Body language is much more eloquent than words

Q. Over the last year, I have been repeatedly surprised by the hidden agendas of my boss, coworkers and clients. They say one thing and then do another. I do listen carefully to what people say. How can I figure out what is really going on without being psychic?

A. Only 7 percent of what people at work actually mean can be found in their words. The rest of the content can only be understood if you pay attention to the tone of voice and body language of the people in your office.

There are two brain levels that influence how people act. The first, our rational mind, is who we think we are. The selection of words is made by our rational mind. The second, and far more powerful level, is our unconscious mind. Our unconscious influences our body language and tone of voice.

The most difficult part of understanding human beings is that we all are relatively unaware of our unconscious mind. Other people often attempt to give us feedback that we sounded angry, or appeared hurt, but mostly we will deny this information. However, these subterranean emotional currents that flow through our unconscious mind are the prime drivers behind our behavior.

We tend to be good at rationalizing our unconscious behavior. For instance, we say we didn't want to scold a coworker; we just wanted to be helpful. We may explain that we didn't want to publicly embarrass our controlling boss; we corrected him in public because we were being accurate. We have a million ways to avoid acknowledging that we actually were mad, sad or scared, because these unconscious emotional reactions seem immature.

In your next boring meeting, try this experiment. Tune out the words and just watch the body language and tone of voice. What do you suddenly notice about the agendas of the people in the meeting that you would have missed before?

You can see how confusing it is for all of us to walk around receiving and giving communications where we say one thing but actually mean another. To add to this complexity, if someone else tries to point out our body language or tone, we'll get mad and deny the validity of those data.

So how can we listen when the body talks without getting in trouble? Start by pretending people don't mean what they say and watch their body language and tone of voice like a hawk. Don't confront anyone with your new amazing insights about their unconscious. Do proceed by using the information you just gathered to see others' hidden agendas and real goals.

Also pay close attention to what people around you tell you about your unconscious communication. Rather than getting annoyed next time someone says you looked or sounded upset, contemplate this person may be picking up your nonverbal communication. We can get to know our unconscious if we stop defending who we think we are and start listening to how others experience us.

We all leak out a symphony of meaning in our facial expressions and vocal intonations that are dramatically more accurate than the words we say. When you have to pick between listening when the body talks and believing the words, go with the body language and you'll rarely be wrong.

Q. I sacrifice a lot to do an amazing job at work, and I'm not seeing any rewards. Don't companies reward the employees who work the most and do the best job?

A. No, companies reward employees who do a good job but also have a clear contract about what they are getting back. If you don't negotiate your rewards you are just engaging in martyr-dumb.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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