Body Language

 

LESSON 10

Body Language: Why How You Move Matters

How Do You Really Look?


Introduction

Different colors exhibit different types of body language. In addition to all things you say and do, you project a certain type of body language to the people around you. People pick up on this body language and use it to interpret your mood. So let’s take a closer look at how we move.

“Body language” refers to all forms of nonverbal communication, conscious as well as unconscious. Differences in body language vary both between individuals and between different groups of people. Our body language also functions as a social and cultural marker, even if there are common biological foundations.

The modern English language contains about one hundred and seventy thousand words, of which five thousand are used regularly. In comparison, according to certain scholars, body language contains almost seven hundred thousand signals. Yes, we can debate the exact numbers, but that’s not the point. Just understand that there are an immense number of signals, more than we may be aware of.

I’m not going to examine all these signals, but it’s still interesting to see what the differences are between different behavior profiles. Just remember, our state of mind, situation, and whether we feel safe or unsafe can have a crucial influence on our body language.

Posture

If on the one hand, you have a relaxed, natural but not slack posture, other people often get the impression that you are self-confidence. If on the other hand, you have a shrunken posture, it can be interpreted as resignation and disappointment. If you have an erect, somewhat wooden posture, people can believe that this is a signal of dominance; in other words, you demand respect from those around you. However, it could also be an indication that you were trained at a military academy.

Gaze

We use our eyes for many different things. Shifty eyes generally suggest that the person in question would rather be somewhere else. Other people meet your gaze steadily, without even blinking. This creates a totally different impression. It’s said that liars can’t look you in the eye and they often shift their gaze to the side. But since this is commonly known even among liars, the worst of them have learned to stare you straight in the eyes when they are lying. So nothing is that obvious. (Someone who is repeatedly touching his neck is more often an indicator of a liar.) When something is awful or unpleasant, many lift their hands up to their faces. And when you need to think, you often close your eyes for a while.

Head and Face

When speaking, we usually either nod or shake our heads, depending on whether we agree or not. When we listen extra carefully to a discussion, we can lean our heads to one side. Hanging your head or wrinkling your forehead can signal sadness or depression. When we’re amazed at something, we often raise our eyebrows, while we turn up our noses at things we aren’t fond of. In your face alone forty-three different muscles are concealed, and these can be combined in countless ways.

Hands

Yes, this is a true classic. When greeting a person, how hard do you really have to shake his hand? A simple handshake can reveal a lot about a person. Limp and feeble handshakes often indicate a submissive behavior, so if you have such a handshake it might be a good idea to press a little harder. If a handshake is firm it probably suggests that a person is determined. Anyone who squeezes way too hard belongs more than likely to the former category but would prefer to belong to the latter. Clenched fists rarely mean good news, usually indicating aggressiveness. Certain nervous people pick at their clothes, removing hairs or threads. This often indicates they would rather focus their attention on other things. Holding your hands clasped behind your back often expresses power and security.

Remember what I just said about lies? A more effective way to spot a liar is to notice if he puts the palm of his hand on his chest—preferably his right hand over his heart—and sighs indignantly when he’s been accused of lying. “Would I lie? How can you say that about me?” This gesture is intended to strengthen his honest intentions, but it immediately puts those around on their guard, because it is so unnecessary and excessive. There’s definitely something fishy going on there.

Territory

It’s very important that all people have their own personal space, as everyone needs an area that is his own. Among other things, this territory can be the distance you maintain from people when you’re speaking to them. The personal zone is generally a few feet and the social zone is three to ten feet. When we speak about the personal zone we mean the space when two people who know each other are communicating. “The social zone” refers to the space between strangers who are communicating. But this is very much dependent on the culture of the speakers. In the Nordic European region, for example, the personal zone is definitely larger than what someone from the Mediterranean would have.

So What Do We Do About All This?

