How to read others’ thoughts by their gestures ALLAN PEASE is the managing director of a management consultancy company based in Sydney, Australia. He produces books, films, and cassettes that are used by numerous organisations around the world to train personnel in communication skills. He did ten years’ study, interviewing and research before writing BODY LANGUAGE. Overcoming Common Problems BODY LANGUAGE How to read others’ thoughts by their gestures Allan Pease
First published 1981 by Camel Publishing Company, Box 1612, North Sydney, 2060, Australia Copyright © Allan Pease 1981 First published March 1984 by Sheldon Press, SPCK Building, Marylebone Road, London NWl 4DU Tenth impression 1988 All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Pease, Allan Body language. – (Overcoming common problems) 1. Nonverbal communication I.
Title II. Series 001. 56 P99. 5 ISBN 0-85969-406-2 Printed in Great Britain at the University Printing House, Oxford Contents Contents Acknowledgements Introduction A Framework for Understanding Territories and Zones Palm Gestures Hand and Arm Gestures Hand-to-Face Gestures Arm Barriers Leg Barriers Other Popular Gestures and Actions Eye Signals Courtship Gestures and Signals Cigars, Cigarettes, Pipes and Glasses Territorial and Ownership Gestures Carbon Copies and Mirror Images Body Lowering and Status Pointers Desks, Tables and Seating Arrangements Power Plays Putting It All Together References Acknowledgements
I wish to thank the following people who have directly and indirectly contributed to this book: Noel Bishop, Raoul Boielle, Ty Boyd, Sue Brannigan, Matthew Braund, Doug Constable, John Cooke, Sharon Cooper, Chris Corck, Brett Davies, Dr Andre Davril, George Deveraux, Rob Edmonds, Iven Frangi, Rex Gamble, Dave Goodwin, Jan Goodwin, Paul Gresham, Gerry Hatton, John Hepworth, Bob Heussler, Gay Huber, Professor Phillip Hunsaker, Dianne Joss, Jacqueline Kent, Ian McKillop, Delia Mills, Desmond Morris, Virginia Moss, Wayne Mugridge, John Nevin, Peter Opie, Diana O’Sullivan, Richard Otton, Ray Pease, David Plenderleith, David Rose, Richard Salisbury, Kim Sheumack, Jan Smith, Tom Stratton, Ron Tacchi, Steve Tokoly, Keith Weber, Alan White, Rob Winch and the Australian Jaycees.
Introduction When I first heard about ‘body language’ at a seminar in 1971, I became so excited about it that I wanted to learn more. The speaker told us about some of the research done by Professor Ray Birdwhistell at the University of Louisville, which had shown that more human communication took place by the use of gestures, postures, position and distances than by any other method. At that time I had been a commission salesman for several years and had undergone many long, intensive courses on selling techniques, but none of these courses had ever mentioned anything about the non-verbal aspects or implications of face-to-face encounters.
My own investigations showed that little useful information was available on body language and, although libraries and universities had records of the studies done on it, most of this information consisted of closely set manuscripts and theoretical assumptions compiled in an objective manner by people who had little or no practical experience in dealing with other human beings. This does not mean that their work was not important; simply that most of it was too technical to have any practical application or use by a layman like myself. In writing this book, I have summarised many of the studies by the leading behavioural scientists and have combined them with similar research done by people in other professions – sociology, anthropology, zoology, education, psychiatry, family counseling, professional negotiating and selling.
The book also includes many ‘how to’ features developed from the countless reels of videotape and film made by myself and others throughout Australasia and overseas, plus some of the experiences and encounters that I have had with the thousands of people that I have interviewed, recruited, trained, managed and sold to over the past fifteen years. This book is by no means the last word on body language, nor does it contain any of the magic formulae promised by some of the books in the bookstores. Its purpose is to make the reader more aware of his own nonverbal cues and signals and to demonstrate how people communicate with each other using this medium. This book isolates and examines each component of body language and gesture, though few gestures are made in isolation from others; I have at the same time tried to avoid oversimplifying. Non-verbal communication is, however, a complex process involving people, words, tone of voice and body movements.
There will always be those who throw up their hands in horror and claim that the study of body language is just another means by which scientific knowledge can be used to exploit or dominate others by reading their secrets or thoughts. This book seeks to give the reader greater insight into communication with his fellow humans, so that he may have a deeper understanding of other people and, therefore, of himself. Understanding how something works makes living with it easier, whereas lack of understanding and ignorance promote fear and superstition and make us more critical of others. A birdwatcher does not study birds so that he can shoot them down and keep them as trophies.
In the same way, the acquisition of knowledge and skills in non-verbal communication serves to make every encounter with another person an exciting experience. This book was originally intended as a working manual for sales people, sales managers and executives and, in the ten years that it has taken to research and compile, it has been expanded in such a way that any person, regardless of his or her vocation or position in life, can use it to obtain a better understanding of life’s most complex event – a face-to-face encounter with another person. ALLAN PEASE One A Framework for Understanding As we approach the end of the twentieth century, we are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of social scientist-the non-verbalist.
Just as the birdwatcher delights in watching birds and their behaviour, so the non-verbalist delights in watching the non-verbal cues and signals of human beings. He watches them at social functions, at beaches, on television, at the office or anywhere that people interact. He is a student of behaviour who wants to learn about the actions of his fellow humans so that he may ultimately learn more about himself and how he can improve his relationships with others. It seems almost incredible that, over the million or more years of man’s evolution, the non-verbal aspects of communication have been actively studied on any scale only since the 1960s and that the public has become aware of their existence only since Julius Fast published a book about body language in 1970.
This was a summary of the work done by behavioural scientists on nonverbal communication up until that time, and even today, most people are still ignorant of the existence of body language, let alone its importance in their lives. Charlie Chaplin and many other silent movie actors were the pioneers of non-verbal communication skills; they were the only means of communication available on the screen. Each actor was classed as good or bad by the extent to which he could use gestures and other body signals to communicate effectively. When talking films became popular and less emphasis was placed on the non-verbal aspects of acting, many silent movie actors faded into obscurity and those with good verbal skills prevailed.
