has learned to sit in a way that allows him to cling on to the back rest. I also recall the time when working on a morning ‘confessional’ chat show. Uncomfortable straight back chairs were on stage. When I asked why, the producer told me that the chairs ‘forced out the body language’. In order words, it made people less comfortable and changed the body language. People could look shifty and defensive, which thankfully I didn’t on this occasion, but it wasn’t because they had anything to hide. Instead, they didn’t have arm rests, were in front of a studio audience, in a chilly studio with hot lights, and sitting on a chair guaranteed to wipe the smile from anybody’s face. The context was saying far more than their awkward movements. It’s just that the staging was less obvious.

So, now to my next faux pas in the video: I don’t shut up! Now this is down to four things: I was frightened of sliding off the chair and was bunched in a corner; they seated me directly opposite the presenter and he just kept talking to me; we’d just done 15 back-to-back radio interviews and I was on a bit of a roll; and, well, I just love to talk.

My other faux pas was to make a negative comment about ‘shopping channel presenters’ and I’ll let you guess from the fleeting reaction of the presenter what his other job is. Oops! (see link below).

So, I’m eager to point out that body language is all about context, rather than being accused of not practising what I preach.


The Tower of Babel & the Body Language Myth (55%-38%-7%)

Following on from my post about the 55% – 38% – 7% body language myth, it strikes me that if the myth was true – that words only account for 7% of any communication – why both learning different languages? It’s true that many people travel to far off lands and instead of learning the lingo, just speak more  slowly, more loudly, add an ‘O’ at the end of words, and gesticulate furiously. However, does this mean any bewildered local person gets 93% of the meaning? Of course not! Instead they can be 93% sure that the traveller was too damn lazy to buy a phrase book!

Now, imagine going to a lecture in a foreign language. Would you be able to discern 93% of the technical information from the speaker’s tone of voice and hand gestures? Afterwards, perhaps you could rent a foreign language DVD and switch off the subtitles and enjoy all the subtleties of the story.  And why aren’t mime artists the most highly paid people in the world? After all, they must be the best communicators. Why didn’t President Obama give his inaugural ‘speech’ through the medium of dance?

In each of these scenarios it’s obvious that the words account for much more that the often reported 7% of  communication. For if words are so unimportant, then we do we both to continue to use them? Why don’t we just grunt and point?  And how do ‘body language experts’ communicate the relative importance of words to body language? Do they ‘moon walk’ or communicate through the parlour game of charades? Goodness know they should for the sense they make, but no: they use words! And, it’s clear that what is at fault is the inability of some so-called ‘body language experts’ to put the proper value on words and actually read the bloody research they cite! Perhaps they were paying too much attention to the rustle of the pages or the book cover instead of giving due prominence to the printed word.

When we actually read the research by Albert Mehrabian that gave us he 55-38-7% rule we learn that body language and tone of voice have prominence over words only when we are forming an attitude about another person, that is, deciding whether or not we like them. It’s that specific. It’s certainly no antidote to the ‘Tower of Babel’ language divide.

Although, the statistics are often quoted out of context to falsely inflate the importance of body language in everyday communication, the research has important implications for first impressions. When plucking up courage to speak to someone it’s important to know that people pay less attention to what we say but more to the general impression we make. So, we don’t have to say something super-intelligent or offer a witty one liner or a cheesy chat up line. In the initial stages, it’s a smile that makes all the difference. Once you’ve ‘broken the ice’, words become more important. Even more important is that we learn to listen to them.


Communication Tips in Relationships

All too often it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing communication skills as a bunch and tips, tools and techniques for getting our own personal message across. Well in part that is true, but it’s only half of the story.

Essentially communication is about an exchange of perspectives; a coming together of differing personal views of the world. It’s not just about talking; it’s about listening too. Listening may be thought of as a passive process, just nodding, smiling and hmm-ing until it’s our turn to ‘communicate’. However, the way you listen will determine whether anyone will want to talk to you. And when we speak it’s often it’s not what we say but how we say it that determines whether or not other people will hear us. The way we present our messages will increase the chances that someone will actually listen to us.
We often hear a lot about how it’s good to talk in relationships but when it’s time to talk about problems in relationships, a common error is to lump all your petty niggles and resentments into one big formless heap and then dump that on to a friend, partner or loved one. The reason for this is simple. All too often we are encouraged to engage in battlefield communications – the battle of the sexes – where the winner takes it all! There is an art to communication and the first thing to decide is what your message is; what do you want to get across. Different types of communication like books, plays, films and so on all do through an editing process in the hope that they will be received in the best possible light. If both partners ‘edit’ their message and stick to the most important issues, then it will also, most likely, be easier to listen to.

My recommendations for clear communication tend to work well when used together, and of course you need to be flexible and adapt them to your own particular needs and the needs of the other person, and the relationship. A number of these suggestions are taken from my book Sex, Lies & Stereotypes.

Here they are:

Think partnership
If your relationship is a partnership then you should aim for a win-win situation. It should not be a zero-sum game, so that one partner benefits at the expense of the other. It is important that you really make an effort to see things for each other’s perspective. Be creative in solutions. Think ‘outside of the box’. If you both win, the relationship wins doubly so.

Pick the right moment
Don’t be tempted to dive in, no matter the time or place. Agree on a time and place to discuss important matters when you are not likely to be disturbed or distracted. Again, think partnership. It needs to be a time and place that works for both of you, relatively free from stress and private. You both need to feel safe to disclose your intimate thoughts. So, don’t pick the moment your partner wants to watch his/her favourite programme, or when you are on the dance floor at a nightclub, or in the frozen food aisle of the supermarket.

