Robert Phipps has written a very thought provoking book about body language. He is an expert in his field giving insight on TV in the Trisha Goddard Shows, Big Brother’s Little Brother, The 5 O’clock Show – to name a few.
His book is called “Body Language – its what you don’t say that matters”
The first books on body language were written for actors, where it was always known as non verbal communication. It wasn’t until around 1968 when Desmond Morris first coined the term Body Language. Desmond was a zoologist who compared our human behaviour with that of Apes. He noted how similar we are in terms of facial expressions, our groups, territory’s, the way we interact…. Desmond was really interested in the physical gestures and he termed this the language of the body, so it became body language.
The Australian, Allan Pease has been very influential in Roberts thinking. He came from a sales background and later wrote with his wife, “Why men don’t listen and women can not read maps”. Amy Cuddy, did a TED talk on power poses and how body language shapes who you are. There is some great information out there and it is wonderful to listen to different perspectives around the subject.
Body language is such a wide topic, you can look at the way people smile, how close they stand to you or what accessories they use as barriers. You can look at body language with respect to business or personal relationships. Human beings are all around us all of the time. You can sit in a coffee shop and just watch. It is not just about facial expressions but also gestures and body stance as they are all connected.
If somebody crossed their arms and smiled at you – that could be a bit confusing, as according to a lot of people, when you cross your arms you are being negative. But if you have a smile on your face… are you being negative? Well that depends upon the smile because we have 27 different smiles. Not all smiles are good – you get a sideways smile, a tongue in cheek smile, a sarcastic smile, a contemptuous smile. During genuine smiles the corners of the lips curl up to reach the eyes. There are some muscles that only work when you are expressing a genuine emotion. The muscle around the corner of the lips pulls your lips up towards the corners of your eyes and the muscles around the corner of your eye pull the corners of your eyes down to meet the corners of your lips… which is why you get those very rounded faces when people are genuinely smiling.
Most body language is decoded unconsciously. But not everybody sees it. Micro expressions last less than a quarter of a second. All these things happen, it is just a case of whether or not you pick up on them. Some people are really good at decoding but it’s not instinctive, it is learnt over years. In childhood watching others helps us adopt mannerisms. Children are great at copying what their parents are doing!
Body Language is learned from everyone around you, wherever you are growing up and this continues throughout life. Have you heard the term Fake it till you make it? where you adopt peoples body language, or perhaps style of clothing to take yourself away from who you are now to who you want to be. Taking control of your body language definitely produces different results. You become aware of your own body language and how you put yourself across to the world and you become aware of the world and how it is putting itself across to you. Just by having that knowledge gives you more control.
You stands for who you are and where you are at this point and how you perceive the world. So you need to take a good look at yourself. Then you can start Observing. Look around at what other people are doing consciously. We then Decode. What does all this that I have seen actually mean? Once you have decoded it, then you have a choice of how you behave. You can then carry on as you were or Adapt your behaviour.
And it is the last part which is the important bit … Adapt. There is no point in understanding anything about body language unless it is useful to you and gives you choices in the way you behave or deal with people.
When you are observing, what do you look for?
To start with, look at the things that you notice most. Is it peoples hands or the way they look at you? … or not look at you? In the UK we tend to look at people about 65% of the time when we are interacting. So anything different you have to ask Why am I getting less or more? Look at some of the big things. Are the smiles genuine or appropriate to conversation?
An environment alone can change someones body language. Imagine how you would feel walking into a court room… a place of authority. In an office environment, people would act differently with their boss than they would having a drink with their boss in a bar.
If you are nervous about going into a meeting, using body language to act as if you are confident will make you more confident. Studies have shown that if you act in a certain way for more than 7 minutes you tend to adopt that emotion and that state of being. It is not automatic but you have to think about it to adapt your own response.
What are the common mistakes people make in decoding?
We need to look at our own awareness – do I often get the meaning of the body language right? Do I say the wrong things at the wrong time, or am I socially awkward? How do people react to me? We have to look at where we are at this point in our life and how people have reacted to us. How often we think we get these things right and then we have a base line as to who we are and how well we read body language or how well we put ourselves across to others.
Verbal and non-verbal responses are difficult to separate as they are intrinsically linked. We express emotions feelings and thoughts through our words which are accompanied by body movement. Sometimes you don’t actually have to say a word. Just rolling your eyes gives a clear body message.
How do I train myself to read body language better?
Robert used to sit watching people and make his mind up about what he thought was going on. Then he would go over to people, explaining that he was learning about body language and had been watching them – he couldn’t hear what they were saying, but based on what he saw he would ask the people if his deductions were right. Most people were very positive to this and Robert was able to gauge how accurate he was.
A good way to improve your body language reading skills is to record political programmes. Political shows are always trying to get a perception across to us at home as the people have an agenda. You can look and observe what you see with the sound off. What emotions you think they are trying to express, what they are trying to portray and get us, the public, to believe? Then watch the same thing with the sound up and you can see how accurate you were in what you thought was happening as to what they are actually saying and trying to put across.
If you look at soaps, soap actors tend to overact with their facial expressions. This is done deliberately so you can pick up on how that person is supposed to be feeling on screen. You can do the same here – watch it with the sound off and make up you mind what is going on between the actors. Again when you watch it with the sound up you will have a very good idea about how close you are. Recording and viewing these programmes in this way will give you a base line as to where you are.
What about me and my body language, how do I get a grip of it?
You can stand in front of a full length mirror and talk, and imagine you were talking to a friend…. or doing a presentation at work, or at a wedding function, whatever situation you chose. Look at what you are doing with your body language. The other way is to simply video yourself doing the same thing and you will see what you really do. Robert has participated in a lot of role-plays, presentations and engaging with customers throughout his career. One of the most common things for men to do when they are nervous is jingle the change they have in their pocket. They don’t know they are doing it until maybe they hear it on a video afterwards. It is amazing how many things you don’t know you do, until you video yourself.
What led Robert to writing his book?
As Robert moved into sales, he was caught out by his own body language, when he lied at his very first interview. As he shook the interviewers hand wearing a shirt and tie, the man said “Haven’t you got a suit?” Robert said “Yes it was at the cleaners”. The man said “you are lying but I like your answer as you were thinking on your feet, so sit down”. All the way through the interview Robert thought “how did this man know I was lying?” He got the job but asked the question. The man said that his body language gave it away. This topic was and still is a important aspect of sales and Robert has always been interested. One course on body language can completely change a whole team of people, as they understand themselves and each other a lot better. When teams are aware of each others body language they tend to be a lot more honest with each other.
Over the last 15 years Robert has concentrated purely on body language working on the Trisha Godard show for 8 years as the resident body language expert, Big Brother Little Brother for about 5 years, he has participated in all sorts of criminal documentaries looking at murders and their body language. He has commented in a wide variety of newspapers about the body language of people who find themselves in the news such as celebrities or political figures.
Robert wrote his book for the business market, but everything in it also applies to everybody else not in business situations. The book talks about meetings and greetings, presentations, negotiations – from a situational point of view, but this is how most social interactions happen and it includes exercises to try. It has been so popular in the non business world because all of the aspects still apply outside of business. It is a useful practical book for everyone to gain knowledge, awareness and confidence.
Many Thanks Robert, for your insights into body language! You can find out more at his website www.Robertphipps.com and purchase his book here or on Amazon.
If you would like to listen to our podcast with Robert Phipps you will find it here on our website or through itunes in our series Resilience Unravelled.