As far as the technical study of body language goes, perhaps the most influential pre-twentieth-century work was Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals published in 1872. This spawned the modern studies of facial expressions and body language and many of Darwin’s ideas and observations have since been validated by modern researchers around the world. Since that time, researchers have noted and recorded almost one million nonverbal cues and signals. Albert Mehrabian found that the total impact of a message is about 7 per cent verbal (words only) and 38 per cent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection and other sounds) and 55 per cent non-verbal. Professor Birdwhistell made some similar estimates of the amount of non-verbal communication that takes place amongst humans.
He estimated that the average person actually speaks words for a total of about ten or eleven minutes a day and that the average sentence takes only about 2. 5 seconds. Like Mehrabian, he found that the verbal component of a face-to-face conversation is less than 35 per cent and that over 65 per cent of communication is done non-verbally. Most researchers generally agree that the verbal channel is used primarily for conveying information, while the non-verbal channel is used for negotiating interpersonal attitudes, and in some cases is used as a substitute for verbal messages. For example, a woman can give a man a ‘look to kill’; she will convey a very clear message to him without opening her mouth.
Regardless of culture, words and movements occur together with such predictability that Birdwhistell says that a well-trained person should be able to tell what movement a man is making by listening to his voice. In like manner, Birdwhistell learned how to tell what language a person was speaking, simply by watching his gestures. Many people find difficulty in accepting that humans are still biologically animals. Homo sapiens is a species of primate, a hairless ape that has learned to walk on two limbs and has a clever, advanced brain. Like any other species, we are dominated by biological rules that control our actions, reactions, body language and gestures. The fascinating thing is that the human animal is rarely aware of his postures, movements and gestures that can tell one story while his voice may be telling another.
PERCEPTIVENESS, INTUITION AND HUNCHES From a technical point of view, whenever we call someone ‘perceptive’ or ‘intuitive’, we are referring to his or her ability to read another person’s non-verbal cues and to compare these cues with verbal signals. In other words, when we say that we have a ‘hunch’ or ‘gut feeling’ that someone has told us a lie, we really mean that their body language and their spoken words do not agree. This is also what speakers call audience awareness, or relating to a group. For example, if the audience were sitting back in their seats with chins down and arms crossed on their chest, a ‘perceptive’ speaker would get a hunch or feeling that his delivery was not going across.
He would become aware that he needed to take a different approach to gain audience involvement. Likewise, a speaker who was not ‘perceptive’ would blunder on regardless. Women are generally more perceptive than men, and this fact has given rise to what is commonly referred to as ‘women’s intuition’. Women have an innate ability to pick up and decipher non-verbal signals, as well as having an accurate eye for small details. This is why few husbands can lie to their wives and get away with it and why, conversely, most women can pull the wool over a man’s eyes without his realising it. This female intuition is particularly evident in women who have brought up young children.
For the first few years, the mother relies solely on the non-verbal channel to communicate with the child and this is believed to be the reason why women often become more perceptive negotiators than men. INBORN, GENETIC, LEARNED AND CULTURAL SIGNALS Much research and debate has been done to discover whether non-verbal signals are inborn, learned, genetically transferred or acquired in some other way. Evidence was collected from observation of blind and/or deaf people who could not have learned nonverbal signals through the auditory or visual channels, from observing the gestural behaviour of many different cultures around the world and from studying the behaviour of our nearest anthropological relatives, the apes and monkeys. The conclusions of this research indicate that some gestures fall into each category.
For example, most primate children are born with the immediate ability to suck, indicating that this is either inborn or genetic. The German scientist Eibl-Eibesfeldt found that the smiling expressions of children born deaf and blind occur independently of learning or copying, which means that these must also be inborn gestures. Ekman, Friesen and Sorenson supported some of Darwin’s original beliefs about inborn gestures when they studied the facial expressions of people from five widely different cultures. They found that each culture used the same basic facial gestures to show emotion, which led them to the conclusion that these gestures must be inborn.
When you cross your arms on your chest, do you cross left over right or right over left? Most people cannot confidently describe which way they do this until they try it. Where one way feels comfortable, the other feels completely wrong. Evidence suggests that this may well be a genetic gesture that cannot be changed. Debate still exists as to whether some gestures are culturally learned and become habitual, or are genetic. For example, most men put on a coat right arm first; most women put it on left arm first. When a man passes a woman in a crowded street, he usually turns his body towards her as he passes; she usually turns her body away from him. Does she instinctively do this to protect her breasts?
Is this an inborn female reaction or has she learned to do this by unconsciously watching other females? Much of our basic non-verbal behaviour is learned and the meaning of many movements and gestures is culturally determined. Let us now look at these aspects of body language. SOME BASICS AND THEIR ORIGINS Most of the basic communication gestures are the same all over the world. When people are happy they smile; when they are sad or angry they frown or scowl. Nodding the head is almost universally used to indicate ‘yes’ or affirmation. It appears to be a form of head lowering and is probably an inborn gesture, as it is also used by deaf and blind people.
Shaking the head from side to side to indicate ‘no’ or negation is also universal and may well be a gesture that is learned in infancy. When a baby has had enough milk, he turns his head from side to side to reject his mother’s breast. When the young child has had enough to eat, he shakes his head from side to side to stop his parent’s attempt to spoon feed him and in this way he quickly learns to use the head shaking gesture to show disagreement or a negative attitude. The evolutionary origin of some gestures can be traced to our primitive animal past. Baring the teeth is derived from the act of attacking and is still used by modern man in the form of a sneer and other such hostile gestures, even though he will not attack with his teeth.
Smiling was originally a threat gesture, but today it is done in conjunction with non-threatening gestures to show pleasure. The shoulder shrug is also a good example of a universal gesture that is used to show that a person does not know or understand what you are talking about. It is a multiple gesture that has three main parts: exposed palms, hunched shoulders and raised brow. Just as verbal language differs from culture to culture, so the non-verbal language may also differ. Whereas one gesture may be common in a particular culture and have a clear interpretation, it may be meaningless in another culture or even have a completely opposite meaning.
