“Decoding” is the term used to describe your ability in reading another persons non verbal cues. Essentially decoding is the art of reading body language. While body language varies based on genders, cultures and personalities developing a good understanding of it can help you pick up on subtle clues you otherwise would not have. Most of our non verbal cues happen subconsciously which is why learning to decode body language is extremely important. We can meticulously plan our words and even cover them up but our body language isn’t so easy to manipulate. Our emotions, needs, thoughts and body language are all controlled by our limbic system, it doesn’t have to think it just reacts to the world around us. We have evolved with universal non verbal cues such as children who are blind covering their eyes when they hear something they don’t like, though they’ve never seen someone do it before. No matter what the situation you can rest assured that body language never lies, it is a primal instinct for the human species and has helped us survive for thousands of years. Now that we know what decoding is and why it’s important let’s check out 5 UNIVERSAL signs of body language.
Wether you are in Beijing or the Hamptons crying is a non verbal cue that can have one of two meanings ANYWHERE you go. Across cultures crying is seen as an explosion of emotion that can either be seen as a sign of sadness and grief or an expression of extreme happiness. It’s pretty easy to tell when someone is crying if they’re sad or extremely happy. If they are keeled over laughing with tears rolling down our eyes it’s pretty easy to see we are enjoying ourselves. If we are rolled up in a ball, sobbing and rocking back and forth we know that person is either fucking crazy or probably just upset. Crying can also be used as a tool of deception to gain the sympathy of those around us, the practice is known as “crocodile tears”, which stems from the myth that crocodiles cry when catching their prey.
There are a ton of ways to tell when someone is angry without even having to speak to them. Starting from the top down we tend to clench our jaws when we are angry and have furrowed brows when we are really pissed. Our lips may be pursed and those of us with lighter skin tones tend to redden up in our cheeks. Posture wise someone who is angry will tend to “square off” against us as to size us up. Looking at their chest you can see they are probably either breathing rapidly or very shallow. The hands will be the biggest tell when someone is angry. Clenched fists tell us someone is extremely frustrated and probably ready to fight. All of these signs are universal and if they begin to show up in conversation you should consider keeping your cool and if possible allowing the other party to vent and explain their frustrations to you.
Anxiety is the physical and mental reaction we have to stress. It is often the hardest of our emotions to cover up and easily seen by any observer. From a primal standpoint our bodies go into fight or flight mode. We are hardwired to run for our lives or fight to death when anxiety overwhelms us and being able to tell when someone is feeling anxious can literally save your life, or theirs. The most common signs of anxiety are rapid heartbeat and breathing, sweating and the inability to stay still. When someone is anxious they tend to fidget a lot and either pace or have jittery legs, this is due to extra energy and tension building up in the muscles. Anxiety can be one of the most uncontrollable body language cues we give even if we realize we are displaying it. Our bodies natural systems tend to override us and make it very hard to stop feeling or looking anxious.
Embarrassment and lack of confidence generally fall in the same category when it comes to body language. Failing to look someone in the eyes is a sure sign that you believe they are your superior and you are either ashamed to communicate with them or embarrassed to be yourself. When we are embarrassed we also tend to give a controlled or tense smile which is easy to differentiate from a genuine smile and can also be seen as condescending. You can also tell someone is feeling embarrassed if they are looking down a lot, have a red complexion or start to sweat. Learning how to read when someone is embarrassed or lacking confident is especially important dependent upon the context of the relationship.
Pride is my personal favorite for a multitude of reasons and it happens to be one of the 7 deadly sins. It is seen in children as young as 4 and carries on with us for the rest of our lives. We can demonstrate pride by puffing out chests out, strutting and putting our hands on our hips. Subconsciously we do this to take up more space and appear bigger than we are. Many of our prideful expressions are used to boost our status or our self esteem. From a primal standpoint we show prideful expressions to appear more dominant and assertive.
Communication is multifaceted. We know that body language exists and that it represents a large portion of how we are feeling. Learning how to read body language is paramount to your success is dealing with human beings. From a young age we learn to be very deceptive and conniving with our words but our non verbal expressions are much harder to manipulate so they say much more than we will. The 5 emotions covered in this article are a few of the only universal body language cues. There is no 100% accurate way to read body language as it varies by gender, culture and sometimes age. Understanding the fundamentals of body language will help you communicate and connect at a much deeper level than ever before. As the great Spiderman once said: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Use your powers wisely.