Have you ever wished you could read minds? Do you wonder what it would be like to automatically know how your friends and loved ones were feeling, if they were being honest with you, or if that person you had your eye on was interested in you? While it may sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, recognizing the many ways that we communicate using nonverbal cues allows you to catch a glimpse into the minds of the people around you.
Learning How to Speak Without Words
As a psychologist, I make my living talking to people. However, it is often the information that I receive through unspoken means such as facial expressions, gestures, and body postures that is most useful. While I can’t teach you how to read minds, I can show you how to identify some common nonverbal cues and give you some tips to improve your awareness of nonverbal communication.
First off, here are some of the ways we rely on nonverbal communication everyday, without even knowing it.
While people may say that someone “wears their heart on their sleeve,” in reality, they’re much more likely to be wearing it on their face. A number of studies have shown that people are able to recognize emotions with a high level of accuracy just based on a brief glimpse at a person’s face. The study participants consistently identified the following emotions: happiness, anger, disgust, surprise, fear, sadness, and contempt. These studies were also conducted around the world, and they found the same results regardless of where the participants lived.
One of the other things we assess automatically when meeting a new person is the potential for danger. Our brains are able to determine almost instantly, even when looking at a photo of an unknown person, how dominant or submissive they are based solely on their posture and expression. These instincts have been honed over centuries to help keep us safe and to identify who we can trust.
Other nonverbal signals that are easy to spot are related to dishonesty. Though it should be noted that there isn’t any way to be 100% certain that someone is lying based off of a few nonverbal cues, it has been shown that people are more likely to do certain things when being deceptive. For instance, a person will sometimes touch their face – usually touching their nose or briefly covering their mouth when telling a lie. You might also notice someone shrugging his or her shoulders without realizing it when saying something untrue.
It’s also easy determine if someone is genuinely enjoying him or herself by noticing if their smile reaches all the way to their eyes. A fake smile only touches the mouth and doesn’t cause any of the telltale crinkles in the skin near the eyes. You can also tell if the person you’re speaking to disagrees with you or disapproves of what you’re saying by noticing that they’re pursing their lips.
Facial expressions can also be reliable indicators of whether someone is potentially interested in you. You can look for them to do things like make good eye contact, appear invested in what you’re saying, and turn their body toward you during conversation. You might also notice that they’re unconsciously “mirroring” the gestures and motions that you’re making. Lastly, you should pay close attention to their pupils, which will dilate in response to an increase in feelings of attraction and arousal.
Now that you know about some of the many ways nonverbal communication impacts your life, read on for some tips on how to become more skilled at recognizing nonverbal cues.
Becoming More Aware
Increasing your awareness of nonverbal communication is really quite simple! All it requires is paying a little bit of extra attention when you’re having a conversation. If you make a habit of noticing the expressions and gestures others make when talking to you, you’ll eventually find yourself recognizing all the ways that people express themselves without words without even thinking about it. You will also likely begin to notice your own unspoken cues. This can help you to ensure that you don’t accidentally offend someone by reacting without realizing it.
If you train yourself to recognize the ways in which your friends, co-workers, and family are expressing themselves without words, it can make communication flow more easily. In some ways, it’s just like practicing mindfulness in that it forces you to become more deliberate in your interactions with the people in your life.
Practicing being more attuned to your partner’s nonverbal cues will force you to become a better listener. We’ve all had the experience of being so distracted by our own thoughts about what we’re going to say next that we totally miss what the other person is saying. If you focus on what your significant other is saying aloud in addition to their expressions and gestures, it shows that you value their input. Research has shown a consistent connection between good communication and strong relationships.
Recognizing facial expressions and other nonverbal cues are also important aspects of feeling empathy. Increasing your capacity for empathy will enable you to have a deeper understanding of your partner’s experiences and to better see things from their perspective. This increased understanding will help to forge a stronger, more trusting bond.
While learning more about how you communicate nonverbally can have a positive impact on many aspects of your life, there are some possible pitfalls to keep in mind.
Forgetting to Listen
People are complex and the only sure way to determine if you are reading their nonverbal cues properly is to talk to them about how they’re feeling. When it comes to things like deception and danger, it may not always be possible to confirm what you observe, but it’s important to understand that this is by no means a perfect science. As with anything related to human interactions, it should be utilized within a larger context of communication.
We’re all guilty of occasionally checking our phone during a conversation. However, this is a form of nonverbal communication that indicates to the other person that you’re not paying attention to them. Habitually choosing to interact with your phone over your friend or partner will likely take a toll on your relationships.
Jumping to Conclusions
In some ways we all have that “gut feeling” response when meeting new people and they’re probably mostly judgments based on nonverbal signals. Though these feelings may often be right and should be listened to, they are also subject to deeper biases and stereotypes that we may not even be aware we have. Therefore, it’s important to recognize that you are making a snap judgment about someone (because we all do it!) and to at least attempt to understand how your beliefs might be influencing your reactions.
You’re now equipped to start putting some of these tips into action! If you just pay a bit more attention to all the things that the people around you are saying without making a sound, you’ll start to feel like a mind reader in no time. Now tell me, what number am I thinking of?