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Reading Body Language - Para Language

How words are pronounced is most important than what they literally mean. There’s strong relation between our emotional state and clues we convey through pronunciation. This is called as science of PARA LANGUAGE. Emotions and feelings can be conveyed and interpreted with the help of voice only. In fact, some of us are more skilled in understanding emotions by listening to voice and not watching facial expressions.span>

Humans have well developed system for creating different sounds by varying tone, volume, pitch and annotations. Torso, throat, oral cavity, lips, jaws, tongue and facial muscles play different roles in vocal articulation. Immunity, level of energy, body mass, endurance and hormones also have large impact on voice. Kind of sound we create while speaking is identical to making a signature on paper.

As like paying keen attention to body language clues, listening to voice also gives insight of person’s emotional and also physical state. Emotional and homeostatic processes too are deciding factors in same. We can understand emotional and state too by listening to speech of a person. Can we reverse direction of this process?

Let's try to figure out that how each person shown below would likely to pronounce words or create sound just by looking at its body language in a given situation.

What kind of sound each person would make?
1) A police officer who is standing upright and looking dominant - bluffed chest, stiff neck and hands on put hips or hold on back. He would be able to talk in firm tone and uniform pitch very easily.

2) A lonely lady who looks physical exhausted and trying to console herself. She would speak in monotonous and sluggish voice (on telephone) because she is sad or exhausted.

3) A boy who is making merry, playing, jumping and dancing. He would laugh or twitter sound in joyous tone. It's play time for him without any external interference.

4) A lady who is sharing something with other person by sitting very closely to it. They are not making any gestures and meeting gaze with others. She must be whispering in a secretive low tone. Highly private gossip!

5) A couple who is making aggressive gestures, clenching fists, bearing teeth, crossing hands on chests and fiercely gazing towards each other. Definitely, they would yelling and shouting on each other.

6) A salesman who has leaned forward and titled neck at one side, He has put on smiley face while speaking. He must be buttering up your boss to place an order or sign a contract.

Ability to decipher emotions based upon para linguistic clues is most useful especially when we cannot observe somebody face to face.

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Reading Body Language - Micro Expressions

Lie to Me (the world famous TV serial) made common people aware about how ability to detect tiniest movements of facial muscles could bring dramatic turn while interrogating suspects. Bringing a criminal into confessing crime it committed isn't easy because it tries to defend itself from being detected by law and enforcement agency. Investigators and forensic experts have to pick tiniest clues not only at actual crime scene but also on faces of people they interrogate or try to get information from.

A micro-expression or micro-momentary facial expression is nothing but movements of different facial expressions that unconsciously occurs within fraction of a second. Just like a macro or clearly detectable facial expressions, micro-expressions give away seven different emotions. A novice or inexperienced observer can overlook micro-expressions because they remain almost undetected by it. By experience and age, people learn to control autonomous facial expressions, movements and gestures by giving away clues about them swiftly.

Who says I'm afraid?
Unlike normal or macro expressions, micro expressions appear and disappear within fraction of a second. Sometimes, expressions are miniaturized to keep them unnoticed by observer. Unlike inexperienced or untrained observers, experts can instantaneously crack or zoom into micro expressions. Also, they can be monitored while running video clip at lower frame rate or watching photograph.

Micro expressions can bring surprising turns while interpreting body language because they are emotional outlets of actually what somebody tries to suppress or hide from others. Learned and volunteer control (cortical control) still let their trails appear as much as for 1/4 fraction of a second as per pioneer emotion and facial expressions scientist Prof. Dr. Paul Ekman (University of San Fransisco, United States). He and his colleagues have developed very reliable tool called as Micro Expressions Test Tool (METT) that let you learn and detect micro expressions online. You can test your skills by following this link that takes you to demo test. 

Did she kill husband?
Interrogators and lie detectors mostly rely on micro expressions because smart liars can confidently make claims that ordinary people easily believe. A suspected woman arrested for murder of her husband boldly claims, "I really don't have any idea about him. I hope that he'll come back very soon".

While saying it, she turns contemptuous for fraction of a second. If she really cares about her husband then why she expressed hatred or disrespect? Something must be wrong in their relationship. Expert interrogator can possibly get her confession by asking serious questions.

No need to check time
In social environments, we can see people managing to cope with distressing moments by replacing clearly apparent expressions by their miniaturized versions. A veteran project leader in a software company slightly touches wrist watch but doesn't look at it while addressing to farewell party. Actually, he replaces “hands-crossed-on-chest” posture to defend himself from anxiety of somebody being hurt by his words unintentionally. Even though he doesn't express anxiety on his own face, his body gives away a miniaturized expression of indented posture he unconsciously wants to adopt in front of the audience.

