Body Language Analysis - Decoding the Most Misinterpreted Language


Today you're going to see the difference between normal male and normal female facial expressions. The picture above is what most people assume will greet them when they walk in the door.

Except that isn't what happens in the real world.

Normal people behave with a wide range of expressions and as people observe normal behavior, their assumptions, hopes and wishes are typically not met by what they see. As you can guess, person A often looks at person B and believes that person B is unhappier or angrier or more irritated than they typically are. This perception is almost always - miscalculated.

Today you'll also gain a few insights into the latest about The Body Language of Power. You'll find out what touching means.

You'll see what it means when she smiles and the potential doom of what it means when she looks angry. You've not seen this before. It's got ramifications for everyone to understand.

So many ...ok most - books and course material about body language and nonverbal communication are simply...well...cute. With rare exception, they are analogous to a little kid learning from his teacher that 3 + 2 = 5. That night the teacher goes home and says to their new friend, "I teach math," neglecting..."just not geometry, differential equations, calculus, trig, analysis, algebra, statistics & probability."

Since I created Influence: Boot Camp, the standard in the field for learning to influence and persuade, there has been a tri-fold increase in what we know about nonverbal communication. The world has shrunk, but culture, contexts and genetics, remain as the generators of how and why people communicate with their bodies, stuff, and the space around them.

In your average book on body language, you now see pictures about someone in the Middle East making a hand gesture. You see a smile on the face of an Asian with a caption defining what "it means." It's...cute. Now you can know there are some broad generalizations about "gestures" but there is no dictionary. And again, today you find out what and why.

Let's begin with something that is almost taboo in many environments in the U.S.

Body Language and The Touch

Contact is the subject of much controversy in the U.S. There are very different rules for different contexts that don't exist in most countries. You used to need a Dictionary of Appropriate American Touch Behavior by Work, Park and Home Guide.

Not anymore.

The better approach seems to be "shake hands and step back." But is that right? Is that appropriate and correct?

In other cultures around the world, though, there are also norms that exist about touch. There are norms about just how close is close and just where/when touch is OK and where/when touch is not OK.

"Appropriate Touch"

Touch is considered appropriate, and more often than not desirable, in Latin America, Mexico and South America. It's also good to go in most, but not all of Europe, Russia, the northern half of Africa.

Ah...and, proximity, just how close you sit to someone else, is pretty much dictated by whether the culture is touch appropriate.

Meanwhile, contact is generally considered less appropriate and not the norm in Germany, almost all countries in Asia and you certainly don't touch much...in the Scandinavian nations.

I go to England often enough that I see a lot of people I know from previous trips. If I'm tired, I'll be the guy who hugs corporate executives and janitors. If I'm thinking, I'll generally keep my distance, feel cold and make no contact as is my slightly skewed perception of the cultural norm in the UK.

Sometimes I hug people in the UK just to remind them that touch can be heartening. I wouldn't recommend you taking on a culture. A handshake is plenty in the UK...although their airport security agents are the most liberal feelers I've ever experienced...anywhere...by far. I think I'm engaged to four different people that work at Heathrow...

Men Touching Men

The United States is a most complex place to live as far as culture and body language.

Thinking about Boot Camp has me thinking about playing cards at the end of the day.

If I'm playing cards and winning, guys in their 40's often initiate high fives when we pull winning hands.

Guys in their 20's and 30's are more inclined to a fist bump. Old guys touch only their money.

At a card table, I prefer no one to be touching me...except maybe the girl who brings drinks.

At Influence: Boot Camp, I can touch and be touched. The same is true for family and friends. But in random moments...I prefer distance.

It turns out that this microcosm tends to be fairly representative of the nation as a whole.

The Touchy South

The South, within the context of a specific race, tends to be a high contact place to hang out, much like our national neighbor to the further south...Mexico.

The North East? Not so much.

The Midwest is more touchy and closer contact than the North East, but nothing by comparison to the South.

The black cultures, both African and African American (in the U.S.) tend to be touchers and communicate from very close distances.

People are xenophobic by nature.

Therefore, "fitting in," is pretty important when doing business or connecting with people around the world.

Decoding body language requires understanding what is normal. People from one country will think that wherever they land in another location is normal for the entire nation. That typically isn't the case.

Within the UK is ENGLAND which, for example, is in every way DIFFERENT from SCOTLAND.

Citizens of England and Scotland see themselves in contrast to each other as night and day. You wouldn't ever suggest the Scots are similar to those born and raised in London...even that they were born on the same planet...

A Mystery: It's fascinating that in MANY countries there is a "North/South" split within the specific nation. This is certainly true for understanding body language in the U.S.

