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February 01, 2022

Reading Body Language - Baseline

Many body language experts, behavioral analysts or social readers confidently claim of being able to read any individual quickly by assuming that a particular behavior has a fixed meaning universally e. g. crossing hands over chest is a defensive stance. Additionally, there are thousands of books, presentations, articles and videos which are filled with many of such quick body language reading tips that can instantaneously turn an ordinary individual into a so-called 'master people reader'. However, the great question is - Has it helped many of us in becoming a real expert?

We tend to conveniently ignore that every individual isn’t exactly identical to other even in a small group of closely related people. Although there are a lot of fundamental similarities among all of us, everybody isn’t exactly the same while perceiving, moving, behaving, speaking, expressing, reacting and interacting with others. Therefore, it’s really important to know how an individual normally moves, behaves, speaks, expresses, reacts and interacts in normal, routine, comfortable and stress-free situations, conditions and circumstances.

This detailed and attentive process is called as establishing the Baseline of an individual’s behaviors. Once we establish the baseline of an individual, we can easily detect changes happening in real time when the same individual is experiencing stress and discomfort. Being able to establish the accurate baseline is the key to detect deviations, anomalies or nuances in the same because they silently convey that something is off e. g. an outgoing, talkative and socially interacting young man suddenly starts staying all alone, silent and secretive.

Developing a good rapport with an individual within a less amount of time to establish its baseline is what highly successful interrogators, lie detectors, undercover agents and intelligence officers do before they start asking serious questions. Once the (sufficient) baseline is established, they can detect subtle changes is body movements, postures, gestures, facial expressions and speech quite easily and accurately. By doing the same, they can quickly pick (level of) stress and discomfort in responses from the individual.

Although Polygraph machine isn’t unanimously and universally considered as a reliable tool for detecting deception, establishing the baseline is the starting point of polygraph tests. The individual who is subjected to the polygraph test is asked a few normal questions like name, gender, birth date, birth place, color of dress, today’s date etc. which don’t induce stress and discomfort. It’s done to establish the baseline of physiological responses so that deviations, anomalies or nuances in them can be accurately detected later.

Establishing the baseline isn’t only game changing in interpreting an individual’s body language in motion but also still images especially portrait photographs. Recently, while looking at Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu’s portrait photo on cover page of Vogue magazine’s Indian edition, I really wondered if she was showing an expression of contempt on her face or not. Did Winning the Miss Universe title for India after 21 years turn her into a contemptuous lady?

Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu (India)

Understanding the great importance of establishing baseline before arriving to wrong conclusion, I checked a few of solo photographs from her earlier life. This confirmed that asymmetrical smile on her face was not about winning the crown but it's the way she has been portraying smile on her face from her childhood. I guess that she might have undergone a rigorous and prolonged training to break her smile baseline especially in front of people.

Establishing baseline is at the core of accurately detecting changes with their severity in real time. It's also very important to keep in mind that Behavioral Baseline can and does change with and/or due to (change in) age, occupation, experience, influence, training, conditioning and learning.

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January 01, 2022

Is Human Communication 93% Nonverbal?

Myths are scientifically incorrect and false stories, beliefs and ideas but they sound amazing and amusing. Moreover, myths are used for massive marketing too, just by adding their credible origins while making confident claims. Especially the one which has been gracefully given birth to in 1967 has taken the whole world by storm and quite essentially the small community of body language enthusiasts, aspirants, analysts, experts, speakers, instructors, coaches and trainers. It is The Convenient Myth of 93% share of nonverbal clues in human communication. Unfortunately, it's widely cited by academic institutions too.

Mehrabian 7-38-55 Rule

Prof. Dr. Albert Mehrabian conducted two separate studies at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with only 37 female psychology students about Which clues are emphasized, prioritized or given weightage to while understanding EMOTIONS, FEELINGS and ATTITUDES of a speaking individual by the audience. Based upon the answers given by the participants, only 7% emphasize was given to words
while 93% emphasize was given to body language, facial expressions and the different tones of voice of the speaking individual.