In May 2013, I got a certificate from Humintell for completing facial micro-expression training and passing the final test with 93% percent of accuracy. Though I passed with ‘Expert’ level, it wasn’t an easy task at all because mood of a person at given moment and movements in own facial muscles can make a great difference. However, my own facial muscles helped me to pass the test. Ability to portray micro-expressions on you own face can give you real edge in identifying them on faces of other people.

The Certificate from HuminTell

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Reading Body Language - Context

Like Cluster, Context makes a nonverbal message more clear to understand. CONTEXT is an environment, background or situation according to which it should be interpreted. Without context, reading body language would drastically mislead us.

Let's see how an environment can give different meaning to an expression or action.

There are two different persons taking out their frustration following sequence of events - one person is standing in audience gallery watching a football match whereas another person is a senior police officer standing inside the police station with his colleagues. Both of them are in completely different environment to express their feelings and emotions in reaction to something. Context plays very crucial role in understanding what they want to convey actually.

Both of them suddenly yelled and smashed fist on palm. Smashing a fist on palm is taking out frustration over (unexpected) failure or shortfall - we punch on palm because we cannot punch anybody else for consequences.

A young football fan smashed his fist on palm after watching an ace player misses the goal post during last few minutes of second half. He took out frustration because of expecting that his favorite team shouldn’t loose any opportunity to win over its opponent.

On the other hand, a police officer listens that a criminal who was arrested after a year long pursuit succeeded to escape from prison a few minutes ago. He smashed his fist on palm, yelling “Damn it!”. He took out frustration because all efforts he and his team took to arrest the criminal were meaningless.

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Reading Body Language - Proxemics

During Golden Globe Award Ceremony of 2016, an unusual incident happened. After her name being as a receiver of award, Lady Gaga started walking towards stage. While making her way through audience, she briefly brushed off behind chair on which Leonardo DiCaprio was sitting. While reacting to same quite unconsciously, the unique facial expression he gave away made headlines. Why he would have done it after all? Let's find out very reason behind same.

In last two articles, we have seen that how clustering and congruence are crucial for reading body language. Now let's  move on towards understanding the importance of interpersonal distance. The science of interpersonal distance is called as PROXEMICS. Most of us don’t realize that interpersonal distance plays a great role in and also affects on communication, rapport, comfort level and relationship. So let's take an example from real life so it would make sense clearly.

It's an usual day in company and you start working on routine tasks. Suddenly, team leader informs you that few newly recruited members are joining your team. You are asked to gather at some place for getting formally introduced with them face to face. Until this moment both parties might not have seen each other so little amount of nervousness coupled with excitement lurks inside everyone's mind. While looking at each other, both parties smile nervously but avoid prolong eye contact except those who develop feelings of attraction instantaneously. Formal hand shake, mutual introduction and exchange few words take place by keeping socially accepted distance from each other.

At the beginning, getting face to face is filled with uneasiness and anxiety. Glancing at either side of own body, looking down, hovering gaze, putting hands in pocket, giving nervous look or smile, grabbing things in palms, moving torso away or crossing arms over chest can be observed being done unconsciously by both parties. They don't come close or interact voluntarily like seniors or experienced colleague. Accidental touch is regretted. New joiners form their own group.

Some days pass and regular interactions start taking place between you and new joiners. Apart of work, everybody starts taking, sharing and complementing with each other. It gives opportunity for judging and knowing each other consciously or unconsciously. We naturally tend to figure out mutual strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Also, it's not necessary that every member of team become close companion of every other senior. Some personal reservations, threats or complexes motivate us to form bond with more like minded persons.

Initial awkwardness, shyness and disorientation slowly fades. Interactions happen at close distance as compared to earlier days. Touching, eating together, seating or standing closer, whispering, handling personal stuff or prolonging eye contact becomes normal. Everybody starts looking at each others faces quite comfortably. Strong rapport establishes among new joiners and senior team members over time. Meeting and greeting each other brings excitement and freshness at workspace.

Doesn't it appear like a miracle? Gradual shrinking of interpersonal space and development of new relationship! Why we tend to stay away from new people in the beginning and get closer gradually (or in worst case - drift away)? Certainly, it's worth interesting to know.

Too close?
Interpersonal space or distance is crucial factor for judging that if other person or object is favorable in our survival interests. It's a core mechanism of subconscious mind of gathering visual clues and letting us to decide whether to move towards it, let it to move towards you or step back and run away from it. When space required to watch (hear and smell also) and decide the strategy is invaded or trespassed without unknown intentions, we feel very uncomfortable or stressed. Limbic system starts sending flight or fight signals to body.

