How to Read Body Language Correctly: The 5 C Questions You Must Answer
Reading body language is essentially trying to understand how someone feels at a very specific moment in a very specific situation.
Therefore, you CAN’T isolate a person’s body language from everything else that is going on in their life and around them.
Here are 5 key questions – the “5 C Questions of Body Language(TM)” – that you must answer to get a good level of confidence in your interpretation:
What is the Context of the situation?
Context has a major impact on how people feel. What happened just before. What they expect will happen just after. The environment of the situation.
In most cases, the way they feel probably has a lot more to do with the context of the situation in which you are observing them… than anything to do with you.
So consider everything you know or can guess about the context of that specific moment. What effects may this have on how they feel – and therefore on their body language?
What Clusters of body language signs with a similar likely meaning can you see?
One sign by itself basically means nothing.
It’s normal to focus on what you see first or the most. But you must look for groups of signals with the same potential meaning – at least 3 or 4.
The more signals you can see that could have a similar “meaning”, the more likely you are to be correct when interpreting how they feel.
Which signs are unconscious and which ones are likely to be a conscious Choice?
We’re taught from a very young age how we’re supposed to behave in society, at work, with neighbors, colleagues, etc. (political correctedness). And we’re taught to hide our true feelings on the grounds that it is supposedly either a weakness or a risk to get hurt…
So it’s no wonder that when you observe someone, a number of postures, movements, etc. may actually be a conscious choice rather than a natural reflection of how they really feel.
Dismiss any signs that you feel is probably a choice. (Listen to your gut on this, you’re naturally able to sense those).
What signs are a Change from the person’s usual body language?
This is key. Everyone is different. So each person’s body language is personal – slightly different from another. For example, some people naturally emphasize everything they say with wide hand gestures, others naturally blink frequently, etc…
Focus on changes from the person’s habitual body language.
When interpreting the body language of someone you don’t know, take a moment to “establish a baseline”. Observe their natural rhythm, gestures, tone of voice, posture, etc. in a neutral situation before trying to work out if a sign actually has any relevance.
What signs of the Contrary “meaning” is the person also displaying?
When we think we know how someone feels, or when we wish that they react in a specific way, we tend to see everything that confirms this and miss all the rest.
This is a normal and natural bias. But it can lead you to totally incorrect conclusions.
So, consciously look for signs that could mean the opposite to get much more confidence in your interpretation.
Remember that not every sign you observe actually “means” something.
Let’s summarize the” 5 C Questions of Body Language(TM)”:
1- Context: What is the Context of the situation? (and its impact on how they feel)
2- Clusters: What Clusters of body language signs with a similar likely meaning can you see?
3- Choice: Which signs are unconscious and which ones are likely to be a conscious Choice?
4- Change: What signs are a Change from the person’s usual body language?
5- Contrary: What signs of the Contrary “meaning” is the person also displaying?
Now go and observe people, focus on just one person for practice, and go through the questions. With a few repetitions, you’ll find yourself getting a sharper idea of what people feel inside.
Have fun with this, it’s not a panacea, but a very useful tool in your “box”.
All the best