It was one of the most extraordinary cabarets of affection since Bolu Adeoye took out a half page newspaper notice cum birthday anniversary advertisement claiming his marriage to Seun, his wife was rock solid.
At a friend’s party last December, Bolu and Seun were entwined like love-smitten teenagers, as they were set to ensure their marriage stay the course. That’s if friends believe their body language.
This “silent” language never lies, according to Jane Atim, a language expert who is also a close friend of Bolu and Seun. “They’re genuinely in love,” he says. “The way they are smiling, the look in the eyes, and the nature of their proximity all give them away.”
Jane makes it her business to read the unconscious movements and postures of others. In her world, the curve of a smile, the blink of an eye, the position of the hands or feet are all of great significance.
“We’re all constantly judged on first impressions,” says Jane. “People are making snap decisions as to whether they trust us, like us, want to work with us, or have an affair with us. But words alone don’t provide the whole picture. More than 90 percent of meaning in any interaction is derived from non-verbal clues – the manner in which our body ‘talks’ and the way that we say things – and a mere 7 percent from the words that are actually spoken. The overwhelming meaning of a message, when communicating with others, comes from an unconscious display of the ‘silent’ language; which either reinforces or detracts from the words being used,” she says.
“Whether you need to sell an idea, get your point across or understand what other people really think, it is at the root of all communication. Get it right, and all sorts of communication will become a breeze,” she says further.
But body language is not a new concept. It has been studied by psychologists and neuropsychologists since the 50s and is now, according to Jacob Adeleye, a psychologist, so refined as to be called a science.
“Developing an understanding of body language is indispensable in our modern lives,” says Adeleye. “Everyday, we constantly have to interpret what another person’s body language is telling us – as well as controlling our own to create the right impression. Although we are perfectly able to select appropriate gestures and actions to transmit a message, our body also sends out signals outside our conscious awareness – in other words, without our permission,” according to Adeleye.
According to him, it is possible to master and control these unconscious tell-tale signs and learn to read other people’s movements.
“People go around attracting or repelling others, because of their body language. You need to ask yourself what does your body language say when you are communicating with others? If you find that you’re unconsciously turning people off, then you’re sending out the wrong signals without realising it.
“Before you interact with others, you should take a moment to analyse your own emotional state. What is it? Impatient, angry, resentful, anxious? Each of these, for example, will influence the way that you address other people, and body language ‘leakage’ will arise and may cause problems. Feelings, in particular, are communicated more by non-verbals than by a person’s words.
“The only window we have to a person’s subconscious is through observing what they do with their body,” says Adeleye.
“Understanding body language is effectively a form of mind reading. When a thought produces a feeling, that feeling leaks out through body language. If you can read the body language, you are reading the feeling,” he notes further.
Traditionally, women are better than men at reading body language, and Adeleye says that this really is due to a “women’s intuition.”
“The invention of a brain imaging machine in the 90s has allowed us to monitor and compare brain activity in men and women. When shown an image, men used the left side of the brain, which is the side that governs logic and language. Women, on the other hand, use both left and right side of the brain, which deals with perception and creativity. It’s why women will instinctively say, ‘There is something about that person I just don’t trust’.”
But Atim says men and women alike can all master body language and become expert at reading others, and controlling their own gestures. According to her, it is easy to read the trickiest of situations including how to tell if someone is attracted to us, if we can trust someone, or if they are lying. The latter, she says, is something even the most schooled communicators have problems in disguising.
“Most politicians are trying to impart a message that they don’t really believe in, so they try to control their body language, so as not to give away their true feelings. But in most cases, it backfires badly,” she says, “whereas, once, politics was about constructive body language, now it is all defensive.”
Paradoxically, when employing body language some politicians make themselves less rather than more popular.
“No matter how hard politicians try, they just get it wrong,” observes Adeleye, “they are obviously been told by their advisers that they need to smile more, to make themselves more appealing to the public. But because some of them smile a lot naturally and doesn’t feel comfortable doing it, their smile is often unnatural and ill-judged, and has the opposite of the desired effect. People register that it’s not the real thing and don’t trust them for faking it.”
He explains that the same is true for relationships between parents and their children, saying “when the situation in a home is not right, it becomes noticeable even for someone who has not been living with them. And people can easily tell there is something wrong.”