Take, for example, the cultural interpretations and implications of three common hand gestures, the ring gesture, the thumb-up and V sign. The Ring or ‘OK’ Gesture This gesture was popularised in the USA during the early nineteenth century, apparently by the newspapers that, at the time, were starting a craze of using initials to shorten common phrases. There’ are many different views about what the initials ‘OK’ stand for, some believing it stood for ‘all correct’ which may have been misspelled as ‘oll korrect’, while others say that it means the opposite of ‘knock-out’ that is, K. O. Another popular theory is that it is an abbreviation of ‘Old Kinderhook’, from the birthplace of a nineteenth century American president who used the initials as a campaign slogan.
Which theory is the correct one we may never know, but it seems that the ring itself represents the letter ‘O’ in the ‘OK’ signal. The-,’OK’ meaning is common to all English-speaking countries and, although its meaning is fast spreading across Europe and Asia, it has other origins and meanings in certain places. For example, in France it also means ‘zero’ or ‘nothing’; in Japan it can mean ‘money’; in some Mediterranean countries it is an orifice signal, often used to infer that a man is homosexual. For overseas travellers, the safest rule to obey is, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. This can help avoid any possible embarrassing circumstances.
The Thumb-Up Gesture In Britain, Australia and New Zealand the thumb-up gesture has three meanings; it is commonly used by hitch-hikers who are thumbing a lift, it is an OK signal, and when the thumb is jerked sharply upwards it becomes an insult signal, meaning ‘up yours’ or ‘sit on this’. In some countries, such as Greece, its main meaning is ‘get stuffed’, so you can imagine the dilemma of the Australian hitch-hiker using this gesture in that country! When Italians count from one to five, they use this gesture to mean ‘one’ and the index finger then becomes ‘two’, whereas most Australians, Americans and English people count ‘one’ on the index finger and two on the middle finger. In this case the thumb will represent the number ‘five’. The thumb is also used, in combination with other gestures, as a power and superiority signal or in situations where people try to get us ‘under their thumb’.
A later chapter takes a closer look at the use of the thumb in these particular contexts. The V Sign This sign is popular throughout Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain and carries an ‘up yours’ interpretation. Winston Churchill popularised the V for victory sign during World War II, but his two-fingered version was done with the palm facing out, whereas the palm faces towards the speaker for the obscene insult version. In most parts of Europe, however, the palm facing in version still means ‘victory’ so that an Englishman who uses it to tell a European to ‘get stuffed’ could leave the European wondering about what victory the Englishman meant.
This signal also means the number two in many parts of Europe, and if the insulted European were a bartender, his response could be to give an Englishman or an Australian two mugs of beer. These examples show that cultural misinterpretation of gestures can produce embarrassing results and that a person’s cultural background should always be considered before jumping to conclusions about his or her body language or gestures. Therefore, unless otherwise specified, our discussion should be considered culturally specific, that is, generally pertaining to adult, white middle class people raised in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, North America and other places where English is the primary language.
GESTURE CLUSTERS One of the most serious mistakes a novice in body language can make is to interpret a solitary gesture in isolation of other gestures or other circumstances. For example, scratching the head can mean a number of things -dandruff, fleas, sweating, uncertainty, forgetfulness or lying, depending on the other gestures that occur at the same time, so we must always look at gesture clusters for a correct reading. Like any other language, body language consists of words, sentences and punctuation. Each gesture is like a single word and a word may have several different meanings. It is only when you put the word into a sentence with other words that you can fully understand its meaning. Gestures come in ‘sentences’ and invariably tell the truth about a person’s feelings or attitudes.
The ‘perceptive’ person is one who can read the non-verbal sentences and accurately match them against the person’s verbal sentences. Figure 5 shows a common critical evaluation gesture cluster. The main one is the hand-to-face gesture, with the index finger pointing up the cheek while another finger covers the mouth and the thumb supports the chin. Further evidence that this listener is critical of the speaker is seen by the fact that the legs are tightly crossed and the arm crosses the body (defensive) while the head and chin are down (hostility). This non-verbal ‘sentence’ says something like, ‘I don’t like what you are saying and I disagree with you. Congruence If you, as the speaker, were to ask the listener shown in Figure 5 to give his opinion of what you have just said and he said that he disagreed with you, his non-verbal signals would be congruent with his verbal sentences, that is, they would match or be consistent. If, however, he said he was enjoying what you had to say, he would be lying because his words and gestures would be incongruent. Research shows that non-verbal signals carry about five times as much impact as the verbal channel and that, when the two are incongruent, people rely on the non-verbal message; the verbal content may be disregarded. We often see a high ranking politician standing behind a lectern with his arms tightly folded across his chest (defensive) and chin down (critical or hostile), while telling his audience how receptive and open he is to the ideas of young people.
He may attempt to convince the audience of his warm, humane approach while giving short, sharp karate chops to the lectern. Sigmund Freud once noted that while a patient was verbally expressing happiness with her marriage, she was unconsciously slipping her wedding ring on and off her finger. Freud was aware of the significance of this unconscious gesture and was not surprised when marriage problems began to surface. Observation of gesture clusters and congruence of the verbal and non-verbal channels are the keys to accurate interpretation of body language. Gestures in Context In addition to looking for gesture clusters and congruence of speech and body movement, all gestures should be considered in the context in which they occur.
If, for example, someone was sitting at a bus terminal with arms and legs tightly crossed and chin down and it was a chilly winter’s day, it would most likely mean that he or she was cold, not defensive. If, however, the person used the same gestures while you were sitting across a table from him trying to sell him an idea, product or service, they could be correctly interpreted as meaning that the person was negative or defensive about the situation. Throughout this book all gestures will be considered in context and, where possible, gesture clusters will be examined. Other Factors Affecting Interpretation A man who has a ‘dead fish’ hand shake is likely to be accused of having a weak character and the chapter on hand shake techniques will explore the reason for this popular theory.