According to the conclusions derived from Prof. Dr. Mehrabian's study, an emotionally charged interpersonal message is or can be identified almost nonverbally i. e. 93% out of both verbal and nonverbal clues. As the study suggested, an emotionally charged message conveyed by an individual can largely and precisely be identified by the individual's para-language and body language including facial expressions. These two components roughly made up to 38% and 55% of the message respectively in the 7-38-55 rule.

Prof. Dr. Albert Mehrabian
It's critically important to keep in mind that Prof. Meharbian's study was only related with emphasizing clues while understanding EMOTIONS, FEELINGS and ATTITUDES of a speaking individual. Nevertheless, the rule is wrongly interpreted, widely referred and conveniently cited by many.
As the three numbers of the rule are easy to remember and recite, many people started boldly claiming the total percentage of nonverbal clues in any kind of human communication as 93%. Importance of words was greatly undervalued.

Prof. Dr. Mehrabian himself has humbly clarified at many times that his famous rule is overly generalized. It has never ever been his conclusion that any human communication in general follows the 7-38-55 rule or has 93% share of nonverbal clues. He only believes that it was applicable within the context of interpreting the affect or emotional state of a speaking individual by the audience. However,
nonverbal share is entirely relative in human communication and I'm going to prove the same.

Although Mehrabian Rule was simply the rough estimation, we get totally different shares of nonverbal clues in different situations, circumstances and conditions if we strictly adhere with the numbers from the same rule. If audience can see only the face but not the body of the speaker then the share of nonverbal clues would be less than 55% due to detectable facial expressions. If only voice of the speaker can be heard then the share of nonverbal clues would be roughly 38% due to detectable para-lingual clues.

If it was only about communicating emotions, feelings, sentiments, attitudes and different psychological states then we wouldn't have transformed ourselves into the present form at all. Unlike other creatures, we're a highly technological, knowledge sharing and imitating species. Our journey began in small tribal groups and ultimately ended up in spreading or dominating globally with further plans to colonize the outer space. Amount of verbal usage by us has gradually increased in our daily lives with increment in complexity, distance and interdependence.

Human communication significantly and frequently includes facts, locations, directions, dates, time stamps, geographical coordinates, measuring units, measurements, quantities, equations, findings, formulae, logical arguments, assumptions, algorithms, frameworks, concepts, hypotheses, theories, (abstract) ideas, routes, processes, stages, workflows, results, conclusions, plans, alerts, precautions, suggestions, strategies, instructions, commands, warnings, definitions, rules, regulations, requirements, (legal) contracts, (legal) agreements, treaties, testimonies, pacts, policies, norms etc.

They can be published, presented, explained, displayed or described with the help of words, numbers and characters. Graphical characteristics of printed or written text such as position, decoration, highlighting, fonts, font sizes and colors do arrange, organize, distinguish, emphasize and draw attention at some details. Therefore, graphical characteristics of written or printed text used are entirely nonverbal in nature. However, its calculable share is much less in comparison to the entire text.
Also, verbal and numerical data, information and facts can also be converted or compressed into and represented by many visual forms for better and readily understanding. Therefore, using sign-languages, sketches, paintings, drawings, photographs, graphs, charts, animations, images, signs, symbols, icons, 2D models, 3D models etc. in the human communication is entirely nonverbal in nature with its calculable share depending upon the amount of usage.
Additionally, if an individual is involved in talking about them then para-lingual clues and illustrating hand gestures do help a lot for emphasizing, drawing attention and visually explaining some details. Undoubtedly, vocal emphasizes and hand illustrations are also nonverbal in nature. However, its calculable share is much less in comparison to the content.