Here's a strange fact: In many, many countries...North = less contact/closeness, South = more contact/closeness!

The first point of decoding the misunderstood dialects of body language is that there are dramatic differences in the meaning of how close someone is to you, what they gestured and how they use the stuff around them when compared to other groups in the same country!

Where else is this strange North/South divide when it comes to body language?

It tends to be true for nations as diverse as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Serbia and Switzerland...among others.

I've read lots of hypotheses as to why this is...none impress me as particularly assuring. It's just the way it is.

Body Language And Identity

ONE FACTOR that does seem pretty stable in determining whether you ought to be more inclined to keep your distance and avoid touch vs. hugging a leader/authority figure of any kind, in any context, is cultural identity.

Collectivist Cultures vs. Individualist Cultures

Collectivist cultures, where the group (not the individual) is predominant, particularly people from Japan and China, there tends to be very little touching at all outside of the home. It's rather ironic considering the massively crowded cities both of these nations boast.

Collectivists think in terms of "we" and you'd be wise to mirror that in communication AND body language, especially gestures. To not be part of a group is not something that will lead to good relations in Asia.

One of the most fascinating pieces of recent historical footage you can watch is The Beatles at Budokon. 1965. This slice of music history gives us insight into culture as well.

The stadium was eerily silent...offering the best sound of any Beatles live concert...and rather bizarre...to my Western eye and ear, being able to hear every note and lyric. Things have changed since the 60's to be sure. But by contrast to South America or Latin America, the places are worlds are apart.

Self-control, self-monitoring, self-discipline are all admired and virtually required characteristics in collectivist nations. Perhaps this is why, on average, Asians tend to do so well at everything in general and excel in life when immigrating to America.

Meanwhile, in individualistic cultures, like the U.S. the "I" is dominant. Here you tend to see more touching, noisier celebrations, less self-control.

Now you can begin to make some predictions about reading people and suggested behavioral strategy for yourself when you travel.

Countries, Cultures and Their Perceptions

The easiest way to understand how we perceive and misperceive body language is to consider how people perceive other people from other nations in general.

The United States, for example, has multiple "reputations" around the globe.

Europeans tell me that the U.S. is violent, arrogant and offers lots of "fake" smiles.

It's certainly true that by contrast Americans are polite and it's true that violence in the U.S. is greater than a lot of countries. The reality is that the U.S. is much less violent than it was 20 years ago.

And many parts of the U.S. are less violent than almost anywhere in Europe!

Meanwhile there are a few states in the nation that are more violent than say Mexico.

The point is that "Americans" is a big word that doesn't mean a great deal. "Average" for a nation of 300,000,000 people...doesn't tell us much about people on an individual level and you'd never know that Minnesota (where I live) is safer on the streets than most places in Europe.

Perception is filed with observer bias.

In the body language analysis department that means we must unplug our preconceived notions and consider contexts and specific situations where behaviors are occurring if we are to read body language correctly.

I get a bit of fun poked at me by my European and English friends who indicate I tend to be very casual and laid back in my body language and speech.

Imagine that.

For me, as a speaker, entertainer or presenter for a group, it is somewhat expected. But for doing business or interacting on other levels, realize the louder the American, the bigger the jerk he is perceived to be by his European counterpart.

On average, Europeans outside of England (and the English will generally differentiate themselves from Europe as well) are a very healthy-looking people. They are thin. They walk a great deal. They are not pampered, rude or spoiled. Northern Europeans in particular are aware of rude American behaviors. Americans simply don't fit on their elevators and tend to speak when it's least desirable.

The individual in Europe analyzing the American's body language must shift their thinking however. The rude American is probably not as rude as they are being perceived to be. In fact, they might be behaving in a friendly, appreciative fashion...

And this is the problem people experience in reading body language. They misperceive because they have beliefs and preconceived notions about others.

Confrontation

Before leaving the Individualistic/Collectivist mindset and moving on to Power, consider how negotiation is impacted by these two broad ways of living.

When you have confrontation in a collectivist society, it might be best solved by a third party negotiator. Face saving (power retention) is very, very important in Asia. A third party can go a long way toward making everything work out when the one-on-one American style...works best in the United States.

Power in the U.S.

In the United States, it's almost traditional that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the further away from foot traffic of the hive is their office.

In the U.S., power is generally represented by BIG.

You walk into a spacious office where there is a significant distance from the door to oversized desk and when you arrive at the desk, you'll see that most of the space on the desk is territorially marked. If you can draw a line through all of the items on the perimeter of the desk you'd see there is very little space on the "visitor" side of the desk, even though the executive can't reach without straining to those items, creating the force field around the desk.

