Tips to reading body language effectively

Reading people successfully, or understanding other people’s body language, is a skill that requires constant practice and proper training. To help you with here are 8 tips to help you maximise your effectiveness in interpreting body language. As you incorporate these things, or guidelines, into your everyday life, they will soon become automatic actions, needing little, if any, conscious thought.

Guideline 1: Be a competent observer of your environment

This is the most basic requirement for anyone wishing to read, understand and use body language. Imagine how hard it would be if a person tried to listen to someone speaking while they wore ear plugs. They wouldn’t hear most of the message and what they did hear would be distorted. Well when it comes to seeing the silent language of nonverbal communication, most people might as well be wearing blindfolds.

Guideline 2: Observing in context is the key to understanding body language

When trying to read or understand someone’s body language, the more you understand the context in which it is taking place, the better you will be at understanding what it actually means. So be aware of what is going on in the surrounding environment as well as what the person is doing.

Guideline 3: Be aware of behavioural patterns in people

Be on the lookout for behavioural patterns in people you interact with. Notice the nonverbal cues that happen when they are in certain situations. The better you know a person, or the longer you interact with them, the easier it will be to pick up on these patterns. Knowing these patterns will give you a database to make your judgements from.

Guideline 4: Establish people’s baseline behaviours

When trying to read a person’s body language, it’s important to know what their baseline or normal behaviour is, that is how they typically sit, their usual amount of eye contact, where they place their hands, their posture and common facial expressions, and even where they place their possessions. The reason why it is important to pick up on these baseline behavioural patterns is so you can spot the variances when they occur. If people act differently than they normally do, then things aren’t normal.

Guideline 5: Always look out for multiple tells

The accuracy with which you can read someone’s body language will be increased when you can observe multiple tells, or clusters of nonverbal behaviours. These signals work together like a jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces you have, the better your chances are of seeing the full picture.

Guideline 6: Be observant of changes in people’s behaviour

Sudden changes in a person’s behaviour can reveal how they are thinking or feeling. Changes in a person’s behaviour can also reveal his or her intentions in certain situations. By picking up on these changes, you can predict things before they happen.

Guideline 7: Learn how to tell the difference between comfort and discomfort

When learning to read body language, there are two main things to look for or focus on: comfort and discomfort. Being able to read comfort and discomfort behaviours in others will help you determine what their minds and bodies are really saying. If in doubt as to what a cue, gesture or behaviour means, ask yourself if it looks like a comfort behaviour (happiness, relaxation, contentment) or a discomfort behaviour (anger, displeasure, disgust, stress, anxiety).

Guideline 8: When observing others, be subtle

Understanding body language requires you to observe people carefully and decipher their nonverbal behaviours accurately. However, the one thing you don’t want to do when observing others is make it obvious. Many people tend to stare at others when they first start to try and read body language. Your ideal goal is to observe others without them knowing it.

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