Own your statements
When dealing with negative or difficult issues you need to own your statements. There is a big difference between ‘I feel as if’ and ‘you make me feel’. If you introduce a sense of blame, the whole discussion becomes a game of ‘emotional poker’ with I’ll raise your ‘hurt feelings’, and see you a ‘really make me sick’. It’s not meant to be a competition.

The behaviour is not the person
It is far easier for a person to change their behaviour than to change their whole self. Once you’ve said ‘You really make me sick’, there isn’t really anything else left to say, is there? If on the receiving end, you might want to say ‘In what specific ways do I make you sick?’ Prompt for examples, ask for evidence. However, if the person says ‘I don’t like it when you. . .’ or say how you feel when a particular behaviour occurs. This way you cut to the chase and immediately start talking about the important stuff. Of course, it doesn’t have to be something negative. Instead of saying ‘You are useless at foreplay’, you could say what you do like, for instance ‘I like it when you do x, y and z. (Hmmm! Can’t beat a bit of x,y & z). Say how good you feel. Psychologically, people respond much better to positive reinforcement, such as praise, than they do to negative feedback such as ‘put downs’. Even ‘I really appreciate it when you get up to put the cat out’!

Observations not judgements
Don’t make sweeping generalised judgements about what things do or don’t mean. Don’t start sentences with ‘If you loved me’ or ‘If you cared’. These are not facts. They are your perceptions. Consider this statement ‘You don’t care whether or not I get any sexual satisfaction, you just think about yourself’. All wrapped up in one statement is ‘caring’, ‘selfishness’, and ‘sexual satisfaction’. You may end up arguing about caring and selfishness when you really should be discussing sexual satisfaction. Make factual observations not value judgements.

Give specific feedback based on observations
Words like ‘always’, ‘sometimes’, ‘often’ and ‘never’ are all rather vague and leave things wide open for disagreement. Again, it is all about different perspectives. You need to put things into context and be more specific. It then becomes easier to get side tracked by arguing over the terms and frequencies rather than discussing the real issues.

Share ideas or offer alternatives, rather than make demands or give advice.
Most people respond better if they have a sense on input or investment in a course of action. Nobody likes being told what to do. It’s all about perspectives again. Discussing options should be the first step in any ‘negotiation’. This communicates the idea that you value the other person’s point of view. Psychologically, there will be a greater sense of ownership of an idea for both people if they have both contributed to it.

Too much, Too Soon. Don’t go for feedback overload
When material has a high emotional content, it often takes us a little longer to process. So if a partner discloses something, you may say the first thing that comes into your head, or use it as a signal to open up the floodgates, releasing a torrent of emotion. However sometimes it requires a little time to ‘digest’ what you’ve just heard. Sometimes it is important to go away and process the thoughts before ‘thinking out loud’. You are less likely to say something that you hadn’t fully thought through (and may regret later). It is okay to take ‘time out’ and agree to come back to it. If you get into the habit of good communications, then there isn’t that imperative to have to deal with everything in one go.

In summary
Overall, people who discuss things (even argue) in a similar style are more likely to resolve their differences. Using some or all of these tips helps to make sure that the right message gets through. It is really about learning how to focus the message and not getting side-tracked by our personal perceptions. Essentially, it is about making your ‘signal’ easier for the other person to process by getting rid of ‘the interference’.
What I’ve also found from reviewing the research is that people in relationships considered more intimate usually have a number of things in common:

  • – they tend to share equally private thoughts and feelings, especially private ones, and are more likely to say ‘I love you’, or pay their partners a compliment.
  • – they less likely to ‘point score’ and more likely to seek win-win solutions to any problems.
  • – they also tend to take a direct approach and talk rather than expect their partners to be mind-readers, and when in conflict they tend to look for a swift solution rather than ‘prolong the agony’ (i.e. sulking).

In short, relationships that are more intimate tend to be partnerships-based. Overall these pointers represent an ideal way to communicate, and as we know, sometimes we are not always presented with ideal conditions. So don’t worry if you don’t put all of these things into action every time. Do what you can at the time with the intention of maintaining a partnership perspective.

Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule.

Check out coaching and confidence building events from Dr Gary WoodWhen we communicate we use words, tone of voice and body language to get our message across and no doubt you have read about the 7:38:55 % Rule. ‘Popular sources’ state that these figures relate to the relative importance of the components of any message we communicate and receive:

  • 7% relates to the importance of the words we use
  • 38% refers to tone of voice and inflection
  • 55% refers to the importance of body language/face.

That’s amazing. Except that it’s not true. This is not what the original research by Albert Mehrabian concluded.

Body Language Myth: The 55% 38% 7% Rule

The often quoted figure that words only account for 7% of the message is a distortion! – Gary Wood

It doesn’t relate to any type of communication. It is context specific. These figures mainly relate to a situation where we are forming an attitude (like or dislike) of someone. So the words could still be the most important part of the message. The body language and tone of voice are what we  mainly use to assess whether we like the person delivering the message.

The other situation where non-verbal communication seems to have priority is where there is a conflict between the words and non-verbal stuff. If communication lacks congruence, we are more like to disbelief the words. None of this is the same as saying ‘in any communication’.

Often, in research, the context is everything!

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About the author

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodGary Wood is the author of Unlock Your Confidence which aims to help people to develop their inherent abilities and relax about communication rather than obsessing over abstract techniques. The book covers the basics of body language and other practical tips for forming positive first impressions His previous book Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It has been translated into several languages including French (Changez Votre Vie). Registered with the Life Coach Directory