The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 14, 2002

Listen when your body does the talking
D.C. Sharma

DO you know that our body has its own way of talking, independently of any language? Our gestures reveal what is there in our psyche.

Our subconscious mind emits nervous energy. That prompts our gestures and postures. Psychological studies reveal how our face shows micro-momentary expressions. Thatís why false smiles are different from real ones.

Our eyes reveal our inner thoughts. If our pupils dilate, we are pleased. If we lift our eyebrow it means we donít believe what the other one says. If we lift both the eyebrows, we are surprised. If we rub our nose and tug our ears, we are puzzled. If we shrug our shoulders it signifies we donít care about what others say.

If we drum or tap our fingers over the desk, we are impatient and nervous. If we cross our arms across our chest, we are isolating ourselves and avoid company of others. Our yawning indicates that we are bored.

The correlation between meaning and body posture has given rise to a science called ĎKinesics.í C. Darwin was the first authority to study communication. His book The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals (1965) Chicago University Press publication gives insights into body postures.


Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero have analysed a series of gesture clusters with the help of a video tape recording. Just observe a young man and a young lady standing near each other. If the lady is standing rigidly upright with legs together and elbows close to her sides it shows she is taking no interest in the man. However, if her hands are held away from her body a smile on her lips, her jaw muscles relaxed, and her legs apart, she is in a receptive mood.

Kinesics is a practical science. Suppose you approach an officer and the latter is sitting in the chair with one leg horizontally crossed with the ankle resting on the other knee. You canít hope to win his favour. However, when he is sitting with both feet apart firmly planted on the floor, he will do the favour. While sitting with one leg over the arm of the chair, he is indifferent and hostile.

A handshake is a gesture of welcome. Interlocking of palms indicates openness and their touching signifies unity. When the other personís hand is gripped firmly and then released, it is a manly handshake. It shows confidence. When the palm faces upward, it shows submission. Grasping the otherís hand with the right hand and cupping it with the left, indicates a pretence of trust and honesty. It is known as the politicianís handshake. Offering a lifeless, cold, sweaty hand indicates a weak character. The double-handed handshake indicates intimacy.

Crossing the middle finger over the index finger denotes we speak the truth. When tips of the thumb and the index finger meet to form an ĎOí, it is an O.K. symbol. It was popular in the early 19th century in USA. During World War II Winston Churchill popularised the victory sign by forming a ĎVí with the index finger and the middle finger.

Folding arms with fingers tucked into the armpits and thumbs sticking out is a gesture when a subordinate faces a superior whom he treats as equal, it is a sign of confidence. But when the hands grip the upper arm tightly, it shows a negative attitude. Holding the arms as locked behind the back indicates an inner conflict.

If , while talking, a person covers his mouth with his hand, he is either lying or is doubtful. He may be trying to prevent something or is whispering a secret.

Scratching oneís neck may be a physical need or a psychological discomfort. Rubbing the eye may be a physical irritation or an effort to deceive. But shutting an eye with a finger or pulling oneís collar means telling a lie. To rub oneís nose with a finger means to say "no". Stroking the chin means making a decision. Holding the hand as gripped behind oneís head signifies confidence. Standing with feet apart with hands on hips indicates an aggressive attitude.

People who walk with their hand in their pockets, possess a character which is secretive and critical. May be they are themselves facing a dejection in life.

When we nod our head we mean "yes". When we shake it we say "no". Shaking the clenched fist signifies one is angry. If we sniffle our feet, we show impatience.

Eye contact signifies awareness and acceptance. Lack of eye contact communicates lack of interest. Dishonest people hold back information, thatís why they avoid eye contact. Giving someone the "glad eye" is an unspoken invitation. It shows interest or an offer of friendship.

Why not study your own gestures first? Then you can read othersí gestures. Even when people say nothing, their body talks. There is inner meaning in their outer expression. But donít interpret a single gesture. Read the face. Note the gesture clusters. Use an insight. How we sit, stand and walk, all provide clues to human reactions.

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