One of the most over-used, and least meant, phrases you hear people say when asked how they are doing is “I’m fine.” Hhmm…“I’m fine,”…really?! If you are on the receiving end of such a response, you might do a quick assessment of your companion’s body language, or nonverbal communication, to determine if that is truly an accurate statement. After all, most people have a tendency to wear their heart on their sleeve, whether they realize it or not.
Clearly if a person’s clothes are disheveled, they seem to be having a really bad hair day, there is a wild look in their eye, and they are snapping at everyone around them, it is safe to assume they are not in fact “fine.” Same goes for the person who is very giddy, can’t stop giggling, is smiling ear to ear, and looks like they are about to explode from excitement. There is also the person who is sweating in a well air-conditioned room, complaining of a headache, and then gets so dizzy they need to sit down. Regardless of how well you know someone, when there is noticeably strange behavior, anyone can tell how much a stretch the “I’m fine” answer is.
What about the not so obvious behaviors? Actions that might not be picked up by the untrained, acquaintance-only eye? There are subtle things a person might do that gives away the fact that not all is as “fine” as they’re words would lead you to believe. The better you know someone, the easier it is to determine if the physical message matches the verbal one.
If your long-time colleague who is normally very organized has a very confused look on their face while searching for the file for that important business meeting you have in 5 minutes; or your dear friend who inevitably brings up the same topic every time you talk but when it comes up during lunch they look uncomfortable, get fidgety, and then quickly change the subject; or your spouse who kisses you goodbye as they leave for work every morning walks right by you this morning saying “Have a great day” over their shoulder as they close the door, you might consider that all is not so “fine.” Given, the person might just be distracted by something, but whatever it is, it’s enough to make you go “Hmmm.”
This is true for those people we know. But what about those people we don’t know? For example, you are at a public venue and see a person that seems to have a slight frown on their face, who walks briskly to their seat, barely looking at anyone. You might determine that this person is either unapproachable or has a superiority complex, which may lead you decide to steer clear of their immediate vicinity. Just then you run into a mutual friend that tells you this person is actually really nice and lots of fun! You glance back at the object of evaluation and think to yourself that you will just take your friend’s word for it.
Body language can be key in understanding a person’s mood, behavior, or attitude. By the same token, it is one of the tools we use to size up people we don’t know at all. Truthfully though, this method of assessment is a lot less accurate in situations such as these.
Either way, a person’s body language always speaks first, louder, and last in a conversation. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. No matter what a person says, it will always be weighed against their nonverbal communication. If they don’t match, the nonverbal will win every time.