How do the various forms of behavior differ from one another? It’s obvious that some “well-known” facts about body language don’t apply to every single person. Someone who is busily picking lint off his sleeve might be bored or he might just be nervous. Another example is how people deal with uncertainty. A Green who is unsure leans backwards. A Red who is unsure leans forward, as his way of dealing with this uncertainty is to try to dominate the conversation. On the following pages, I’ve listed further examples of the differences. Try observing people in real life to see if you can find any of the following forms of behavior. But remember, body language is very individual. Sure, there are the general expressions that apply throughout the entire world and among all people—a contemptuous stare, for example, looks similar in every country—but there are so many differences that you’ll have to study your fellow mortals to sharpen your ability. The following short sections are intended to serve as a simple guide.

Red Body Language

Some basics to keep in mind about Reds. They:

• keep their distance from others

• have powerful handshakes

• lean forward aggressively

• use direct eye contact

• use controlling gestures.

As I mentioned previously, Reds often have a clear and distinctive body language. You can usually recognize a Red from a distance.

When you walk through large crowds, you’ll see people swarming around, standing still, conversing with others, or just checking to see what all the fuss is about. Let’s say that you’re looking at a town square teeming with people. If you look really closely, you will see a person who is crossing the square at a brisk pace completely disregarding the people standing in his way. With his gaze fixed on a point a bit in front of him, the Red speeds up and crosses the square without any problem. He does not give way but makes others move aside. His steps are decisive and powerful. He expects the rest of us to get out of his way.

The first time you meet a Red, he usually maintains a certain distance. His handshake won’t be hearty, but it will be powerful. Expect that the Red —man or woman—will grip a little bit harder to show who is in charge. (Some people consider this alpha male behavior, but it also occurs in women. A Red has a need to demonstrate that he is someone to be reckoned with.)

Forget overexuberant smiles. His face can be downright grim, especially if you’re attending a business meeting. But even in social settings, Reds maintain some reserve. A Red won’t give you a big bear hug (as long as he is sober; under the influence of alcohol, anything can happen).

When things start getting tense—which usually happens rather quickly when Reds are involved—this guy will lean across the table and argue his case quite forcefully. Eye contact will be very direct, his gaze fixed on you. When it comes to the language of power, Reds have their finger on the trigger right from the start. Be prepared for that.

Also, be prepared for a relatively limited use of gestures, but those gestures that do surface can be controlling and aggressive. Reds point at people very readily. The notion that it is rude to point at people isn’t something that particularly worries him. It’s also common that Reds point at you by stretching out their hand towards you with the palm facing down. If you want to give this a try, ask someone to point at you that way, and then think about how it feels.

You can also clearly see that Reds—of course they are not alone in this —are more than willing to interrupt you. They draw their breath continuously, hoping to find gaps in the conversation. If they have to wait too long to speak, they’ll throw themselves into the conversation with a loud voice and simply take over.

VOICE

What about a Red’s tone of voice? It’s often strong. We hear these people clearly because they think nothing of raising their voices to make themselves heard—as much as it takes. Of course, even Reds can be nervous and worried about things, but usually you won’t hear this. Their voices won’t tremble that much.

This is one of the secrets Reds have. No matter what’s happening behind the faç ade, Reds will sound convincing. No stammer, no hesitation. Finger on the trigger. If we don’t listen, they will repeat it one more time, but louder. In the end, they always get through.

SPEED IN SPEECH AND DEED

As I mentioned earlier, Reds are always in a hurry. Quick equals good. Normally, this even applies to speech and actions. Everything happens at a furious pace. Because speed is the factor many Reds measure success by, it will be all go. And a couple of sharp changes when the course needs adjusting.


Yellow Body Language

Some simple basics to keep in mind about Yellows. They:

• are tactile

• are relaxed and jocular

• show friendly eye contact

• use expressive gestures

• often come close.

A Yellow’s body language is often very open and inviting. Smiles appear constantly, even when there’s not much to smile about. They joke around a lot and can be very relaxed. When visiting a neighbor he doesn’t know that well, a Yellow may just stretch out on the sofa. But this is typical for Yellows. When a Yellow feels secure in any given situation, you can see it. He’s like an open book.