Power in the East

In Asia, when the person in power of a group issues a direction, an order, a suggestion....it gets done by the listener. It doesn't get questioned. (Sort of like growing up in my house when I was a kid...)

The United States falls in the middle of the Power Distance Ratio.

Power IS...

People think of power as money, authority or influence. All three are accurate. Sometimes they all go together, sometimes they don't. A teacher in Japan has a great deal of power, but not so much money.

The United States is a pretty sassy country. You can wield your opinion in front of the power elite within a group. That won't fly in Asia.

Meanwhile countries like New Zealand, Australia, the Scandinavian nations, Denmark and even the UK, all have a much "closer" Power/Distance Ratio. In these locales, challenging power/authority (outside of The Crown) is not frowned upon or something that will get you the "no" response.

Power and Body Presentation

A Japanese expression of power has only in the past decade moved to the United States.

In Japan, men often do their business at establishments designed to cater only to men. Asian women have a strong propensity to not look favorably on body hair.

While men do their business, they often have body hair removed.

After two million years of the hairy chest = masculinity... the current trend in America among those males who advertise (people consciously or nonconsciously placing themselves on the block as available for a relationship - regardless of whether they are in a relationship or not)...has begun to flip. That smooth look when combined with a body that has worked out has gained favor among those who are letting it be known they are available.

Will the trend last?

Impossible to tell. One thing is certain. In a lousy economy and a time when a lot of men have no prospects of value to a culturally changing woman who expects more on many levels...it's worth dropping the weight and the rest. Long-term, it's not as significant, but short-term, in 2014 it "works."

Power and The Face

The average American has dozens of facial expressions. Eight of those expressions consistently reveal a specific emotion. The differences and frequencies between men and women's expressions is broad.

Those faces revealing predictable emotions occur most often because they tend to be responded/reacted to with a fairly high degree of consistency by people in their presence. Blended emotions bring different facial expressions and different body language signals.

That's average.

There are also people who have trained their facial expressions and body language for specific purposes.

Example:

My grandfather was a Colonel when he retired from the military. He was also a Ph.D. and those who didn't refer to him as Colonel Hogan did refer to him as Dr. Hogan. He had authority with almost everyone.

That kind of "power" is not the power of money. It is the power of status.

His face had a handful of expressions that you and I share, but the difference between his and most others was undeniable... instant...dead on certain.

Many people would guess incorrectly how he felt about something but they never failed to do what he "suggested." I don't recall anyone outside of my Grandmother ever saying "no" to him. It was simply...not...possible...

The only person to disagree with him would have been me. Fortunately, I held great favor in his eyes or my life expectancy could have been shortened....

His face had only a few expressions. People with certain power and authority tend to display:

  • Frustration

  • Restrained Anger

  • Smile of Superiority

  • Smile

  • Calm

  • Determined

  • The Death Look (Contempt, Disgust and Anger all rolled into one)

There was no randomness about his expression. He was the opposite of a chameleon.

It was all shaped through intention and then it became part of who he was.

What didn't need to be read was attention, respect and compliance. When he spoke in even the most easiest going of tones you didn't question or consider the possibility of error. Everyone instantly complied. It was the greatest lesson of seeing how certainty loops and reinforces long after the uniform is removed, even after the Doctor has retired.

Reading a Colonel that always hears "yes, sir" is not like reading your next door neighbor.

It creates a certainty of presence...of certainty... that causes compliance in other people even though he was a difficult read.

Colonels and Doctors simply aren't wrong.

He was not tall. Perhaps 5' 9." His presence was 6' 8." He rarely yelled at anyone. He simply...looked up at someone and they moved.

Expressive and intense faces can be valuable or a curse.

Misunderstanding Facial Expressions

Uncertainty of what someone is thinking because they are not as expressive as the norm brings the downside of misunderstanding and not knowing where another person "stands" with them. The upside is that less expressive people often have greater clout and are seen as more certain. They also tend to stand out for better or worse in any group.

Meanwhile, the expressive individual or the person choosing to have expressiveness such as actor James Franco, has a more rich offering for people. They tend to be perceived as charming.

Facial expressiveness is molded in part genetically, part culturally, and finally behaviorally by choice and reaction within environments over time and in the moment.

Body Language of Men vs. Women

On average, women are far more expressive with their facial expression as well as their body language. Men, on average are much more difficult to read. Over 80% of kevinhogan.com customers who wish a body language analysis done on a photograph they possess are women asking for analysis of men. Men are simply easy to misunderstand.

Disappointing because men are pretty easy to understand. Ask any man what another man is thinking in reference to a woman and he'll do quite well on average. Men are driven by testosterone. Predictability is very high. Facial expressions however, are tougher to read.

Why?

