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November 19, 2011

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 aspiring social readers and body language experts to jump start observing and interpreting others. Knowing someone’s emotions, feelings, attitudes and intentions is greatly decisive in social life but also it's more important to interpret them more accurately.

Putting pieces together
Reading and interpreting this very article is quite easy because we all are aware of different words that have been put together in an acceptable sequence (syntax) in different sentences and paragraphs by following a certain grammatical rules. They make clear sense to anybody who knows English.

On the contrary, shifting their positions, dropping them, inserting unrelated words or defying grammar rules would lead to complete confusion and total loss of the purpose of writing this article in the first place. The same rules apply to interpretation of body language and nonverbal communication.

Interestingly, body language has its own vocabulary, grammar, syntax and sentences. We communicate nonverbally with the help of different expressions, signals and clues that are grouped together or given away one after another in a sequence. It's identical to the way different words put together create a meaningful sentence. Any single word which is isolated from a sentence may not convey the whole message but many words can easily do the same.

Combination of different sensory stimulus or inputs, facial expressions, eye contacts, gestures, movements, postures and vocal tones convey a distinct message. Most of us try to interpret each of them in isolation, often leading to complete misunderstanding. Just 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 simply assume that crossing arms over the 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. However, crossing arms over the chest doesn't mean entirely self-defense when it is put in different clusters.

Look at these three pictures and find what each person is likely expressing. Keenly observe their facial expressions (especially their eyebrows), postures (especially their necks) and gazes (how they make or don't make eye contacts).

Warning or Criticizing (Left),
Dejected or Heartbroken (Center),
Disagreed 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 body posture and clothes give 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 in clusters is very crucial to understand overall nonverbal message correctly, given by anybody in the given context.

Related Articles:
1) Body Language Brain 2) Basic Emotional Expressions 3) Congruence 4) Proxemics 5) Context 6) Micro Expressions 7) Para Language 8) Postures 9) Facial Expressions 10) Hand Gestures 11) Challenges 12) Interpretation 13) Baseline 14) Perceptual Bias 15) Basic Bodily Clues 16) Is Human Communication 93% Nonverbal?


  1. In many interviews and in many recruitment process,many times body language is a key point to judge the candidate.
    Along with body language,his facial expressions
    is also a point of judgement.

  2. Really simple yet effective approach to explain the process.


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