Contrary to what you might think, language isn’t the primary form of communication.
In fact, body language is considered to make up more than half of human interactions – even though we may not be consciously aware of it.
The way you carry yourself, what you do with your hands, your facial expressions, or even the tone with which you speak all say a great deal about how you feel on the inside.
This means that those of us who are masters at reading body language automatically have a leg-up when it comes to navigating face-to-face interactions. In a way, they possess a superpower many people could only dare dream of.
But why are some people better at understanding non-verbal communication than others?
It all boils down to their habits. Here are 8 of them.
1) They cultivate empathy within themselves
Some people are naturally more empathetic than others.
However, this does not mean that empathy is purely an innate trait. According to research, empathy – the ability to understand and feel another person’s emotions – is a skill that can be taught.
It may seem strange that increasing empathy can be done through continuous practice, but that’s only because many of us aren’t quite sure of how to do it.
What’s more, some of us have empathy all wrong. We think that if we empathize with others, it might lead to the suppression of our own feelings or to letting others cross our boundaries.
But the opposite is the case.
Empathy isn’t about forgetting our emotions in order to make space for those of someone else; it’s about using our feelings as a tool to understand how another person may experience certain aspects of life, even if we’ve never gone through the same situation ourselves.
I’ve never gone bungee jumping, but I’ve jumped down from a bouldering wall, driven a bike really fast, and gone skiing. While those experiences aren’t the same, they all contain the same adrenaline rush, and it is exactly through this feeling of excitement that I can imagine what bungee jumping must feel like.
Empathy works on the same basis. Don’t suppress your emotions. Instead, connect with them in order to better understand the experiences of someone else.
2) They read a lot of fiction
Alright, this one might sound bizarre – it’s weird to think that words on paper could help you understand face-to-face interactions, after all – but hear me out.
Science says that reading fiction can increase empathy. When you regularly transport yourself into emotionally immersive stories, you’re connecting with fictional characters on a deep level and learning about the large variety of complex human experiences.
As we’ve already established, empathy is vital when it comes to reading body language. This is because it allows us to understand other people’s feelings better, which in turn increases our sensitivity to their little nonverbal cues and tells, as well as our intuition.
Not only that but fictional stories are riddled with intricate descriptions of body language.
Fictional characters seem real to us because their facial expressions and nonverbal gestures are fully fleshed out during dialogues, impacting our own perception of people’s behavior in the real world.
So, if you want to improve your ability to read body language, you know what to do.
3) They focus on the present moment
You can’t pay attention to body language if your head’s constantly stuck in the clouds.
Non-verbal communication masters aren’t just excellent at noticing other people’s gestures, movements, and expressions; they also make for amazing listeners.
When they’re having a conversation with someone, they don’t keep thinking about their grocery list or the TV show they’re planning to watch tonight.
No, they are fully in the present moment, paying careful attention to the person in front of them. And in that instance, there is no past and no future – there is simply now.
As someone who used to clock out of conversations quite often, I can honestly say that meditation and mindfulness have improved my relationships with others as well as my ability to read body language.
If you want to be able to read other people, you’ve got to make them the center of your universe in the here and now.
4) They study the science of body language
You can’t be a master at reading body language if you don’t invest the time and effort into studying it.
While this particular habit seems obvious enough, it’s actually quite unexpected to some people because many of us consider non-verbal communication to be purely about talent or intuition.
Don’t get me wrong, your gut feeling definitely matters. But it goes without saying that you can’t properly decode body language without research-backed knowledge.
There’s a lot to be said about this type of communication, from the secrets hidden in our eyes to our body posture, gait, microexpressions, and even physical distance.
Therefore, those who are truly invested in body language take the time to study it.
5) They connect the dots and think in patterns
Body language isn’t straightforward. Far from it. Humans are incredibly complex and nuanced, and crossing your arms may mean completely different things depending on the context.
This is why knowing all the body language tricks isn’t enough to be a non-verbal master.
You’ve also got to train yourself to think in patterns.
Always think of the larger picture. For example, crossed arms can signal:
- An attempt to seem bigger and stronger
- Preparation to solve a difficult problem
- Masking insecurity
That’s a lot of different feelings, right? And it’s all reliant on context.
Connect the dots. Think of the forest, not just the trees. Contextualize. You can’t nail body language without those skills.
6) They give people the benefit of the doubt
Non-verbal communication isn’t an exact science.
It’s not like learning everything and anything there is to know will immediately get you the results you want.
As previously mentioned, context plays a huge role when it comes to decoding how people’s feelings translate into their physical behavior, but even if you do take context into account, you can still get it wrong.
This is why people who excel at reading body language won’t always be able to give you a clear-cut answer. Their ability to admit they might be wrong is exactly what proves their mastery.
7) They practice self-awareness
Learning about body language from books is one thing, but we sometimes forget that we already have a real-life person whom we can analyze – ourselves.
What do you do with your arms when you’re uncomfortable? How does your body behave when you want to end a conversation? How does your voice change when you’re in love?
Self-awareness – the ability to read yourself – is precisely what can help you see through other people’s behavior with more skill and confidence.
8) They listen to their gut feeling
It’s one thing to learn the rules of algebra, but it’s another entirely to be naturally great at logical thinking.
Decoding body language isn’t all that different.
While it’s incredibly important that you learn the ins and outs of its science and practice specific skills – such as empathy and self-awareness – to increase your chances of being a non-verbal communication pro, your gut feeling matters, too.
How do you feel when you’re talking to someone? What is your own body language telling you about theirs? How does it react to their presence?
Take a moment to take a deep breath and listen to the voice of your intuition. You may find out that it’s much stronger than you thought.
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