But if a man has arthritis in his hands, it is likely that he will use a ‘dead fish’ hand shake to avoid the pain of a strong one. Similarly, artists, musicians, surgeons and those in vocations whose work is delicate and involves use of their hands generally prefer not to shake hands, but, if they are forced to do so, they may use a ‘dead fish’ to protect them. Someone who wears ill-fitting or tight clothing may be unable to use certain gestures, and this can affect use of body language. This applies to a minority of people, but it is important to consider what effect a person’s physical restrictions or disabilities may have on his or her body movement.
Status and Power Research in the field of linguistics has shown that there is a direct relationship between the amount of status, power or prestige a person commands and that person’s range of vocabulary. In other words, the higher up the social or management ladder a person is, the better able he is to communicate in words and phrases. Non-verbal research has revealed a correlation between a person’s command of the spoken word and the amount of gesticulation that that person uses to communicate his or her message. This means that a person’s status, power or prestige is also directly related to the number of gestures or body movements he uses.
The person at the top end of the social or management scale can use his range of words to communicate his meaning, whereas the less educated or unskilled person will rely more on gestures than words to communicate. Throughout this book, most of the examples given refer to white, middle-class people but, as a general rule the higher the person on the socio-economic scale, the less gesticulation and body movement he uses. The speed of some gestures and how obvious they look to others is also related to the age of the individual. For example, if a five-year-old child tells a lie to his or her parent, the mouth will be deliberately covered with one or both hands immediately afterwards (Figure 6).
The gesture of covering the mouth alerts the parent to the lie and this gesture continues to be used throughout the individual’s lifetime, usually varying only in the speed at which it is done. When the teenager tells a lie, the hand is brought to the mouth like that of a five-year-old, but instead of the obvious hand slapping gesture over the mouth, the fingers rub lightly around it (Figure 7). This mouth-covering gesture becomes even more refined in adulthood. When the adult tells a lie, his brain instructs his hand to cover his mouth in an attempt to block the deceitful words, just as it does for the five-year-old and the teenager, but at the last moment the hand is pulled away from the face and a nose touch gesture results (Figure 8).
This gesture is nothing more than the adult’s sophisticated version of the mouth-covering gesture that was used in childhood. This is an example of the fact that, as an individual gets older, many of his gestures become sophisticated and less obvious, which is why it is often more difficult to read the gestures of a fifty year-old than those of a much younger person. FAKING BODY LANGUAGE A commonly asked question is, ‘Is it possible to fake your own body language? ’ The general answer to this question is ‘no’ because of the lack of congruence that is likely to occur in the use of the main gestures, the body’s microsignals and the spoken words.
For example, open palms are associated with honesty but when the faker holds his palms out and smiles at you as he tells a lie, his microgestures give him away. His pupils may contract, one eyebrow may lift or the comer of his mouth may twitch, and these signals contradict the open palm gesture and the sincere smile. The result is that the receiver tends not to believe what he hears. The human mind seems to possess a fail-safe mechanism that registers ‘tilt’ when it receives a series of incongruent non-verbal messages. There are, however, some cases in which body language is deliberately faked to gain certain advantages. Take, for example, the Miss World or Miss Universe contest, in which each contestant uses studiously learned body movements to give the impression of warmth and sincerity.
To the extent that each contestant can convey these signals, she will score points from the judges, but even the experts can only fake body language for a short period of time and eventually the body will emit signals that are independent of conscious actions. Many politicians are experts in faking body language in order to get the voters to believe what they are saying and the politician who can successfully do this is said to have ‘charisma’. The face is used more often than any other part of the body to cover up lies. We use smiles, nods and winks in an attempt to cover up, but unfortunately for us, our body signals tell the truth and there is a lack of congruence between our body gestures and facial signals. The study of facial signals is an art in itself. Little space is devoted to it in this book and for more information about it I recommend Face Language by Robert L. Whiteside.
In summary, it is difficult to fake body language for a long period of time but, as we shall discuss, it is good to learn and to use positive open gestures to communicate with others and to eliminate gestures that may give negative signals. This can make it more comfortable to be with people and can make you more acceptable to them. How To Tell Lies Successfully The difficulty with lying is that the subconscious mind acts automatically and independently of our verbal lie, so our body language gives us away. This is why people who rarely tell lies are easily caught, regardless of how convincing they may sound. The moment they begin to lie, the body sends out contradictory signals, and these give us our feeling that they are not telling the truth. During the lie, the subconscious mind sends out nervous energy that appears as a gesture that can contradict what the person said.
Some people whose jobs involve lying, such as politicians, lawyers, actors and television announcers, have refined their body gestures to the point where it is difficult to ‘see’ the lie, and people fall for it, hook, line and sinker. They refine their gestures in one of two ways. First, they practise what ‘feel’ like the right gestures when they tell the lie, but this is only successful when they have practised telling numerous lies over long periods of time. Second, they can eliminate most gestures so that they do’ not use any positive or negative gestures while lying, but this is also very difficult to do. Try this simple test when an occasion presents itself. Tell a deliberate lie to an acquaintance and make a conscious effort to suppress all body gestures while your body is in full view of the other person.
Even when your major body gestures are consciously suppressed, numerous microgestures will still be transmitted. These include facial muscular twitching, expansion and contraction of pupils, sweating at the brow, flushing of the cheeks, increased rate of eye blinking and numerous other minute gestures that signal deceit. Research using slow motion cameras shows that these microgestures can occur within a split second and it is only people such as professional interviewers, sales people and those whom we call perceptive who can consciously see them during a conversation or negotiation. The best interviewers and sales people are those who have developed the unconscious ability to read the microgestures during face-to-face encounters.
It is obvious, then, that to be able to lie successfully, you must have your body hidden or out of sight. This is why police interrogation involves placing the suspect on a chair in the open or placing him under lights with his body in full view of the interrogators; his lies are much easier to see under those circumstances. Naturally, telling lies is easier if you are sitting behind a desk where your body is partially hidden, or while peering over a fence or behind a closed door. The best way to lie is over the telephone! HOW TO LEARN BODY LANGUAGE Set aside at least fifteen minutes a day to study and read the gestures of other people, as well as acquiring a conscious awareness of your own gestures.
