Is she cold, or angry?

Is she cold, or angry?

Single gestures by themselves can not reveal the true meaning of the situation. There are many more factors that play into reading people then just identifying single cues. When people move, they are fluid and changing, so too are their moods and context. One must use the full picture to discover the story. The ‘rule of four’, congruency, context, baselining, and intuition are the five cardinal rules that any body language master must abide by and we cover them next.

The Rule Of Four In Body Language

The rule of four, and it’s an important one, says that you can’t attach meaning to a single gesture and accurately judge a person. The rule of four calls on us to read cues alongside other cues commonly referred to as “cue clusters” before drawing conclusions. The more cues that appear in association with other cues, the more accurate one can be about the underlying meaning. It isn’t impossible to see cue clusters in the six’s and sevens or higher. However, most agree that four independent signals are enough to positively identify true meaning.

Are there enough cues to justify a conclusion in this case?

Are there enough cues to justify a conclusion in this case?

Congruence In Body Language

The word congruence, as it relates to body language, refers to the degree to which body language cues in a person matches one another in terms of their meaning. If, for example, one is speaking honestly with the palms up (an honest gesture) we can say that the body language and verbal language are congruent. That is, honest words match up with honest body language. A child with their hands in their pockets (dishonest gesture) speaking about how they didn’t steal a cookie is incongruent since their body language does not match their verbal language.

Context In Body Language

Context is another important factor to consider while reading people. We often hear about verbal statements that are taken out of context, and in this same way, we can take nonverbal language out of context as well. “That guy was obviously lying, he was scratching his face and neck and could barely sit still” might be accurate when being grilled by a panel of the media over missing fund money, but in the context of being attacked by a swarm of killer bees, not accurate at all! Concluding that someone is cold hearted from a single meeting is another case of ignoring context. We often think people are shy after a first meeting, but are surprised that over time they open up and are actually quite expressive and talkative.

Baselining In Body Language

Baselining is probably one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of reading body language. It refers to the “normal” motions that populate the repertoire of each and every person on the planet. “Normal” here is the operative word. We can’t even begin to read someone until we first have their baseline pegged. For example, to read someone that is normally flighty and constantly moving, as agitated, is wrong since they are merely acting out their particular “idiosyncratic nonverbal behaviour.” That is, the body language that is particular to specific people and that makes up their repertoire, or basket of cues, considered normal for them. By establishing a baseline it will be possible to catch sudden changes in body language. This is the ultimate purpose to establishing a person’s baseline. Without catching the changes, body language loses its ability to indicate exactly what is going on.

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