Bees can smell fear. You can’t.
When we’re listening — and that’s a crapshoot some of the time — we’re still only getting half of the conversation right. The other half comes from non-verbal communication that we are broadcasting all the time — whether we know it or not.
Understanding what people are telling you when they’re not talking isn’t cheating, it’s perceptive. And for the most part, people are the least perceptive organisms on the planet.
Professor Michael Karson from the University of Denver is your hearing aid to listening to body language. The graduate school professor has been teaching professional psychology for over a decade and listening to people on a couch for 25 years. He’s painfully honest when he assesses the state of our non-verbal communicative nature: “We’re not very good at picking up other people’s non-verbal communication because we have such an agenda about what we want to see. … So we just assume that we see what we want to see and we ignore contradictory information.”
That means you’re hearing, but not listening.
It also means you’re ignoring the things you should be watching, like their face.
Faces are road-maps to what people are thinking. Generally speaking, we’re all very lousy actors and terrible liars because your mouth may say you’re having a great time, but your furrowed brow says otherwise. You think she loves your witty banter, but that yawn reads “bored as hell.”
“Or worse, you don’t even notice that she’s yawning,” Karson says. “If you don’t look at other people’s faces you expect that other people are looking at you the way you want to be looked at — positively or negatively.”
That’s not even rule No. 1, Karson says.
That’s reserved for knowing your role when you’re out on a date. Chickens and cockroaches know their roles, so why don’t you.
Karson explains: “It turns out that chickens in a pecking order adopt a posture according to how many fights they’ve won. So a chicken knows not to get in front of a chicken who’s taller than it is. Cockroaches do the same thing. One big difference between chickens and humans is that humans will put on a nice suit, stand very tall, keep his shoulders back and walk into a place like he owns it and people assume that he’s very successful. Acting like you have power and prestige, even when you don’t or acting like you don’t have power and prestige even if you do. And we do that mainly by body language.”
That doesn’t mean shoulders back, nose high and act like an ass always. It does mean that by reading the other person, you might gain some insight as to how they feel or who they are.
Are they touching their face constantly? That’s low status. Are they straight-faced and making eye contact? That’s high status. High and low don’t refer to who’s better than the other, but it does define the field we’re playing on. Therefore, if you’re out on a high-status date, act high-status, the outcome may be better at the end of the night. Same goes for low status. And don’t immediately brush off a snob or a weirdo.
“If you play high status — keep your head still, stand up — people will think you’re competent but not likable. And if you play low status, people will think you’re likable but not competent. So you have to learn how to play the right status so people will think you’re both. Play the right status for the role you’re in,” Karson says.
“It’s really just knowing where to fit in. Life is a pecking order. And if you fit into the right place, people will think you’re where you belong.”
And that’s the crown mother of all attractive qualities: confidence.
One more body language tip for the end:
“Lean forward, if she keeps leaning forward, keep leaning forward,” Karson says. “It’s not that complicated.”