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.

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisherConsultant and head of the Institute's job pictures Yourweb.


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 body language and our reaction, which is appropriate to the respective context, can have a decisive influence on the course of a conversation or even a professional negotiation - both positively and negatively. Because the way we communicate non-verbally spiegelt unconsciously reflect our opinion, feelings and aspects of stress, i.e. things that we do not really want the other person to know.

5 typical body language signals with the potential for misunderstanding

But what should you watch out for so that you correctly interpret body language, especially in a professional context, in order to avoid misinterpretations? Here is an overview of the most important signals with the potential for misunderstanding:

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. This gesture also has a lot of potential for misunderstanding. Recently I caught myself trying to cross my arms because I didn't know what to do with them while standing - 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 brief derailments of the face in which the true emotions break through the seemingly impenetrable mask. They usually only show up when people are trying to hide a very strong feeling that goes against what we are trying to show to the outside world.

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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 for various reasons we cannot devote our full attention to it. This can also be seen in our body language: For example, by not completely turning to the person who is speaking to you. That causes irritation, reluctance, disrespect and more. It is better to pay your full attention to the matter that should take precedence. If you are too busy to talk, explain it. If, on the other hand, you want to concentrate fully on the conversation, turn to the person you are talking to.

But it is just as important to stand by your own opinion in a conversation: Because you often adopt the attitude of your conversation partner, Spiegelneurons send their regards. It can be a sign of this if you turn the tip of your foot towards the other person. This is also misleading, because turning your foot can mean other things as well. For example that you would prefer to have the conversation sitting down or, conversely, that you have to leave earlier. After all, it might just be about finding a comfortable posture.

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 appears first in our body and only a nanosecond later in our consciousness. So when we are hungry, impatient, angry, or happy, our body will signal these feelings fairly reliably. And that is exactly what you can learn to read and understand. By the time the conscious mind realizes this anger or joy, it has already shown itself in our body. And that's what, you learn to read and understand.

Often this happens unconsciously without thinking too much about it. We have Spiegelneurons in our brain that become active when our subconscious senses a feeling in each other. We spiegeln reflect that other person's emotions so we can better understand them. From an evolutionary point of view, this also makes sense because we can react so quickly and automatically to the feelings of others.

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