Body Language

by Mary-Louise Angoujard

Two schools of thought

There are two schools of thought about applying the findings of research into nonverbal communication/body language:

The NLP-based or behaviourist approach

This established approach, which has been pioneered in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), is based on the idea of purposely behaving in ways that are likely to put people at ease, foster good feelings or rapport between people and encourage open communication from and with the other party. Research shows that when two people are in rapport with each other, they behave in certain ways. From examining exactly what was happening in such exchanges, came the realisation that ‘If I hold my body this way or that way, the other person is more or less likely to be open to me, and therefore communication is of a better or worse quality.’

Matching, mirroring and pacing

The principles of matching, mirroring and pacing are derived from this school of thought.

Matching is when you adopt body language the same as or similar to the other party’s while you are in communication with them: for example, you might match the speed at which someone is moving, the size of their gestures, the general position of their body and even their rate of breathing

Mirroring is when you adopt an exact mirror image of someone’s body language when communicating. We do this all the time when we are in rapport and some people will do it on purpose, as a part of gaining rapport. If it is used correctly and with good intentions, this works well and no harm is done; however, it is far better to work on building rapport by showing real interest and engaging with people positively. If you do this, the rest comes naturally.

Pacing is using matching and mirroring to keep pace with another person until rapport is established. It is then possible to lead the other person by slowly changing your own body language. If rapport is in place, the other person will follow your lead. For more on this, see the topic on Rapport.

While thought by some to be manipulative (and it certainly can be somewhat manipulative), this is not necessarily so. Indeed, depending on the intention and skill of the individual applying these techniques, they can have a very positive effect on communication between people. If the practitioner holds positive, unselfish intentions for the communication, this would, for most people, remove concerns about manipulation and make this a worthwhile and inoffensive skill to develop.

So intention is the determining factor. In choosing body language that is more open than closed, more confident than unconfident, more positive than negative – do you have bad intentions towards the other person? Do you want somehow to hurt or cheat them? Or, are you just aiming to establish a sound basis for building rapport, communicating well and establishing a good relationship?

Synergology

Synergologie® (synergology) is a new method of reading nonverbal communication which was developed by Philippe Turchet, a French communications expert, in the 1980s. The method is based on the research of such prestigious authors as Desmond Morris, Edward Hall, Ray Birdwhistell, Gregory Bateson and Paul Ekman, as well as the principles of neuro-science (particularly its findings concerning the association of behavioural reactions and cerebral hemispheres in everyday communication).

Synergology brings something new to the field of nonverbal communication by further developing, deciphering and cataloguing an area not previously addressed in such detail: the micro-movements of the face and body.

It explains how certain minute gestures express our thoughts. In this way, it shows clearly how our spoken thoughts are connected with our hidden thoughts (those which remain unspoken) and demonstrates concretely that unconscious reactions are visible on the face and body. Above all, it allows us to understand the criteria upon which emotions can be read, leading to a better understanding of those with whom we are communicating.

Synergology uses scientific values and therefore can be validated precisely. For example, where many communication experts may associate a micro-movement, such as scratching a part of the body, as a sign of discomfort, hidden thoughts or otherwise, synergology provides a far more exact interpretation based on

  • Which hand is used
  • The direction of movement of the hand
  • The side of the body that is being scratched
  • The exact place on the body that is scratched.

In practice, synergology is based on an approach that is the opposite of behaviourism, which is the traditional approach.

Understanding is the key

Synergology proposes never to change or modify one’s non-verbal language consciously, in order to have better communication. It therefore rejects all sorts of manufactured quick-fixes regarding how to communicate better and shows instead how, by simply concentrating on understanding the other person rather than on ourselves, we are able to develop a better quality of communication over time.

Because it is a scientific discipline and also a method, there is a set of ethics associated with its application. More information on this fascinating field, training to become a synergologist, and the charter of ethics, is available at www.synergologie.com and www.synergologie.nl. Synergology is currently taught in Canada, France, Holland, Switzerland and the UK.

This relatively new discipline brings clarity to the aspects of both unconscious and semi-conscious body language.

Left and right sides

One key discovery belonging to the discipline of synergology is the importance of the right and left sides of the body for interpreting the meaning of nonverbal communication.

The left side of the body is driven by the right brain and relates to ‘you, personally’. Nonverbal signals on the left side of the body therefore tend to be generated by thoughts or feelings of personal involvement: for example, one’s family, one’s passions, strong personal feelings and so on. In terms of action, the idea is ‘I want’.

The right side of the body is driven by the left brain and relates to ‘you, in relation to others/the environment’, including anything related to work. In terms of action, the main feeling is ‘I should or it should’.

A full understanding of synergology requires many hours of study with qualified teachers, due to the complexities and resulting potential for confusion; however, it is a fascinating and useful tool for anyone working with people, including human resources professionals, managers and sales people.