Dr. Albert Meharabian, the leading proxemist has defined four different zones around our body. Each zone is a circular area in which we let other to enter or stay depending upon kind of relationship we're seeking or have with them.
Different zones of proxemics (Interpersonal Distance)
1) Intimate Zone (from 6 to 18 inches): This is the zone a person guards as individual property. Only romantic partner, close friends and relatives are allowed to enter in it.

2) Personal Zone (from 18 to 48 inches): This is the distance we keep from others during friendly interactions, social gatherings or parties.

Social Zone (from 4 to 12 feet): This is the distance we keep from strangers or persons with little acquaintance.
Public Zone (above 12 feet): This is the comfortable distance we maintain while  interacting or addressing to large group of people.

Above are approximate distances with which Dr. Meharabian put up his theory but radius of each zone may vary culture, society or geography wise.

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Reading Body Language - Congruence

In last article, we came to know about clustering which is first point to consider while reading body language. Moreover, a cluster is a door step for an interpretation of a nonverbal message more accurately. Yet any cluster has to be analyzed further to check if it conveys a genuine message or not. So let’s move forward to authenticate a massage. Why authentication is required at first place?

Generally, our brain maintains coordination among facial expression, posture, movement, and tone of voice. If they remain more synchronized with each other, a message gets across more effectively and correctly. It’s called as CONGRUENCE. This rule applies to spoken or scripted message also.

What if someone wants to distract others from true intentions? Our deliberate cleverness comes into play for same. In practical life, we find ourselves in very awkward situations in which passing exact message may not be in best interest. They are number of reasons for same which cannot be discussed in this article.

Anxiety of being perceived wrong in the eyes of others starts leaking out through lack of control. Ultimately we try to cover up it by verbal crafting but mind doesn't warrant to distract from truth. Various parts of our body and their movements become less synchronized. Thus a cluster appears to be non-congruent with words we speak or even try to convince nonverbally.

There are two persons saying, "I'm open to new challenges!". One person has crossed arms over chest with false smile on face while the other has opened arms wide and seems ready to embrace. Who would you believe to be ready for challenges?
Who's actually ready for challenges?
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Reading Body Language - Clusters

It’s very amazing to know that we all communicate nonverbally (through body language, facial expressions and voice) by most. Same fact excites many enthusiasts to jump start reading others and why not. Knowing someone’s thoughts and intentions is decisive but also it's more important to interpret them more accurately.

Putting together
Interpreting this article is quite easy because we all are aware of different words that have been put together in an acceptable sequence and by following grammatical rules. Shifting their positions, dropping them or defying grammar would lead to irregularity or confusion and perhaps make no sense at all. Same rule applies to interpretation of body language, kines and nonverbal communication.

Interestingly, body language has its own vocabulary, grammar and syntaxes. We communicate nonverbally with the help of different clues or signals that are grouped together or given away one after another in a sequence. It's identical to the way different words create a meaningful sentence. Single word may not convey message but a complete sentence can easily make sense.

Combination of different sensory stimulus/inputs, facial expressions, eye contacts, gestures, movements, postures and para linguistic convey a distinct message. Most of us try to interpret each of them in isolation, often leading us to complete misunderstanding. Like composing sentences, we need to put them together. This method is called as CLUSTERING. A cluster clearly makes sense of distinct nonverbal message. Let’s take an example of it.

Most of us know that crossing arms over chest is a self-defensive or controlling action. As it clearly appears, we cover vulnerable parts of upper body (torso). Definitely, it's not a welcoming or open approach at all. But crossing arms isn't a clue to self-defense only when it is put in different clusters. Look at these pictures and find what each person is likely to express. Keenly observe their facial expressions (especially eyebrows), postures (especially neck) and gazes (how they make or don't make eye contact).

Warning or Criticizing (Left) Helpless, Sad & Fearful (Center) Disagree or Disappointed (Right)
Also, we need take physical environment or specific situation into account while looking at a person with arms crossed on its chest. This old lady wearing a sweater is protecting herself from cold by crossing arms so that maximum body heat would be retained. Even here, her posture gives an idea about how intensely she would be suffering from cold. Look at hunched back, lowered chin and legs tightly held together.

Interpreting body language by clusters is very crucial to understand overall mood or conditions of person in any given circumstance.

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Body Language Brain

Principally, we have evolved to communicate nonverbally - through physical expressions. Surprisingly, very amazing and unimaginably ancient system inside our brain understands and also conveys emotions or intentions through physical expressions only. It’s called as the Limbic System. It works very precisely and we can survive because of same.