Some of the common traffic signs

The true purpose of this article isn't only to share critically important details and facts about Prof. Dr. Mehrabian's study and to debunk or bust The Convenient Myth of 93% or the over generalized 7-38-55 rule/equation/formula originated from the same study. My explanation and arguments simply don't end here because there's much more in our real lives.

After critically thinking over this seriously scientific topic over many days, I'm deeply interested and highly motivated to share my honest, sincere and meticulous insights and views about the percentage of nonverbal share in (face to face) human communication, considering different kinds of possible situations and circumstances in daily life.

Consider yourself in four different situations in which you’re interacting or you need to interact with four different kinds of individuals i. e. an infant, a man fatally injured after meeting an accident in front of you, an old man communicating only through a sign-language and a foreign lady tourist speaking in her language.

Surprisingly, the true nonverbal share or its percentage during (face to face) encounter, interaction, exchange and reciprocation taking place between you and the four different individuals would be much greater and most likely to be 100%, from either or both sides.

Please let me explain exactly how, with details as following:

1) The Infant: Due to absence or lack of verbal articulating ability at its age, the infant's body language, facial expressions and different tones of voice would convey what exactly it is trying to convey or 'say' to you in your presence.

2) The Injured Man: Due to fatal injuries, the man might not be able to speak clearly, continuously and loudly or at all. His vocal clues (if any), eyes, face, collapsed posture and visible wounds would convey his grim condition.

3) The Sign-Speaker: Due to absence of spoken words, you must rely only on your own knowledge about the specific sign-language. Otherwise, you’d need to communicate with him only
by using commonly known hand gestures, facial expressions, head movements and para-lingual clues only.

4) The Tourist: As you're unfamiliar with her language, you both need to communicate with each other only by using commonly known hand gestures, facial expressions, head movements and para-lingual clues only. Otherwise, you need to find a translator.

In all above situations, only nonverbal, physical, visible, vocal and observable clues would play the greatest role in understanding, interacting, exchanging, sharing, suggesting and reciprocating. When and/or If an individual isn't (capable of) talking (in a known language) then his/her body does (try to) communicate the same. In short, body definitely speaks when, what and/or if words can't or don't.
To my best knowledge, both spoken and written words help a lot but only if the two interacting individuals know the language and also the meanings of the words very well in the first place. If either one doesn’t know the language and/or doesn't understand the meaning of the words then irritation, confusion and perplexity is clearly seen in body language esp. eyes, eyebrows, mouth and hands.

When and/or if words aren't present, familiar, complete, appropriate, audible, readable and/or sufficient while communicating then (entire) body, orientations, movements, gestures, expressions, adaptations, stances, vocal tones, actions, reactions and responses of either or both individuals are the only reliable sources for the firm conclusion because nonverbal is the default mode of human communication.

On the other hand, if familiar, complete, appropriate, audible, readable and/or sufficient words are being used during (face to face) communication, interaction, encounter, exchange and reciprocation then congruence between the cluster of words and corresponding nonverbal clues (available if any) is the determining factors for reliability and truthfulness in the given context. Prof. Dr. Mehrabian’s study too emphasized congruence.

The bottom line of this myth debunking or myth busting article is that nonverbal share in any human communication isn't always or absolutely 93% (or any fixed number) at all but entirely relative. The nonverbal share or its percentage can and does conditionally change and even reach up to 100%.

Next time if anybody publicly writes and speaks about 93% of nonverbal share then you could confidently explain the nonverbal relativity of human communication with a few best supporting examples, including some of the aforementioned ones.
{Critical Note: Although every human communication isn't always and/or entirely nonverbal, our bodies, physical conditions, movements and actions do keep revealing a lot about ourselves automatically, unmistakably and reliably throughout our lives, which is just beyond our imagination.
When we're not actively communicating (with anybody), our bodies continuously do keep receiving and sending different kinds of nonverbal data, clues, hints, signals and messages. By majority, our bodies do receive, react, respond and reciprocate nonverbally.}
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