The similarity with Red behavior lies primarily in the tempo. Yellows move quickly and quite distinctively. They often radiate a strong self-confidence.

Personal space is a relative thing for Yellows. While some colors don’t like having people sit too close to them, Yellows will willingly move up very close. Yellows can spontaneously start hugging every one around them. Man or woman, it doesn’t really matter. It depends on what the feeling and the mood are that day.

It’s not uncommon for others to recoil when this happens, which Yellows find very trying. But it’s not just that Yellows like hugging. It can also be a simple form of physical contact. A hand placed on an arm, a pat on the leg—with no ulterior motive. The Yellow just wants to reinforce what he’s said. What a Yellow perceives as something natural and spontaneous others can perceive as an invitation. And of course, it can end badly.

In general, with Yellows there will be jokes all round and countless smiles. Eye contact is no problem; it’s intense, cheerful, and friendly.

VOICE

A Yellow’s tone of voice denotes a strong commitment from start to finish. You hear it from afar: Laughter, fun, intensity. Enthusiasm. Joy. Energy.

Generally speaking, Yellows show empathy very clearly. They’re with you either 100 percent or not at all. And this can be heard in their voice. It goes up and down; it changes tempo, vigor, and intensity. Yellows often have a powerful melody in their way of speaking.

No matter what emotion has seized the Yellow at the moment, it will be noticeable in his voice.

SPEED IN SPEECH AND DEED

Tempo. Not quite the same rate of action as Reds, but a decidedly fast pace. Have you met anyone who, when in a hurry to say something, kind of stumbles over his words? Only half of them really come out as they should. You can surmise what is being said, but sometimes it’s incomprehensible. These are Yellows whose mouths simply can’t keep up with everything they have to say.


Green Body Language

Some simple basics to keep in mind about Greens. They:

• are relaxed and come close

• act methodically

• tend to lean backwards

• use very friendly eye contact

• prefer small-scale gestures.

Greens are often—but not always—sluggish in body movement. When they’re completely harmonious, they have a relaxed body language that exudes calm and confidence. No impetuous movements, no sudden tossing of their heads or hands. Nice and easy.

Their gestures are often less flamboyant and well suited for smaller groups. Greens don’t feel at ease in larger groups, so they become more closed and will appear reserved. Greens often have body language that gives them away. They try to hide their true feelings but don’t always succeed. If they’re out of balance or feel uncomfortable, it will be visible.

When sitting around a table, you can expect that Greens will tend to lean backwards. This is something of a paradox, as they don’t really have a problem getting close to people. Just like Yellows, they like to touch others. It’s fine as long as they know the person they are touching. Beware, however, of touching a Green who hasn’t given a clear sign that he knows you well enough. It’s easy to cross the line. They can be protective of their personal space.

You often notice when a Red walks across a room. Since Greens are the complete opposite of Reds in many things, I can say that Greens make discretion a point of honor. It’s not uncommon that they try to make themselves invisible.

The reason? They don’t want to be the center of attention.

Greens almost always have friendly faces. If not, then they’re quite neutral. Don’t expect any exaggerated smiles or overexuberant greetings. A little expectant, that’s it. But the difference will be huge if a Green knows you. If he thinks that you are good friends, he can be very intimate and friendly. If he feels that you have just met each other, well then, you just have to wait.

Let Greens come to you. Do not force yourself on them. In time, when they trust you, they’ll relax and become more natural.

VOICE

A Green’s voice will never be strong; it’s not likely that he will drown out the group. You’ll have to make a little bit more effort. Even when Greens speak in front of a larger group (they may do this, if they don’t have any choice), they’ll speak as if there were only three of you sitting around the table. Sometimes it may appear that Greens don’t see the other hundred people in the room. The volume is generally low, and it can be difficult to hear what they say.

But their voice will always be soft and radiate warmth. The pace will be slower and the variation not at all like when a Yellow speaks.