Here’s an interesting story about how the limbic system evolved. In fact, it’s a short story of our own evolution - how a water dwelling creatures turned into land roaming creatures and further into a walking, speaking and hunting race which we all belong to i. e. Homo Sapiens.

An aquatic ancestor
Hard to believe for many of us is that most of the extinguished and existing creatures evolved from common ancestors. They existed in water past 360 million years. Climatic changes and/or struggle to survive forced them migrating to land. Their fins transformed into limbs/legs to roam and outer skin became tougher to endure dry and harsh climate on land. They developed lungs to breathe. Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are descendants of same land roaming ancestors.

Reptiles evolved 320 to 310 million years ago. This was the true beginning of limbic system development. They evolved a reflexive system to fight, flight, feed and breed. Reptilian behavioral patterns are very apparent and predictable but those helped them to survive in the environment they roamed. There were no emotions in world of creatures till mammals appeared on earth. Mammals evolved during collapse of dinosaur dynasty. Surprisingly, they evolved from reptiles 220 million years ago.

Mammals emerged with more deliberate, social and motivated behavior unlike seemingly cold, impassive and brutal reptiles. The reason behind it would be linked to their altered metabolism, reproduction, nurturing, bonding and habitation. Mammals grow offspring inside their bodies till certain stage of development, feed them by secretion from mammary glands and control body temperature to adjust diverse climatic conditions.

New mammalian brain structure Cortex was built upon reptilian complex. Even though mammals become more superior in survival strategies, they naturally incline to reptilian flight or fight approach. They developed variations to compensate fight or flight approach by more dramatic, planned and coordinated movements, behavior and physical expressions. Emotions were incredible gift along with strong sense of different smells and ability to remember them (Olfactory system). It helped them to endure different situations and circumstances. They flourished and spread on entire planet.

Finally appeared the common ancestors (Hominoidea) of humans and apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos) - the primate ancestors who evolved 65 million years ago. They might have evolved from mammals who skilled in climbing on trees for food and shelter. Primates evolved more complex parts inside brains for adopting new living environments, anatomical features and social challenges. They developed superior system to coordinate movements and maneuvers on trees and ground. They gained ability to think and plan. Their vision become more advanced so stronger became visual memory. They could remember and recall scenes voluntarily.

Why apes did not further evolve as human though we share more than 98% genetic profile with them?This question definitely comes into our curious mind. As like today, groups of common ancestors (who further evolved as modern apes) were living in thick forest areas that was far away from homeland of some members. Chain of climatic disruptions during 3 to 5 millions of years ago separated those few from forest inhabiting groups forever. Hugh drop in rainfall on north-eastern part of African continent (Afar valley, Ethiopia) replaced forests full of tall - large - lush trees by vast planes of grass and bushes. Apparently, nature forced our ancestors to roam on ground. They started walking on their two legs (hind limbs) with two hands free (fore limbs) to gather food, make tools, hunt animals, catch fishes and farm crops. They started living in fixed shelters.

Ability to walk on two feet (bipedal anatomy) changed our apparent behavior, movement patterns and ultimately the way of communication. Making different facial expressions, gestures and sounds became beneficial to express emotions and feelings among members in group. Throughout different civilizations, we kept improving and diversifying our life style, occupation and communication. We formed ethics and cultural - social norms.

We (modern humans) are called as Homo Sapiens that literally means as "wise man" or "knowing man" in Latin. Neocortex is the most advanced structure that rests above reptile and mammalian brain. It gives us ability of reasoning, imagination, speaking languages, introspection, navigation, mathematical calculations and problem solving. We can harbor feelings, regulate emotions and restrain limbic impulses but cannot entirely surpass them.

Human rage
Moreover, visual and emotional memory makes us to act or behave the way our ancestors would have done in remote history. We become comfortable in favorable environments and situations and uncomfortable in distress and (signs of) danger. Under threat, we experience more or less same kind of physiological responses like reptiles or mammals give (flight or fight/run away). On the other hand, we display rage or aggression exactly like other animals do (fight). Only we can bring variation in basic defense patterns that are instinctively exercised by other creatures.

Different creatures expressing rage or aggression
If we pay keen and conscious attention, all inherited and learned patterns of physical expressions are easy to decode because of functional precision of limbic system, parasympathetic nervous system and endocrine system.

[Special Thanks to Sir Joe Navarro (Ex-FBI Counterintelligence agent and Pioneer in nonverbal communication) for reviewing this article and sharing his own views.]

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