A good reading ground is anywhere that people meet and interact. An airport is a particularly good place for observing the entire spectrum of human gestures, aspeople openly express eagerness, anger, sorrow, happiness, impatience and many other emotions through gestures. Social functions, business meetings and parties are also excellent. Having studied the art of body language, you can go to a party, sit alone in a corner all evening like a wallflower and have an exciting time just watching other people’s body language rituals! Television also offers an excellent way of learning nonverbal communication. Turn down the sound and try to understand what is happening by first watching the picture.
By turning the sound up every five minutes, you will be able to check how accurate your non-verbal readings are and before long it will be possible to watch an entire program without any sound and understand what is happening, just as deaf people do. Two Territories and Zones Thousands of books and articles have been written about the staking out and guarding of territories by animals, birds, fish and primates, but only in recent years has it been discovered that man also has territories. When this is learned and the implications understood, not only can enormous insights into one’s own behaviour and that of others be gained but the face-to-face reactions of others can be predicted.
American anthropologist Edward T. Hall was one of the pioneers in the study of man’s spatial needs and in the early 1960s he coined the word ‘proxemics’ (from ‘proximity’ or nearness). His research into this field has led to new understanding about our relationships with our fellow humans. Every country is a territory staked out by clearly defined boundaries and sometimes protected by armed guards. Within each country are usually smaller territories in the form of states and counties. Within these are even smaller territories called cities, within which are suburbs, containing many streets that, in themselves, represent a closed territory to those who live there.
The inhabitants of each territory share an intangible allegiance to it and have been known to turn to savagery and killing in order to protect it. A territory is also an area or space that a person claims as his own, as if it were an extension of his body. Each person has his own personal territory which includes the area that exists around his possessions, such as his home which is bounded by fences, the inside of his motor vehicle, his own bedroom or personal chair and, as Dr Hall discovered, a defined air space around his body. This chapter will deal mainly with the implications of this air space and how people react when it is invaded. PERSONAL SPACE Most animals have a certain air space around their bodies that they claim as their personal space.
How far the space extends is mainly dependent on how crowded were the conditions in which the animal was raised. A lion raised in the remote regions of Africa may have a territorial air space with a radius of fifty kilometres or more, depending on the density of the lion population in that area, and it marks its territorial boundaries by urinating or defecating around them. On the other hand, a lion raised in captivity with other lions may have a personal space of only several metres, the direct result of crowded conditions. Like the other animals, man has his own personal portable ‘air bubble’ that he carries around with him and its size is dependent on the density of the population in the place where he grew up.
This personal zone distance is therefore culturally determined. Where some cultures, such as the Japanese, are accustomed to crowding, others prefer the ‘wide open spaces’ and like to keep their distance. However, we are mainly concerned with the territorial behaviour of people raised in Western cultures. Status can also have an effect on the distance at which a person stands in relation to others and this will be discussed in a later chapter. Zone Distances The radius of the air bubble around suburban middle class white people living in Australia, New Zealand, England, North America and Canada is generally the same. It can be broken down into four distinct zone distances. 1.
Intimate Zone (between 15 and 45 centimetres or 6 to 18 inches) Of all the zone distances, this is by far the most important as it is this zone that a person guards as if it were his own property. Only those who are emotionally close to that person are permitted to enter it. This includes lovers, parents, spouse, children, close friends and relatives. There is a sub-zone that extends up to 15 centimetres (6 inches) from the body that can be entered only during physical contact. This is the close intimate zone. 2. Personal Zone (between 46 centimetres and 1. 22 metres or 18 to 48 inches) This is the distance that we stand from others at cocktail parties, office parties, social functions and friendly gatherings. 3. Social Zone (between 1. 22 and 3. metres or 4 to 12 feet) We stand at this distance from strangers, the plumber or carpenter doing repairs around our home, the postman, the local shopkeeper, the new employee at work and people whom we do not know very well. 4. Public Zone (over 3. 6 metres or 12 feet) Whenever we address a large group of people, this is the comfortable distance at which we choose to stand. Practical Applications of Zone Distances Our intimate zone is normally entered by another person for one of two reasons. First, the intruder is a close relative or friend, or he or she may be making sexual advances. Second, the intruder is hostile and may be about to attack.
While we will tolerate strangers moving within our personal and social zones, the intrusion of a stranger into our intimate zone causes physiological changes to take place within our bodies. The heart pumps faster, adrenalin pours into the bloodstream and blood is pumped to the brain and the muscles as physical preparations for a possible fight or flight situation are made. This means that putting your arm in a friendly way on or around someone you have just met may result in that person’s feeling negative towards you, even though he or she may smile and appear to enjoy it so as not to offend you. If you want people to feel comfortable in your company, the golden rule is ‘keep your distance’.
The more intimate our relationship is with other people, the closer we are permitted to move within their zones. For example, a new employee may initially feel that the other staff members are cold towards him, but they are only keeping him at the social zone distance until they know him better. As he becomes better known to the other employees, the territorial distance between him and them decreases until eventually he is permitted to move within their personal zones and, in some cases, their intimate zones. The distance that two people who are kissing keep their hips apart can tell you something about the relationship that exists between them.
Lovers press their torsos hard against each other and move within each other’s close intimate zones. This differs from the kiss received from a stranger on New Year’s Eve or from your best friend’s spouse, both of whom keep their pelvic area at least 15 centimetres away from yours. One of the exceptions to the distance/ intimacy rule occurs where the spatial distance is based on the person’s social standing. For example, the managing director of a company may be the weekend fishing buddy of one of his subordinates and when they go fishing each may move within the other’s personal or intimate zone. At the office, however, the managing director keeps his fishing buddy at the social distance to maintain the unwritten social strata rules.
Crowding at concerts, cinemas, in elevators, trains or buses results in unavoidable intrusion into other people’s intimate zones, and reactions to this invasion are interesting to observe. There is a list of unwritten rules that people in Western cultures follow rigidly when faced with a crowded situation such as a packed lift or public transport. These rules include: 1. You are not permitted to speak to anyone, including a person you know. 2. You must avoid eye contact with others at all times. 3. You are to maintain a ‘poker face’ – no emotion is permitted to be displayed. 4. If you have a book or newspaper, you must appear to be deeply engrossed in it. 5. The bigger the crowd, the less the body movement you are permitted to make. 6. In elevators, you are compelled to watch the floor numbers above your head.