Women were and are the caretakers of children. Facial expressions teach love, discipline and reinforce infant behavior. Facial expressions communicate to the newborn and carryover into everyday communication. Women without children are more difficult to read, but most people are relatively accurate in gauging women's emotions and mood. Most people are relatively poor estimators of men's emotions and moods.

Women smile a lot more than men.

Women are liked a lot more than men.

A Woman's Biggest Body Language Mistake

Women also tend to err to the side of smiling when others deem it inappropriate.

All things being equal, a woman who smiles is seen as likeable and perceived as easy to communicate with. That goes a long way in the world.

That said, the one thing men mis-perceive most in women in the business world, is their smile.

The cycle works like this:

  • Man is in room at office.

  • Woman smiles at man. (In her mind she is being pleasant and not flirting.)

  • If woman is desirable to man, he perceives this as a significant liking cue.

  • Behavior is repeated, cycle repeats.

  • Man "comes on stronger" to woman.

  • Woman, if she finds him not attractive, takes offense.

  • Man doesn't see past the initial 20 smiles to the present reactions and continues approaching woman.

  • Woman has man fired or files lawsuit, etc.

The other side of evolution at the office works like this.

  • Man sees woman in room.

  • Woman is uninterested in man as was the case above, but this time doesn't smile.

  • Behavior is repeated, cycle repeats.

  • Man sees woman as cold and "bitchy," regardless of any verbal behavior to the contrary.

So, at the office do men see women as mating partners, or bitches?

Well, there is a third side to the coin...it just doesn't land there very often.

What to do?

How to handle?

This is big and you can't legislate testosterone. (Geez, you actually could with medication, and scarily, there is someone in the Administration....ugh...)

Men Will Be Men

Heterosexual men ceasing to be men when evaluating (as in an object) women is like asking people to switch religion....just because that's the way it is. Men ceasing to evaluate and not act on the evaluation (positive or negative) only goes on for so long before the fuse runs out.

Ultimately, no matter the amount of self monitoring, men will behave as men if they are attracted to a specific woman....for better or worse...

There is, however, a benefit to the remainder of the people in the presence of the woman - his behavior will improve in general toward others in the environment!

On the personal level, if the woman finds the man unattractive (or, on the rare occasion where she finds him attractive but doesn't want his "attention") she can manage "the situation" by not smiling and not reciprocating ANY touch behaviors beyond a quick "hello" hand shake.

Body Language and The Personal Lens

Men view the world through the lens of a man.

He doesn't smile much.

He hides his feelings most of the time.

He touches people to a very minimal degree and rarely those who he doesn't like.

He uses far fewer words in the day than a woman does.

Therefore, when a woman smiles at a man, talks to a man, touches a man or expresses ANY feelings, positive or negative, verbally or nonverbally, the man observes the woman as "liking him" A LOT, and "finding him attractive."

A Woman's Counterpoint

What's a woman to do?

Women (those to whom men are typically attracted to) can simply choose to not smile at men.

And in all seriousness, you have to avoid touch, avoid standing near, avoid communication referencing feelings - though not opinions - about pretty much anything. All of these things are key liking (as in mating) signals men are perceiving.

Testosterone Drives Behavior - Verbal and Non-Verbal

Testosterone drives behavior and it drives nonverbal behavior. It inhibits smiling in men. The most common facial expression when testosterone is high is that of anger.

Often that image of anger is "preparatory." It's not a choice anymore than a woman's period is her "choice." It is biology. That means when the engine is running, a facial expression of anger is predictable and any smile is significantly more likely to be "plastic."

Men, far more often than not, don't smile when the engine is running; and when their testosterone count is higher, they become "harder to read" outside of the sexual desire arena. Turning the engine "off" is very difficult.

If the woman doesn't want the man's engine on, its best she discourages it starting in the first place. In fact, that is the only reliable strategy.

In A Relationship?

Meanwhile, in sexual relationships that are ongoing, it turns out that the facial image of anger in the man is as normal as the smile of the woman. This doesn't mean he is not angry or prepared to be angry, he is likely one or the other, but the face is EASY to misinterpret as to specifics.

You can know that most anger results because of sexual intention of some kind, now or predicted to happen somewhere along the line.

Both men and women read men's anger in random situations, as more intense, than women's anger. (Part of this could be because not everyone has been married...)

And finally....something for you to work on that is very important...

Body Language and Fear

Both women and men see angry faces in women...as often indicating fear in addition to anger.

People see women angry and they not only see anger...they see fear.

Predators prey on stuff like this...it's worth sitting back and evaluating how predators are evaluating YOU or your wife, or your daughter or Mother.

Anger often = Fear as perceived in women by both women and men.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts