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What five mistakes do you make when reading body language?



Via The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead:

1. They don’t consider the context. When it comes to body language, context is king. You can’t make sense of someone’s nonverbal message unless you understand the circumstances behind it. Context is a complex weave of variables including location, relationships, time of day, and past experience. Depending on the context, the same nonverbal signals can have totally different meanings…

2. They find meaning in a single gesture… But even when people aren’t inquiring directly about your state of mind, they will still be evaluating it through your body language. And this is where trouble can arise, because all too often they will be getting their information from a single nonverbal cue. And because the human brain pays more attention to negative messages than it does to positive ones, what people unconsciously look for and react to the most are signs that you are in a bad mood and not to be approached.

3. They don’t know your baseline. One of the keys to accurately reading body language is to compare someone’s current nonverbal response to his or her baseline, or normal behavior. But if people haven’t observed you over time, they have little basis for comparison…

4. They evaluate through the filter of personal biases… The term “halo effect,” coined by psychologist E. L. Thorndike, describes how our perception of one desirable trait in a person can cause us to judge that person more positively overall. If we view someone as likeable, for instance, we often also perceive him or her as more honest and trustworthy as well. I’ve noticed that it goes even further. Some leaders are so well liked that the people they lead forgive, overlook, or even deny negative characteristics—another example of the emotional brain overriding the analytic brain (but not so good for getting accurate performance feedback). Biases can also work against you…

5. They evaluate through the filter of cultural biases. When it comes to dealing with a multicultural workforce, we create all sorts of obstacles by failing to consider cultural biases—theirs and ours.

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