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How to read the gestures of others?



Virginie Graziani

Talent Management & Synergologist

17 September 2019

Reading Time: 5 minutes


We are constantly communicating with our bodies in an unconscious way. It is completely natural to us. All psychologists agree that this body language is much more important than our verbal communication. Indeed, the non-verbal language sends out many signals, whether through our gestures or our posture. Apostrof introduces you to the understanding of our body language.


Putting gestures into context


Decoding body language is a fascinating subject. However, it is true that you have to be careful and patient, because it is not easy to put the theory into practice. After an initiation and/or training, we advise you to practice a lot.

As in any discipline, experience and practice allow you to develop an expertise. Indeed, at the beginning it is not easy to capture all the gestures, the mimics to be observed as well as the significant expressions.

Moreover, not all situations are conducive to the analysis of non-verbal communication. In order to debug, we advise you to be solely an observer of a situation. Indeed, our presence and the context can modify the attitude of the person you wish to decipher.

Sometimes it is difficult to judge a person at a specific moment, especially when we have no knowledge of the classic behaviour of a person. For example, in a recruitment interview, the candidate is keen to show his or her best side.

On the other hand, the stress or even anxiety of some candidates can lead them to have nervous attitudes of submission or withdrawal. Also, it is important to take into account the communication situation which can interfere with the gestures.

This is why it is essential to put the person you are talking to at ease, whatever the context. The aim is to establish a relationship that is as natural and authentic as possible. This also means that both parties must give themselves up in a certain way.


Do not jump to conclusions


Be careful not to be too quick to interpret the non-verbal behaviour of your interlocutors. At the beginning mistakes are easy, especially because the body moves a lot and quickly. This complicates the interpretation, so it is best not to be too quick to label others.

The best thing is to observe first, leaving aside your first impressions and prejudices, because we all have them. Human nature is like that: we often see only what we want to see. This is part of the filter through which we perceive the world.

So once you have formed an opinion of the other person, you will then look for all the elements that will confirm this first impression. This is the cognitive confirmation bias, which makes us ignore everything that does not correspond to our perception and/or opinion.

The easiest way to decode the other person’s behaviour is to study his or her gestures using a funnel. The idea is to start from the broadest to the most precise. Once you have identified the key elements of an individual’s general appearance, you analyse their movements and gestures with greater precision.

Beware also of the many possible interpretations of a situation. Indeed, in addition to the context, the environment is very important in the interpretation of body language. Edward T. Hall’s concept of proxemia explains well this notion of space which delimits our territory from that of our interlocutor.

Finally, the systemic approach is also an important notion that comes into play. Indeed, the individual evolves within a system. To adopt a systemic approach, it is essential to consider and understand the problem as a whole. The behaviour of an individual is therefore also a function of the behaviour of the other people around him.


Exercising observation skills


To begin with, practice observing. We have never learned to look carefully at the other person. This new way of paying attention to the other person develops and is refined over time. And the learning curve can be steep.

To make it easier, practice first with people you know professionally and/or personally. This is easier, simply because you are used to their ways. As a result, your interpretations will be more accurate and subtle.

A good knowledge of the non-verbal behaviour of those you meet every day is already an excellent start to analysing the gesture language of other people. Indeed, you can quickly detect when a friend or your spouse is not doing well.

The interesting thing is to try to put a name to the clues that led you to this conclusion. However, as with all learning, you will make mistakes at the beginning, either by focusing on unimportant things and/or missing significant ones.

In any case, remember that non-verbal communication is not a completely open window on the other person either. However, your ability to gather information will help you to delve deeper into the other person’s emotional state, to clarify assumptions about their intentions or to react in a way that is relevant to the situation.


The secrets of body language


Mistakes in recruitment, management and negotiation are costly. On a daily basis, your colleagues, managers, peers and leaders are also trying to decipher your intentions and emotions through your verbal and non-verbal cues. Know how you are perceived by your professional environment, whether it is at the first meeting or every time you arrive in a colleague’s office.

Do you want to stop misjudging an individual? Do you need to better identify risks in others? You’ve come to the right place.

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RH Consulting – Talent Management
Scientific evaluation of skills and potential

Expert in the evaluation and development of resources, skills and potential, Apostrof helps you make the right decisions regarding recruitment, annual interviews, professional training, organisation of operational staff, career management and professional development, succession plans and high potential..

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