We often hear words like ‘miserable’, ‘unhappy’ and ‘despondent’ used to describe people who travel to work in the rush hour on public transport. These labels are used because of the blank, expressionless look on the faces of the travellers, but they are misjudgments on the part of the observer. What the observer sees, in fact, is a group of people adhering to the rules that apply to the unavoidable invasion of their intimate zones in a crowded public place. If you doubt this, notice how you behave next time you go alone to a crowded cinema. As the usher directs you to your seat which is surrounded by a sea of unknown faces, notice how you will, like a pre-programmed robot, begin to obey the unwritten rules of behaviour in crowded public places.
As you begin to compete for territorial rights to the armrest with the unknown person beside you, you will begin to realise why those who go to a crowded cinema alone often do not take their seats until the cinema lights are extinguished and the movie actually begins. Whether we are in a crowded elevator, cinema or bus, people around us become non-persons – that is, they do not exist, as far as we are concerned and so we do not respond as if we were being attacked should someone inadvertently encroach upon our intimate territory. An angry mob or group of protesters fighting for a mutual purpose does not react in the same way as do individuals when their territory is invaded; in fact, something quite different occurs.
As the density of the crowd increases, each individual has less personal space and takes a hostile stand, which is why, as the size of the mob increases, it becomes angrier and uglier and fighting may begin to take place. This information is used by the police, who will try to break up the crowd so that each person can regain his own personal space and so become calmer. Only in recent years have governments and town planners given any credence to the effect that high-density housing projects have in depriving individuals of their personal territory. The consequences of high-density living and overcrowding were seen in a recent study of the deer population on James Island, an island about two kilometres off the coast of Maryland in Chesapeake Bay in the United States.
Many of the deer were dying in large numbers, despite the fact that at the time there was plenty of food, predators were not in evidence and infection was not present. Similar studies in earlier years with rats and rabbits revealed the same trend and further investigation showed that the deer had died as a result of overactive adrenal glands, resulting from the stress caused by the deprivation of each deer’s personal territory as the population increased. The adrenal glands play an important part in the regulation of growth, reproduction and the level of the body’s defences. Thus overpopulation caused a physiological reaction to the stress; not other factors such as starvation, infection or aggression from others.
In view of this it is easy to see why areas that have the highest density of human population also have the highest crime and violence rates. Police interrogators use territorial invasion techniques to break down the resistance of criminals being questioned. They seat the criminal on an armless, fixed chair in an open area of the room and encroach into his intimate and close intimate zones when asking questions, remaining there until he answers. It often takes only a short while for this territorial harassment to break down the criminal’s resistance. Management people can use this same approach to extract information from subordinates who may be withholding it, but a sales person would be foolish to use this type of approach when dealing with customers.
Spacing Rituals When a person claims a space or an area among strangers, such as a seat at the cinema, a place at the conference table or a towel hook at the squash court, he does it in a very predictable manner. He usually looks for the widest space available between two others and claims the area in the centre. At the cinema he will choose a seat that is halfway between the end of a row and where the nearest person is sitting. At the squash courts, he chooses the towel hook that is in the largest available space, midway between two other towels or midway between the nearest towel and the end of the towel rack. The purpose of this ritual is not to offend the other people by being either too close or too far away from them.
At the cinema, if you choose a seat more than halfway between the end of the row and the nearest other person, that other person may feel offended if you are too far away from him or he may feel intimidated if you sit too close, so the main purpose of this spacing ritual is to maintain harmony. An exception to this rule is the spacing that occurs in public toilet blocks. Research shows that people choose the end toilets about 90 per cent of the time and, if they are occupied, the midway principle is used. Cultural Factors Affecting Zone Distances A young couple who recently migrated from Denmark to live in Sydney were invited to join the local branch of the Jaycees.
Some weeks after their admission to the club, several female members complained that the Danish man was making advances towards them, so that they felt uncomfortable in his presence and the male members of the club felt that the Danish woman had been indicating non-verbally that she would be sexually available to them. This situation illustrates the fact that many Europeans have an intimate distance of only 20 to 30 centimetres (9 or 10 inches) and in some cultures it is even less. The Danish couple felt quite at ease and relaxed when standing at a distance of 25 centimetres from the Australians, being totally unaware of their intrusion into the 46-centimetre intimate zone.
The Danes also used eye gaze more frequently than the Australians, which gave rise to further misjudgments against them. Moving into the intimate territory of someone of the opposite sex is a method that people use to show interest in that person and is commonly called an ‘advance’. If the advance into the intimate zone is rejected, the other person will step backwards to maintain the zone distance. If the advance is accepted, the other person holds his or her ground and allows the intruder to remain within the intimate zone. What seemed to the Danish couple to be a normal social encounter was being interpreted by the Australians as a sexual advance.
The Danes thought the Australians were cold and unfriendly because they kept moving away to maintain the distance at which they felt comfortable. At a recent conference in the USA, I noticed that when the American attendees met and conversed, they stood at an acceptable 46 to 122 centimetres from each other and remained standing in the same place while talking. However, when a Japanese attendee spoke with an American, the two slowly began to move around the room, the American moving backwards away from the Japanese and the Japanese gradually moving towards the American. This was an attempt by both the American and Japanese to adjust to a culturally comfortable distance from each other.
The Japanese, with his smaller 25centimetre intimate zone, continually stepped forward to adjust to his spatial need, but by doing so he invaded the American’s intimate space; causing him to step backwards to make his own spatial adjustment. Video recordings of this phenomenon replayed at high speed give the impression that both men are dancing around the conference room with the Japanese leading. It is therefore obvious why, when negotiating business, Asians and Europeans or Americans look upon each other with some suspicion, the Europeans or Americans referring to the Asians as ‘pushy’ and ‘familiar’ and Asians referring to the Europeans or Americans as ‘cold’, ‘stand-offish’ and ‘cool’. The lack of awareness of the distance variation of the intimate zones in different cultures can easily lead to misconceptions and inaccurate assumptions about one culture by another.
