Stop Reading Body Language

‘Body Language’

Have you ever been in a conversation where you struggled to get a few words out of someone? Isn’t that frustrating? It’s not so difficult if you are a truly effective communicator.

Communication goes well beyond words; there are so many elements to consider that I could write a book on the subject. However, I’m just going to provide you with some basics today.

Whenever you’re communicating with someone else, you must be present; otherwise, you’ll miss out on the most important part of the other person’s feedback to you: his or her non-verbal cues.

What I mean by being present is not just being in the same room, standing, or sitting in front of them. I mean giving that person your undivided attention. This means not thinking about what you are going to say next or what it, might mean when they cross their arms over their chest. Trying to attribute meaning to other people’s non-verbal communication cues requires you to draw on your experience, not theirs, and will distract you from what is taking place in front of you.

Sensory Acuity

Instead, you would do well to be listening, seeing, and getting a sense from the other person, as opposed to ‘making your own sense’ about what the other person is communicating. Dedicate all your senses to what he or she is communicating, and you’ll be amazed at what happens.

In NLP, this is what we call sensory acuity, and it is probably the most important skill to develop if you want to become a successful communicator. This is the most common way in which we give and receive feedback when communicating, whether you are aware of it or not.

Sensory acuity is the art of paying attention to minor shifts—non-verbal cues such a skin tone, speech patterns, movement, posture, and breathing rate—that we all give out as our psychological and physiological states change.

Noticing these shifts is the key to calibrating the way an individual is processing their thoughts. We cannot think without moving, though often it is so subtle that we are not aware of doing it.

Does that mean you can read people’s minds? Absolutely not!

What it means, though, is that you can have a better idea of the result of your communication on the other side of the loop.

To give an example, when you tell a joke and someone laughs, you’re essentially calibrating. The joke you tell is the communication; the laughter you receive is the feedback or change in non-verbal cues. Equally, if you tell a joke and it falls flat, that is also feedback.

Think about it.

Have you ever been in a social situation where someone says or does something so inappropriate that the ‘mood’ of the situation changes completely? Well, it is not the ‘mood’ of the situation that changes solely; it’s the mood of the people involved in that situation that changes as a response to that inappropriate behaviour (stimuli). That can be heard in their tone of voice and seen in their posture, gestures, and breathing, to name but a few.

Noticing changes in non-verbal cues can mean the difference between achieving the outcome of your communication or giving your audience an impression you did not intend.

But, how can you use this?

In order to establish rapport with another person deliberately, we need to be able to see, hear, and feel the rhythms they’re using in order to match them.

Sensory acuity is a skill we have all developed to a certain extent. Think about it; it is a skill necessary for survival. You probably wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have the ability to pick up on these cues, at least to a certain extent. How could you cross the road safely if you could not detect oncoming traffic and its absence? This is a more obvious example of the same skills in action.

Exceptionally effective individuals are very aware of this, whether at a conscious or unconscious level. They’re often described as empathetic, understanding, and caring. As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, puts it:

“Listen with the intent to understand not the intent to reply”.

So next time you’re communicating with somebody, pay attention to their posture, breathing, tonality, and any other shifts that may help you understand how they’re processing their thoughts.

The best way to do this is experientially, so go out there and take your next step towards Exceptional Effectiveness, Next time you’re having a conversation, put all your attention on the other person. Stop attributing meaning to their acts; just take them as they are.

Start small at first and see it for yourself. It will change your life, just like it changed mine.

Remember, this is practical advice, not just another theory, so do go out and try it, and let me know how you went.

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Learn more about NLP by reading our Ultimate Compendium of NLP

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