Clinton: We had a great response when we spoke about body language on the program a few weeks ago that there is actually so much more to discuss on this topic. Let’s have another look at it.
Jill: Yes it’s interesting isn’t it you know body language is one of those. It’s just about how people communicate. And it’s also you know a lot of it’s unconscious. And you know all of those little signals you know subtle movements, hand gestures. I know that if I think if I cut my hands off I would be absolutely mute. Absolutely mute.
Annie: We could all look forward to that. We have Alan Peace with us today who wrote the book Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps. Thanks for joining us Alan.
Alan: I also wrote the definitive book of body language.
Annie: Yeah exactly. And that’s what we want to talk to you about today. So when it comes to body language are we born with particular gesture preferences or are they learned?
Alan: Well most gesture movements, that is movements of the body are learned culturally. But there are things that we’re born with. We’re born with the ability to recognize a smile and it comes from the ancient part of the brain. The limbic part. Monkeys and Chimps do this too. We’re the only land animal that shows it’s teeth that doesn’t bite next. Did you know that?
Jill: No, that’s interesting.
Alan: If a dog smiles at you what’s going to happen. It’s going to bite you. So if you’ve got sharp pointed teeth which means you attack other animals showing your teeth is an aggression signal. If you’ve got vegetarian herbivore teeth which is what we’ve got and chimps are monkey’s have when we show them it’s a submission signal. So we’re born with the ability to recognize that for survival because if your ancestor couldn’t recognize a happy friendly person versus an angry one they’d be killed. So things like that. Like eyebrow flashing. Which is, just try this, raise your eyebrows for a split second and drop them down. Now that’s the most common gesture in the entire world. And the evidence shows that we’re born with this because baby’s age 48 hours will look at adults and they’ll flash their eyebrows at them. It’s an eye widening signal which means I see you.
Jill: Isn’t that interesting. And sort of how important is that first impression you get when you come up and you meet somebody and you know as far as the body language is concerned.
Alan: It’s critical. I mean if you’re out there to convince I’ll get a date or go for a job for example in the first four minutes of meeting a new person they form up to 90 percent of their impression about you. And 60 to 80 percent of all the impact that they’re receiving from you is my you look, appear and behave. So think about some of your mates. They’re in trouble right.
Clinton: Well many of the political pundits will say that the downfall of Mark Latham when he was labour leader in his now infamous election campaign moment with John Howard was when he went to shake John Howard’s hand as they both came out of a radio studio.
Jill: Yes. That followed him forever. It’s followed him hasn’t it.
Clinton: Was that an aggressive act in some way Alan.
Alan: Well absolutely. I mean the current modern handshake goes back to the Roman era where it looked like arm wrestling. Almost like a double high five. And whoever had the strongest arm would have his arm slightly and hand slightly on top of the other guy. And everybody would say oh he’s got the upper hand. The upper hand is from Roman arm wresting.
Clinton: Ah, that’s where it comes from. The upper hand.
Jill: So what sort of aspects of another person’s body language are we reading and sort of what does it tell us.
Alan: Well we’re reading a number of things. We’re the more they like us or don’t like us the greater the distance. So if they don’t like you when they meet you they’ll stand further back or they’ll lean back. And if you move forward to try and space it up if they’re not getting on with you they’ll keep stepping backwards. In terms of gestures, the most asked question I get about that is how you know if somebody is lying. Well if they’re Europeans or Western that is not Asians because Asian people don’t do this, they lie differently. Hand to face and hand to nose contact increases dramatically when you’re not telling the truth. So if I say that I listen to your show all the time and I rub my nose would you believe me?
Annie: Yeah of course I would because it’s such a good show.
Alan: This is a narcissistic problem going on here.
Jill: We have to deal with this.
Alan: But anybody who saw me do that would say he’s lying. But the danger is I might have had an itchy nose or bad breath from that garlic from lunch. So what you got to do is make sure you don’t take any one gesture and say it’s got a meaning. Take at least three. We call it a cluster.
Annie: And do these gestures change as we get older, do they become more subtle?
Alan: Yes they do. In fact at five years of age a five year old child has a vocabulary of 2000 words. So you’ve got a relatively capable vocabulary. But they’ve got an entire gestural category to be able to communicate. So that’s why the younger the kids are or the lower your vocabulary range the more you use gestures and expressions to make up for the fact you haven’t got the words. So as you get older that’s what kids have difficulty lying to their mums. But as you get older you get more and more words you use less gestures. So a 60 year old is more likely to lie with their voice and not use the gestures as much so they’re harder to pick than they are for a five year old.
Jill: Right. And as people age and their bodies age and their body language I assume adapts to that aging body. I mean does this sort of impact on their communication?
Alan: Well it does because 60 to 80 percent of all face to face communication whatever age your’re at is done with gestures, movements and expressions. The only place that it starts to become different is where the couple have been together for a long time. Lets say they’re in their 50s or 60s and they’re married 20 30 40 years. When they’re together you’ll notice they don’t speak much. And the reason they don’t speak is because subtle gestures are indicating what the other person’s feeling and the first one can read it. And as they’re older you’re also likely to know what she’s likely to be thinking and that’s why couples who just met for the first don’t shut up and wave their arms a lot. Couples married a long time in the theatre without talking and people think they must be really unhappy but they’re not. They’re communicating without moving or saying anything.
Clinton: Fantastic to have you on the show. Thanks for your time Alan.
Jill: That was so much fun, thanks Alan.
Clinton: Alan Peace make sure you get a hold of his book it’s Why Men Don’t Listen don’t agree with that please and Women Can’t Read Maps. That’s accurate.