Country v City Spatial Zones As previously mentioned, the amount of personal space required by an individual is related to the population density of the area in which he was brought up. Those who were brought up in sparsely populated rural areas require more personal space than those raised in densely populated capital cities. Watching how fax a person extends his arm to shake hands can give a clue to whether he is from a major city or from a remote country area. City dwellers have their private 46-centimetre bubble’; this is also the measured distance between wrist and torso when they reach to shake hands (Figure 12). This allows the hand to meet the other person’s on neutral territory.
People brought up in a country town, where the population is far less dense, may have a territorial ‘bubble’ of up to 100 centimetres or more and this is the average measured distance from the wrist to the body when the person from the country is shaking hands (Figure 13). Country people have a tendency to stand with their feet firmly planted on the ground and to lean forward as far as they can to meet your handshake, whereas a city dweller will step forward to greet you. People raised in remote or sparsely populated areas usually have a large personal space requirement which may be as wide as 6 metres. These people prefer not to shake hands but would rather stand at a distance and wave (Figure 14). City sales people find this sort of information particularly useful for calling on farmers in sparse rural areas to sell farming equipment.
Considering that the farmer may have a ‘bubble’ of 100 to 200 centimetres or more, a handshake could be a territorial intrusion, causing the farmer to react negatively and be on the defensive. Successful country sales people state almost unanimously that the best negotiating conditions exist when they greet the country town dweller with an extended handshake and the farmer in an isolated area with a distant wave. TERRITORY AND OWNERSHIP Property owned by a person or a place regularly used by him constitutes a private territory and, like personal air space, he will fight to protect it. Such things as a person’s home, office and motor car represent a territory, each having clearly marked boundaries in the form of walls, gates, fences and doors. Each territory may have several subterritories.
For example, in a home a woman’s private territory may be her kitchen and laundry and she objects to anyone invading that space when she is using it, a businessman has his favourite place at the conference table, diners have their favourite seat in the canteen and father has his favourite chair at home. These areas are usually marked either by leaving personal possessions on or around the area, or by frequent use of it. The canteen diner may even go so far as to carve his initials into ‘his’ place at the table and the businessman marks his -territory at the conference table with such items as an ashtray, pens, books and clothing spread around his 46centimetre intimate zone border.
Dr Desmond Morris noted that studies carried out into seating positions in libraries show that leaving a book or personal object on a library desk reserved that place for an average of seventy-seven minutes; leaving a jacket over a chair reserved it for two hours. At home a family member might mark his or her favourite chair by leaving a personal object, such as a pipe or magazine, on or near it to show his or her claim and ownership of the space. If the head of the house asks a sales person to be seated and the sales person quite innocently sits in ‘his’ chair, the prospective buyer can become inadvertently agitated about this invasion of his territory and thus be put on the defensive. A simple question such as, ‘Which chair is yours? , can avoid the negative results of making such a territorial error. Motor Vehicles Psychologists have noted that people driving a motor car react in a manner that is often completely unlike their normal social behaviour as regards their territories. It seems that a motor vehicle sometimes has a magnifying effect on the size of a person’s personal space. In some cases, their territory is magnified by up to ten times the normal size, so the driver feels that he has a claim to an area of 9 to 10 metres in front of and behind his motor car. When another driver cuts in front of him, even if no danger is involved, the driver may go through a physiological change, becoming angry and even attacking the other driver.
Compare this to the situation that occurs when the same man is stepping into a lift and another person steps in front of him, invading his personal territory. His reaction in those circumstances is normally apologetic and he allows the other man to go first; remarkably different from what happens when another driver cuts in front of him on the open road. For some people, the car becomes a protective cocoon in which they can hide from the outside world. As they drive slowly beside the kerb, almost in the gutter, they can be as big a hazard on the road as the driver with the expanded personal space. In summary, others will invite or reject you, depending on the respect that you have for their personal space.
This is why the happy-go-lucky person who slaps everyone he meets on the back or continually touches people during a conversation is secretly disliked by everyone. As a number of factors can affect the spatial distance a person takes in relation to others, it is wise to consider every criterion before making a judgment about why a person is keeping a certain distance. From Figure 15, it is now possible to make any one of the following assumptions. 1. Both the man and woman are city dwellers and the man is making an intimate approach to the woman. 2. The man has a narrower intimate zone than the woman and is innocently invading hers. 3. The man is from a culture with a narrow intimate zone and the woman was brought up in a rural area.
A few simple questions and further observation of the couple can reveal the correct answer and can help you avoid an embarrassing situation by making incorrect assumptions. Three Palm Gestures OPENNESS AND HONESTY Throughout history, the open palm has been associated with truth, honesty, allegiance and submission. Many oaths are taken with the palm of the hand over the heart, and the palm is held in the air when somebody is giving evidence in a court of law; the Bible is held in the left hand and the right palm held up for the members of the court to view. In day-to-day encounters, people use two basic palm positions. The first has the palm facing upwards and is characteristic of the beggar asking for money or food. The second has the palm facing down as if it is holding down or restraining.
One of the most valuable ways of discovering whether someone is being open and honest or not is to look for palm displays. Just as a dog will expose its throat to show submission or surrender to the victor, so the human animal uses his or her palms to display the same attitude or emotion. For example, when people wish to be totally open or honest they will hold one or both palms out to the other person and say something like, ‘Let me be completely open with you’ (Figure 16). When someone begins to open up or be truthful, he will expose all or part of his palms to another person. Like most body language, this is a completely unconscious gesture, one that gives you a feeling or hunch that the other person is telling the truth.
When a child is lying or concealing something, his palms are hidden behind his back. Similarly, a husband who wants to conceal his whereabouts after a night out with the boys will often hide his palms in his pockets or in an arm fold position when he tries to explain where he was. Thus the hidden palms may give his wife a hunch that he is holding back the truth. Sales people are often taught to look for the customer’s exposed palms when he gives reasons why he cannot buy the product, because only valid reasons are given with exposed palms. INTENTIONAL USE OF PALMS TO DECEIVE The reader may ask, ‘Do you mean that if I tell lies with my palms visible, people will believe me? ’ The answer to this is yes – and no.
