Betrayed by Body Language (Even When You Are Telling the Truth)

Personal Skill Development

If you have read anything about body language, the chances are you have heard that 90% of communication is non-verbal. The actual origin of this slightly distorted statistic is the research of Dr. Albert Mehrabian who concluded in his 1971 study Silent Messages that communication in every conversation is 7% words, 38% sound of voice and 55% facial expression. Consequently, the 90% (or rather 93%) of all communication is body language is born. However, it would be wrong to assume that the majority of communication is made through body language. In everyday life, we don’t usually negate what people say. So what becomes interesting about body language and how body language become useful is in relation to what is being said.

For patients with advanced dementia, phsyical appearance is a significant factor in the assessment of pain because of the reduced ability for verbal communication. But in almost other cases a nurse would not rely on how a patient is acting to suggest how much pain a patient is in, they would ask the patient. Similarly, if someone is sitting with their arms and legs crossed. And has an annoyed look on their face, you are probably not going to talk to them. In this case, body language is 100% of the communication, but the only way to make sure is to speak to them. Body language betrays you by exposing your feelings and attitude. Yet it is your words and their relation to your language that are truly central to your communication.

Despite the importance of body language in communication, without the verbal part of the communication, non-verbal communication is quite limited. It is the combination of words and body language that betrays you. Especially when what you say and how you act do not match. Mehrabian labelled congruence or consistency between body language and words to be a crucial element of the study of non-verbal communication; looking for when a person’s words and actions do or do not match.

But surely if a person hasn’t studied body language you have nothing to worry about? Before there were books on body language, people were picking up on the signs without being total aware of what they were picking up on. When someone says they are happy but don’t act happy. You aren’t going to need a book on language to help you read the signs. Even if the person you have been talking has not read the books, it is highly likely that your body language will betray you.

As you venture out into your day to day dealings with other people. What you need to be concerned with is not how you act, but how you act in relation to what you say. Your body language can be all erratic and excited if you are saying excited things, but. If you act erratic when you are lying, the situation is different.

But, if you are telling the truth, why would you want to fake body language? The answer is simply that we are only human. When we say nice things to our partners or talk to our bosses, sometimes we are just too tired or just not interested. We can be talking about the one thing that we think is the most interesting or exciting thing in the world. But if we are hungry, or tired, or ill. Or just having a bad day, the words we use might be enthusiastic but our body will betray us.

How do you fake it? Most experts say you can’t fake body language. This is good news if you have read ‘top ten signs she likes you’ or ‘how to tell if he is lying’. But if you are trying to make yourself look good then, this could be a problem.

So what do we do? The simple answer is we increase the incongruence between what we say and our language. We increase incongruence in two ways:

This first thing we can do is be honest. Don’t try to sound too enthusiastic if you are not. If you are feeling tired don’t try and compensate by being overly excited. You can be excited, but don’t over do it. If you disagree with someone don’t lie to them. As much as possible, merely avoid directly answering them. So, when your girlfriend or friend asks “Do I look fat in this?”. Respond with a “You look great” or “You look good in that dress” and then try to change the subject. Whether you say yes or no, you are probably lying. So don’t answer the question. Don’t avoid the subject, but don’t directly answer the question.

Leave a Reply