Increase Your Awareness
The first step to learning to read this “language” is simply paying closer attention to the people around you. In every interaction there are dozens of nonverbal components, including eye contact, posture, and tone of voice. Each of these can give a clue as to what is happening inside the mind of the other person. Often there are small incongruities between what the words communicate and what the facial expression or gesture does. What does it say to you when the person says they are pleased but purses her lips. Or when he says “Okay” but his fists are tightened. By doing this you will learn the difference between what seems a natural gesture from one that seems forced. The only way to develop your ability to pick up on the unspoken messages is to observe them repeatedly.
Develop Your Intuition
At some point in their lives, most people have gotten a bad “vibe” from someone at some point after a brief interaction. Human beings are naturally attuned to one another’s moods. In fact, much of the cues discussed above are simply reflections of one’s internal emotional state. This communicates adaptive information from person to person to help avoid danger and build community. Unfortunately, twenty-first century life is so often disconnected that our innate ability to sense one another’s emotional state can become dulled. To revive it, it is helpful to become more in touch with your own emotional states and how they are affected by others throughout the day. When you bristle at someone’s presence, what is it about them that grates? When you feel off-balance around someone, what about their words and their non-verbal communication is misaligned? Through opening up the connection between your mind, body, and emotions, you become more in touch with your natural intuition. Taking some quiet time each day to listen to your own emotions is a great way to achieve this, as well as a way to reduce stress.
Gather Further Intelligence
While observation and intuition are an excellent foundation, there is a world of information on nonverbal communication. Do not limit yourself to your own efforts when you can benefit from the research and experience of others. Start off simply by familiarizing yourself further with the terms and concepts of kinesics, oculesics, and paraverbal communication. Kinesics is the interpretation of the body’s nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions or hand gestures. Oculesics is related to the eyes’ nonverbal communication, such as with with their movement, gazing, and darting. Finally paraverbal communication relates to how we speak or say our words, focusing on intonation, pitch, and tone. You can then explore some more advice and videos about body language at websites like www.tesh.com or the television program Intelligence for Your Life (details here). These resources help further your nonverbal communication education by providing information on how to strengthen your relationships by improving on your own skills. Also consider digging deeper into scholarly articles if you continue to be interested in these topics. Now that you know the basics for developing your ability to read the nonverbal language of kinesics and paraverbal communication, it is up to you how far you wish to take it!