If you tell an outright lie with your palms exposed, you may still appear insincere to your listeners because many of the other gestures that should also be visible when displaying honesty will be absent and the negative gestures used when lying will be visible and therefore inconsistent with the open palms. As already noted, con men and professional liars are people who have developed the special art of making their nonverbal signals complement their verbal lies. The more effectively the professional con man can use the non-verbal gestures of honesty when telling a lie, the better he is at his vocation. It is possible, however, to make yourself appear more credible by practising open palm gestures when communicating with others; conversely, as the open palm gestures become habitual, the tendency to tell untruths lessens.
Interestingly, most people find it difficult to lie with their palms exposed and the use of palm signals can in fact help to suppress some of the false information others may give. It also encourages them to be open with you. Palm Power One of the least noticed but most powerful non-verbal signals is given by the human palm. When used correctly, palm power invests its user with a degree of authority and the power of silent command over others. There are three main palm command gestures: the palm-up position, the palm-down position and the palm-closed-finger-pointed position. The differences of the three positions are shown in this example: let’s say that you ask someone to pick up a box and carry it to another location in the same room.
We assume that you use the same tone of voice, the same words and facial expressions, and change only the position of your palm. The palm facing up is used as a submissive, non-threatening gesture, reminiscent of the pleading gesture of a street beggar. The person being asked to move the box will not feel that the request is given with pressure and, in a normal superior/subordinate situation, will not feel threatened by the request. When the palm is turned to face downwards, you will have immediate authority. The person to whom you have directed the request feels that he has been given an order to remove the box and may feel antagonistic towards you, depending on your relationship with him.
For example, if the person to whom you gave the request was a co-worker of equal status, he could reject your palm-down request and would be more likely to carry out your wish if you had used the palm-up position. If the person to whom you give the request is your subordinate, the palm-down gesture is acceptable, as you have the authority to use it. In Figure 19, the palm is closed into a fist and the pointed finger becomes a symbolic club with which the speaker figuratively beats his listener into submission. The pointed finger is one of the most irritating gestures that a person can use while speaking, particularly when it beats time to the speaker’s words. If you are an habitual finger-pointer, try practising the palm-up and palm-down positions nd you will find that you create a more relaxed attitude and have a more positive effect on other people. SHAKING HANDS Shaking hands is a relic of the caveman era. Whenever cavemen met, they would hold their arms in the air with their palms exposed to show that no weapons were being held or concealed. This palms-in-air gesture became modified over the centuries and such gestures as the palm raised in the air, the palm over the heart and numerous other variations developed. The modern form of this ancient greeting ritual is the interlocking and shaking of the palms which, in most English-speaking countries, is performed both on initial greeting and on departure.
The hands are normally pumped five to seven times. Dominant and Submissive Handshakes Considering what has already been said about the impact of a command given in both the palm-up and palm-down positions, let us explore the relevance of these two palm positions in hand shaking. Assume that you have just met someone for the first time and you greet each other with a customary handshake. One of three basic attitudes is transmitted through the handshake. These are dominance: ‘This person is trying to dominate me. I’d better be cautious’, submission: ‘I can dominate this person. He will do as I wish’, and equality: ‘I like this person. We will get on well together’.
These attitudes are transmitted unconsciously and, with practice and conscious application, the following hand shaking techniques can have an immediate effect on the outcome of a face-to-face encounter with another person. The information in this chapter represents one of the few documented studies of handshake control techniques. Dominance is transmitted by turning your hand (dark shirt sleeve) so that your palm faces down in the handshake (Figure 20). Your palm need not be facing the floor directly, but should be facing downwards in relation to the other person’s palm and this tells him that you wish to take control in the encounter that follows.
Studies of fifty-four successful senior management people have revealed that not only did forty-two initiate the handshake, but they also used dominant handshake control. Just as the dog shows submission by rolling on its back and exposing its throat to the victor, so the human uses the palm-up gesture to show submission to others. The reverse of the dominant handshake is to offer your hand with your palm facing upwards (Figure 21). This is particularly effective when you want to give the other person control or allow him to feel that he is in command of the situation. However, though the palm-up handshake can show a submissive attitude, there may be mitigating circumstances to consider.
For example, a person who has arthritis in the hands will be forced to give you a limp handshake because of his condition and this makes it easy to turn his palm into, the submissive position. People who use their hands in their profession, such as surgeons, artists and musicians, may also give a limp handshake purely to protect their hands. The gestures that follow the handshake will give further clues for your assessment of that person – the submissive person will use submissive gestures and the dominant person will use more aggressive gestures. When two dominant people shake hands, a symbolic struggle takes place as each person tries to turn the other’s palm into the submissive position.
The result is a vice-like hand shake with both palms remaining in the vertical position as each person transmits a feeling of respect and rapport to the other (Figure 22). This vice-like vertical palm grip is the handshake that a father teaches his son when he shows him how to ‘shake hands like a man’. When you receive a dominant handshake from another person, it is not only difficult to force his palm back over into the submissive position, but it becomes very obvious when you do it. There is a simple technique for disarming the dominant hand shaker that, in addition to giving you back the control, can enable you to intimidate the other person by invading his personal space. To perfect this disarmament technique you need to practise stepping forward with your left foot as you reach to shake hands (Figure 24).
Next, bring your right leg forward, moving left in front of the person and into his personal space (Figure 25). Now bring your left leg across to your right leg to complete the manoeuvre, then shake the person’s hand. This tactic allows you to straighten the handshake position or to turn the other person’s hand into the submissive position. It also allows you to take control by invading the other person’s intimate zone. Analyse your own approach to shaking hands to determine whether you step forward on your left or right foot when you extend your arm to shake hands. Most people are right-footed and are therefore at a great disadvantage when they receive a o
Cite this Body Language Reading
Body Language Reading. (2018, Jan 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/body-language-reading/