(Listen to the Podcast version here)
How many times have we heard "But that's not what I meant!" in an argument over what was said?
In these days of dependency and even addiction to digital technologies for our communication, it is all too easy to misinterpret or misunderstand the words sent because of a lack of exposure to the huge amount of information the non-verbal elements of our way of communicating includes.
Many of our most important decisions are made against a backdrop of 'feelings', 'intuitions' or some sense of what others really mean, despite their words.
How many times do we find ourselves thinking "they didn't mean that" when listening to a speech, or to a friend or colleague talking about something?
That view of what they mean versus what they said, comes from a subconscious processing of body-language, tonal inflection, facial expression and contextual analysis. But, when we have nothing but a string of characters in a text, IM, email or even a letter, we have no richness of information from which to draw such reasoning, and we end up often reading something in a way it was not actually meant.
Reading body-language and other sources of non-verbal communication almost always avoids such misinterpretations, and allows each party to immediately correct them if they do occur, which is why I invariably push for face-to-face meetings, coaching and therapy sessions, interviews and other interactions. Text or IM messaging is useful in the right situation, but cannot replace general in-person communication as we are hardwired to 'read' many types of human communication as we interact with each other.
Videoconferencing such as Facetime, Whatsapp, Skype, Webex, etc., are better than nothing, but are still poor substitutes, as the environmental clues are missing, and nuances of facial expression or the parts of the body not seen, are all missed.
It is always fascinating when I train people in body-language and micro-expression analysis, to see the reaction (again often non-verbal) when my client first 'sees' clues to a different meaning or emotion than the one being said.
A word of warning though, as there is a fine line between including such clues in our decision making process, and over-reliance or overemphasis on them, which can lead to 'seeing what is not there', or misunderstanding the proper application of such clue reading.
In an interview with Tim Roth, who played Dr Cal Lightman in the TV show 'Lie to Me', he talked about seeing how the constant 'watching' for micro-expressions by the show consultant and co-discoverer of the science of micro-expressions, Dr Paul Ekman, can become destructive to personal relationships when it can't be 'switched off' easily. Sometimes we all have very good reasons for keeping things to ourselves, and nobody wants to feel they are constantly being analysed for whether they are being truthful or not, especially by their partner or loved ones.
Believe me when I say it IS very hard to switch it off, and even when you do, it often means avoiding looking at people's faces or postures, which in itself can be interpreted the wrong way by those who then feel you can't look at them. For this very reason I always make a point of heavily highlighting this in my training.
So, should we do it or not?
It is a very useful skill when used for the right purposes, such as interviews, business meetings, therapy sessions and to properly understand what people are 'meaning' rather than just saying, but it has dangers when taken too far, especially in a personal setting and used against friends, family and loved ones.
If you want to learn how to accurately read non-verbal clues and signals, find a suitably qualified trainer, because as always, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing", and being able to spot signs and signals needs a firm foundation of what they actually can tell you, before you go on to make a determination, or you risk getting it very wrong.
I hope you found this useful, and please use this site or my Facebook or Twitter to send me any questions or comments.
Next week I am back in Singapore for a while and so the post will be later in the day.
Keep well, stay positive, and remember: "Live Life, don't Watch Life"