Understand What Every BODY Is Saying First, Then Listen to What Every Mouth Is Saying
As I’ve immersed myself into a world where I’m not a native speaker of those around me here in Mexico, I’ve found myself having to rely on using body language to get by as I still struggle to understand everything people are saying. Of course, I would love to be able to speak and understand Spanish as they do, but that’s a process that will only come with persistence and time.
My spidey senses tell me that some of you can relate to this pain…
It’s very easy to get frustrated and lose confidence, I realize, as no matter how much work we put in to improve our non-native language, there’s always more we can learn. But what if I told you that there’s a language that everyone already speaks natively? And that by understanding it, we can become more confident in any situation.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
First, I’d like to remind everyone that words were derived from actions, and not the other way around. Consider the quote from Nassim Taleb’s book Skin in the Game, “you do not need science to survive…but you must survive to do science.” We’ve always done things to survive, and we later came up with words to describe those actions, among other things.
I’d like for you to keep this in mind as we proceed.
It’s also important to note that almost everyone has a different understanding of what any particular word actually means. A large portion of the population was more concerned about what was for lunch, or how they would approach their crush after school, instead of paying attention in their high school English [or insert your native language] class.
Everyone knows the old adage “actions speak louder than words.” The saying is very true, no doubt about it. However, I believe that many people haven’t considered the meaning of “actions” when it comes to conversations.
Have you ever considered that a smile is an action? What about considering scratching your head, adjusting yourself in your chair, and crossing your legs, all as actions? These are for the most part unconscious actions that we all do, particularly when we’re uncomfortable, or lack confidence in what we’re saying.
These actions (aka information) are all there in plain sight to be observed by the person we’re conversing with. The positive action listed above, a smile, generally doesn’t go unnoticed. I would argue that the rest are generally “heard” (seen), but not “listened to” (understood/paid attention to).
Pain Is the Signal, Happiness Is the Noise
We know what’s wrong better than we know what’s right. This is the idea of negative advice (via negativa). The “father” of Roman poetry, Quintus Ennius, later echoed by Cicero, wrote it as “the good is not as good as the absence of bad.”
In the case of a smile, it’s always pleasant to see. There are many reasons for someone to smile, however, so there’s some amount of noise surrounding the smile. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it was that we said that caused them to smile, but it also doesn’t really matter (if it is a genuine smile, that is). Whatever we said worked, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But when someone begins showing signs of discomfort, they are sending you a pure signal via their body. Pain and discomfort are the mothers of all signals. Most of the time, they won’t tell you they’re uncomfortable with their words, as we humans are champions of putting on a brave face. It’s a survival mechanism that has helped us make it this far, and is hardwired into our brains. This is why it’s so important to be able to understand and interpret body language.
Think about the times you’re having a friendly conversation with some friends. 98% of the time everyone is laughing, smiling, and having a good time. Then all of the sudden, Bob asks Linda what she thinks of Tim. Suddenly Linda is crossing her legs and stroking her hair as she calmly says “I’m not sure yet.” Mmmmhmmmm, sure you don’t know yet, Linda.
What about those business lunches? For the vast majority of the time, the mood is positive, mostly because food is involved. Both parties know the reason they’re there, but both make the conscious decision to add a bunch of fluff (how have you been? how are the kids? what’s new?) before getting down to brass tax—how much will it cost?
When the real questions come up, generally that involve money, you will often see someone begin to adjust themselves in their chair, or begin to scratch their head as they say these things. Have you ever wondered why this itch, or adjustment in the chair, just so happens to coincide with the exact time money is brought up? Think about it.
Confidence Comes From Within; Study Yourself Before Others
The most important thing that you can do is to understand what your body is saying while you are speaking in uncomfortable situations, or situations in which you’re not confident to be in. At the end of the day, the only thing that you have full control of is yourself. How can you be in full control if you don’t even know what your body is saying?
If you have any doubt as to why it’s more important to focus on being in control of your body language before your spoken language, I refer you back to my previous piece The Emotional Brain Is What Runs the Shop, Not the Logical Brain.
If you study what your body is saying, and become familiar with what it is saying in the most critical moments, like when you’re not confident or you’re uncomfortable, you will begin to be able to control it more. You will become conscious and aware that you’re feeling uncomfortable, and be able to make adjustments that help you feel more confident.
How can you do this? Video record yourself. Check out this piece I wrote that tells you exactly what to do.
You will also begin to notice that others’ bodies say the same things that your body says when they’re nervous or lack confidence. This will open up an entirely new world for you. Have patience though, as it takes time to learn this language.