How to use emotional intelligence to read body language

How to use emotional intelligence to read body language

Did you know only 7% of your communication comes from the actual words you say? 7%! That means the rest of what you are communicating is non-verbal, be it tone or pitch of voice, facial expressions or overall body language. And did you know that it is our emotional intelligence that interprets body language (both of others and our own)?

Think about it, what do you auto assume when you see someone with crossed arms = closed or defensive. What about a big smile that radiates into their eyes = happy, excited. When you hear someone saying something but through their tone pick up an underlying meaning that is entirely different? Passive aggression anyone? Look at how you’re sitting or standing right now, what do you think you would be communicating to a passer-by?

Body language – reading beyond the words

Let’s stop and think on it some more a moment. How do you think this might be impacting your daily life? How quickly do you make a judgement when you meet someone? Do you ever assess a situation before a single person talks? Ask if someone’s sure they’re ok after they’ve already said they’re fine? Mentioned how something just didn’t seem the same when you saw X last, even though they told you all was well?

Taking it even one step further. Have you ever read a text or e-mail and it’s come across as shouty (caps) or cold/impersonal (no sign off)? Or and we’ve all made this mistake (she says hopefully) put an ‘X’ at the end of an email to a colleague – sends a whole different vibe right?

You are constantly reading beyond the words, looking for signals and signs that give you more information. Why? Well, that’s connected to our social status in the human race and how we managed perfectly well for hundreds of years without the written word or long speeches. With only grunts and ‘noises’ to communicate between ourselves in the early days of our evolution. This can still be seen today in interactions with our babies – them crying, us cooing. As well with animals, how many of you would say you talk to your cat/dog all the time and feel you understand each other? I know my Beagle relaxes when I speak to him in a cool, calm tone and only gets excited when I shout Nooooooooooo!!!!! Even if I KNOW he understands the words!!

Therefore you are highly attuned to hear the tone in someone’s voice, see the change in someone’s face, read even the smallest of twitch’s or be able to tell when the words don’t match the eyes. You are able to walk into a room of strangers and see who is comfortable, alpha, uptight, tired … All before a word is spoken.

How can you use emotional intelligence

How emotionally intelligent are you?

The more you are aware of these cues and signals the more ‘Emotionally intelligent’ you are. This has become quite buzzy of late. Emotional intelligence was defined by Peter Salovey and John Mayer, as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour”. We’ve all been doing it for centuries in reality. However perhaps with our less socially connected and more technologically connected world, we’re less in tune with our natural abilities.

So how can you be more emotionally intelligent?

Using your emotional intelligence

○ Don’t just listen but look. When you’re next talking to someone face to face, look at; their face, their eyes, eyebrows, hand gestures – animated or disengaged, how are they standing or sitting? Upright, slouched. What are your senses telling you about how this person is feeling right now? & then, does that connect with the words they are saying? Does it align with the tone of voice they are using?

○ Do the exercise on yourself too. Consider what signals you are sending out to the people you communicate with, are you in alignment? Or is your body giving away a truth you’re not speaking? Are you lying to yourself even?

○ Practice, practice, practice & build that emotional intelligence.

Some other (but not always easy) techniques you can deploy:

○ Eye contact, the more eye contact you have with someone, the more trust it builds as it shows you are listening and engaged with what they are saying.

○ Have an open posture e.g. avoid crossed arms and crossed legs. An open, relaxed posture shows you are not closed to what a person is trying to talk to you about.

○ Look interested! Nobody wants to see someone checking their phone, yawning, looking out the window etc, show someone they have your full attention.

○ Greet people with a smile, there’s nothing more off-putting than starting a meeting with someone wondering if you even want to be there!

○ & odd but true: try not to touch your face. This is associated with lying e.g. putting your hand over your mouth as if to cover the truth or playing with your hair as a distraction.

How can emotional intelligence serve you?

Well, the possibilities of using emotional intelligence are endless in all aspects of your working and personal life because they ALL involve lots and lots of, daily communication.

Here’s one exercise you can try, to help you build rapport with another person. Whilst we don’t all have to get along and like each other – it would be nice right? And ever so useful as a start for any relationship and that always starts with rapport; ‘an ability to understand and communicate with each other’.

This exercise is called ‘matching’.

How to use the “matching” exercise

Start by listening to the person you are communicating with, to their tone, pitch, rhythm and speed of words. Then extend this to their body, what facial expressions are they making, what are they doing with their hands? How are they sat/stood? Then when it is your turn to talk … Start to match their ‘language’. Their pace and tone, how they use their hands and the way they are in their body.

This sends a direct, unspoken message to the other person. It sends a signal that they are being heard and that you are like them. Someone they can trust and we all know trust is the foundation of any good relationship.

Now, this exercise is not intended to be an ongoing technique or used constantly with the same person. It is not intended to be fake or manipulative. But it can be used in a good and honest way at the start of an interview or date (when you want to show you like someone).

Or it can be deployed when someone is emotional, including anger – by matching their style and then ‘changing it’. For example, if someone is all riled up about something, angry, unable to see beyond the fire of that; by matching their style (likely impassioned, pacey, lively) and then start to slow it down, take some of the heat out of it, you can actually give them a break from the emotion they are feeling and the space to think more clearly than they can in any heightened state. When used with good intention, matching is a wonderful and easy technique to help you in any relationship, in any situation.

Instant confidence booster

It’s also a real confidence booster, absolutely playing into the ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ school of thinking. Try it for yourself … Reading this, right now slouch over, maybe rest your head in your hands and look down. How does that feel?

Now try sitting upright, straighten your spine, lift your head and relax your shoulders away from your head and down. How does that feel? Can you tell the difference? It’s a teeny, tiny, but very important boost to your confidence & self esteem, even though absolutely zero has changed on your thinking and how you may feel inside (which doesn’t matter at all to the person looking at you), as all they see is this calm, relaxed but confident posture in front of them.

Why don’t you try and see how being more consciously emotionally intelligent can serve you?

Need some further support on how to use your body language to boost your confidence and self-esteem? Click the button below to schedule a free discovery call and let’s chat about how I can help.


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