Misunderstandings of body language: 5 tips against misinterpretation of communication

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Body language is an important but often underrated part of our communication. And he offers many possibilities for misunderstandings. 5 tips on what to do about it.

Misunderstandings of body language: 5 tips against misinterpretation of communication

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisher, German Top20 blogger and Consultant for HR communication.


Misunderstandings in communication through body language - this is how they arise

Recently at a business meeting: My long-term cooperation partner accompanied me after a very cordial conversation to the station and spread out her arms. Now that I have lived in Italy for some time, I am basically open to embrace and return the hug without much thought.

She was probably a little surprised, but just as happy as she had been before - actually, she had only wanted to stop the door behind me. And that is just one example of misunderstandings in body language that can happen more frequently in everyday life.

Misinterpretations of nonverbal communication can have major disadvantages

But even in verbal communication there is infinite room for misunderstandings of every kind, one can assume that the rate for misinterpretations in nonverbal communication is much higher. And not always the result is as positive as in this case, in which it became a common, confidence-inspiring grin story.

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Because the body language as well as our reaction in the respective context can decisively influence the course of a conversation or even a professional negotiation - positive as well as negative. Because the way we communicate non-verbally unconsciously reflects our opinions, feelings and stress aspects, things that we do not want our counterpart to know.

5 typical body language signals with misunderstanding potential

But what should be taken into account so that one correctly interprets body language in a professional context in order to avoid misinterpretations? Here is an overview of the most important signals with misunderstanding potential:

1. Smile - HOW does it matter

Smile is generally considered a positive signal. How often this is misunderstood, however, is always made clear to me when I walk around happily because I think about something positive - and people suddenly react to me just as positively positive because they think I'm smiling at them in greeting, even if that was not intended.

Even toddlers learn from their parents that they create a positive reaction in their environment by pulling up the corners of the mouth. But there is also the typical winner smile, in which you deliberately show your counterparts' teeth and threatens so openly. The lips are only so wide open that you can see the teeth well. Our consciousness wants to persuade us that we are met here in a friendly and open manner, but our subconscious mind also registers the threatening gesture behind it, an act of open aggression that can also lead to arguments.

There is also the far more harmless-looking, obliging smile. Although the corners of the mouth pull up, but otherwise no muscle in the face, even the eyes remain completely uninvolved. Sometimes it is accompanied by a slight nod. This smile seems somehow cramped, the binding gesture only pretended - hidden behind indifference and indifference, in which the other is fed as uninteresting with a smile. You can see how fundamentally misunderstood a simple greeting gesture can be interpreted.

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2. Crossed arms mean defense - right?

The same applies to arms crossed in front of the chest. Also this gesture holds a lot of potential for misunderstandings. Recently, I found myself trying to cross my arms because I did not know what to do with them standing up - and then spontaneously looked for an alternative.

Basically one should say goodbye to the widespread opinion that certain movements have a clearly interpretable meaning. The folding or entanglement of the poor is often interpreted as a form of aggression or opposition. However, there are times when the arms are folded because the space or location is cold. The folding of the arms can also prevent fidgeting in cases of boredom.

For some people, folding your arms is simply a comfortable and familiar position. When I cross my arms, I may signal my readiness to defend myself, but maybe I just relax or I am tired and support myself with my arms. Maybe it's all these things at the same time. However, like me in my conversation, you should keep in mind that this gesture may be interpreted negatively. Angela Merkel's often mocked diamond gesture definitely has her Sense.

3. Micro-expressions that reveal the true feeling

While most of us have usually learned as adults at the latest to have their facial expressions under control, it sometimes reveals particularly strong emotions, in so-called micro-expressions,

These are sudden, very short derailments of the face in which the true emotions break through the seemingly impenetrable mask. They usually only appear when people try to hide a very strong feeling that is in contradiction to what we want to show outward.

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A good example of this are raised eyebrows. These are also often interpreted very misleading, z. As a form of disbelief or mockery. If someone raises their eyebrows, it can also be unbelief or misunderstanding. However, raising eyebrows can also mean that someone is impressed, tries to understand a situation better, or just wants to end a conversation unobtrusively.

4. To stand by yourself and others

We all know this situation in which someone starts a conversation, but we can not devote full attention to it for a variety of reasons. This is also reflected in our body language: For example, by not turning completely to the person speaking to you. This causes irritation, restraint, disrespect and more. It is better to give your full attention to the matter that should take precedence. If you are too busy for a conversation, explain it. However, if you want to devote yourself completely to the conversation, turn completely to your conversation partner.

However, it is just as important to be completely in agreement with one's own opinion in a conversation: Because one often assumes the attitude of one's conversation partner, mirror neurons give their regards. It can be a mark for turning your toe towards your opponent. That too is misleading, because the twisting of the foot can also mean other things. For example, that one would prefer to have the conversation sitting down or vice versa. After all, it might just be a matter of taking a comfortable stance.

5. Troubled looks - are you really nervous?

Even restless looks can be completely misinterpreted. When someone is constantly looking nervously from one side to the other, this is most obviously understood as a representation of concern or distress.

However, restless sidelights or twitching eyes can also mean something completely different, such as the desire to lead the conversation elsewhere. It could also mean that the person is trying to turn the conversation in a different direction and accidentally flutter his eyes while his brain is already busy with other issues.

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Conclusion: body language signals intention, but no specific meaning

In general, body language signals a basic intention, but not a specific meaning. And not every gesture is clearly assigned to a specific, firmly defined expression. Gestures are therefore ambiguous and should be interpreted that way. On the other hand, what body language conveys quite well is a person's emotional intention.

In fact, brain research shows that what we feel first appears in our bodies and only a nanosecond later in our consciousness. So if we are hungry, impatient, angry or happy, our body will signal these feelings quite reliably. And that's exactly what you can learn to read and understand. Until the conscious mind realizes this anger or pleasure, it has already manifested itself in our body. And that's what, man learn to read and understand.

But often this happens unconsciously, without thinking too much about it. We have mirror neurons in our brains that become active when our subconscious senses something in everyone else. We reflect the emotions of this other person so that we can understand them better. From an evolutionary point of view, this also makes sense, because we can respond so quickly and automatically to the feelings of others.

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