Body language is like verbal and written language; it has structure. Body language flows, it has its own rhythm, vocabulary, grammar and punctuation. Some gesture are single letters which join with others to form words right on up to formulate full sentences and phrases until we finally reach full ideas and meaning. Part of the way things come together is connected to congruence, meaning that the overall body of language comes together seamlessly. Just like someone might have poor written grammar, some people have poor nonverbal language, sometimes even dramatically so leading to even more drastic consequences.
We are all born understanding the basics of body language and have the minds to master it, but none of us are born ready emitting perfect body language. Instead we learn body language like we learn to speak, by observation and practice. ‘Naturals’, as it were, may only exist because instead of ignoring body language like most people do, they bring it to consciousness early on and follow successful example around them. Their minds are subconsciously prepared to imitate good postures and appear in control and confident. As we will see, good body language isn’t something you are either born with, or must be without forever. It can be learned.
I recall a time when my wife and I were visiting a fellow who was giving away a second hand washing machine which would I would use for a rental apartment. His body language made him appear inept and he came across as awkward. He’d cross his arms when I was talking and when I’d make a point, he would do his best to contradict me. He’d lean in too close and his body odor was overpowering. This person had no reason to be dishonest, he explained that he needed the space in his house for another project. We took the machine because at the time we needed it, however since he gave us such a negative impression we still don’t know, to this day, if the machine works or not. I’ve never hooked it up or used it! My wife and I got a terrible impression of the guy and the feeling attached itself to everything about him including his free washer. It didn’t affect us while we were there, but as soon as we left, we were able to verbalize reasons for storing, instead of using the machine. We simply didn’t trust that the machine would work properly despite his verbal assurances, and instead of taking the energy to move it into the basement to test it, we stored it in the garage and purchased a new set. His body language told us that something must be wrong with the washing machine, that perhaps it ruined clothing or leaked and he just wanted some sucker to help him dispose of the machine. Other people who aren’t studied in body language but finding themselves in a similar situation would have concluded that their ‘gut feeling’ was off. Since I could read his cues, it was obvious to me why I didn’t trust him, but I did have to explain to my wife why she felt so uneasy.
This story illustrates the point about the strength of nonverbal body language and how salient and important it is. Even though the result was at no cost to him (and little cost to me), if he had been a commissioned salesman, or salesman of any sort, he would have lost the deal with certainty.