SPEED IN SPEECH AND DEED

Generally, Greens have a slower pace than Reds and Yellows but not quite as slow as Blues. Speed has no value in itself. If a heightened tempo risks destroying the cooperation in the group, Greens will reduce the speed. It doesn’t matter what the deadline is. The most important thing is always going to be how people feel.


Blue Body Language

Some simple basics to keep in mind about Blues. They:

• prefer to keep others at a distance

• either stand or sit

• often have closed body language

• use direct eye contact

• speak without gestures.

The easiest way to describe a Blue’s body language is to say that he has none. Okay, maybe that is a bit simplistic. What I mean is that there’s not that much to interpret in a Blue. Neither his face nor his body gives much away. When I speak about body language to salespeople, they usually remark that some people are impossible to interpret. When I ask if these are people who sit almost perfectly still without moving even a muscle in their faces, they usually nod and think this is remarkable.

They’re probably talking about Blues. A person who doesn’t exhibit much movement or even temperament reveals nothing. In this case, it’s the lack of distinctive body language that tells us what we need to know.

Many Blues can make very dramatic statements with an expressionless face. I once heard a blue manager say that the department was to close and that we had to agree on a decommissioning plan for three hundred employees. Not a muscle in his face moved unnecessarily.

This is what gives people the idea that Blues lack feelings, but this is, naturally, not true. Let me remind you again that a Blue is an introvert, which is to say, most of his emotions simply operate beneath the surface.

It also works the other way. Once, many years ago, I saw a lady win a half a million dollars on television. Behind the camera her husband was heard screaming for joy, while the lady herself sat very still with a cool smile. The host smiled and waved his arms around, and for a while you had to wonder who had actually won. But the lady herself said nothing more than “Thank you, this was nice.” She hardly moved at all. I don’t think it was because she was already a million aire; it was because she was Blue. This is simply the way it works. Beneath the surface, I assume that she was delighted with her winnings, but she didn’t show it outwardly. One day I will call the channel and ask if they still have the recording, because it’s such a vivid illustration.

When you see Blues speaking in front of larger groups, this tendency becomes very evident. Just like Greens, they have no need to be the center of attention. The difference, however, is that while a Green would like to sink through the floor, a Blue will remain standing. He’ll try to whip up the masses while standing completely motionless with a fixed face.

Another clue is that Blues require a relatively large amount of personal space around them. They often feel more comfortable by keeping others at a distance. Naturally, it depends on how well they know each other, but this zone is significantly larger than it is for Yellows, for instance.

If others come too close, Blues’ body language becomes closed. Both arms and legs will be crossed, indicating that they’re keeping their distance.

As I mentioned earlier, Blues move less than others. When they stand, they stand still. There’s not that much swaying and walking. They can very easily stand in the same spot for a whole hour while giving a lecture. When they sit down, they remain seated more or less in the same position all the time.

Consequently, they won’t use too many gestures. Imagine a Yellow: a really outgoing and dynamic figure—and now think the opposite. Take away all movements that aren’t needed (most of them, according to Blues) and you begin to get the picture. Stone-faced, as someone once described it.

However, Blues normally look others straight in the eyes. They have no problem with eye contact, even if it makes others uncomfortable.

VOICE

Though not exactly weak, a Blue’s voice is restrained and subdued. They don’t make much of a fuss about themselves. Their impression tends to be controlled. It’s common for them to sound very pensive, as if weighing every word before it’s allowed to see the light of day.

Generally, there’s little or no variation in a Blue’s voice. He sounds more or less the same all the time—whether he’s reading the TV Guide or giving his acceptance speech to the nation after winning the presidential election. Without much rhythm or melody, he just continues to say what’s on the script.

Musicians tend to have difficulty with this. They think everything a Blue says flows badly.

SPEED IN SPEECH AND DEED

Slow. At least if we compare it to others’. If we take a Red or even a Yellow, he’ll speak at the speed of sound. A Blue has a completely different pace. It will take as long as it takes. Speed is of no interest.





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