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The Biggest Piece of Communication: Body Language

In one of my previous blogs, Email Versus Face-To-Face Interaction: What’s Best for Workplace Communication?, we explored the total communication process, and identified that body language, or kinesics, makes up 55 percent of our total communication between individuals. This is a staggering percentage that most balk at the notion of. To trained professionals that are mindfully watching for kinesic cues, 55 percent might feel a bit underrated at times.

As a police detective I was constantly put in a position where I had to interview people that I barely knew, and I had to prepare for these interviews at a moment’s notice. More times than not, the people I talked to had something to hide as they were suspected of committing a crime of some sort. When placed in a position such as this, being acutely aware of kinesics proved to be the most valuable asset I had in my “toolbox” of skills.

From the moment I walked in the room and laid eyes on the person, I was scanning their entire body looking for any clues that would tell me whether or not this person was going to be open and honest, or shady and deceitful. So what did I look for?

I always looked at the big picture first, overall posture. Was the individual slumped over? Was he/she sitting upright and alert?

I then started to breakdown the various body parts that make up the overall picture that I initially scanned:

  • The face: What emotion was the individual displaying?

  • The torso: Bladed or centered?

  • Arms: Crossed or uncrossed and to what extent?

  • The hands: Hidden or exposed?

  • Legs: Positioning and open, closed, or crossed?

  • The feet (If standing): Where are they pointing?

Putting it all together: How did all of these cues stack up? Were they indicative of someone who was open and honest, or someone that wanted to lie and play games? The more cues I had that pointed me in one direction the more I could conclude.

And this was all in the first 3-5 seconds of walking in the room…

This all seems like a lot and I have to say that when you are consciously trying to read all of these cues, it can be overwhelming at first, especially when you have to carry on a conversation while taking all of these cues into consideration.

To make matters worse, you have to be equally as concerned and focused on what your body language is communicating to the other person. Trained or not, the individual you are engaging with is reading your every move, especially if he or she has cause to believe you may do them harm. In a 12 by 12 interview room with nothing other than a table and clock, I can tell you that most people did not come off as warm and open, more like guarded and suspicious. The trick was getting the negative cues that the individual first displayed to turn positive.

So, how do detectives do this? There are many ways to communicate with a person. More times than not, I never asked a question pertaining to the case before the first 10 to 15 minutes of meeting with the person. I turned my attention to the person and getting to know their likes and dislikes, establishing rapport, if you will. As this seemingly innocent banter went on, I would watch for the negative cues to turn positive. It truly is amazing how fast this can happen when you know what you’re doing. Once the individual’s cues turned positive, I would ease into the actual interview, all the while constantly monitoring the individual’s body language for reactions, both negative or positive, to my questions. Some interviews went on for minutes, others for hours. It was a chess match of sorts, in that I as the detective had to tread lightly to keep the individual on my side, all through analyzation of the individual’s body language. Don’t forget the fact that I still had to take in the other 45 percent of the communication process that came in the forms of intonation and actual words spoken.

So, what does this mean when it comes to the world outside of investigations, interviews, and interrogations? We all use body language when we communicate with others, both personally and professionally. Our bodies and minds do this unconsciously and it doesn’t just happen when we are in trouble with the police. Sales forces, trial attorneys, doctors, customer service, and other professions similar to these live and die by the communication process. So, it stands to reason that we should take all 100 percent of the communication process into consideration, and we should do it consciously.

This article just scratches the surface on the topic of the total communication process. If you would like to learn more, contact Michael at Power Dynamics, LLC. We train professionals on this dynamic topic and can cater the discussion around your profession. It is amazing how much value you can add to your interactions with customers when you know what to look for!

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