The phrasing in the interpretation of body language

The body language, although not vocal or written, shares with this, and even makes it more complex, some of its characteristics and, specifically, that of temporality and sequentiality: as a sequence of words form a sentence, a sequence of gestures and of expressions forms a movement and, in both cases, the meaning of this sequence (words or gestures) depends on the single elements composing it, from how these are expressed (the para-verbality for words and the theatricality for gestures), from the context in which the sequence manifests itself, from what has been "said" before and will be "said" then.

In non-verbal communication, however, there is an extra level of complexity, given that the nature of our body allows us to issue gestures and expressions through different channels, that is, all those parts of the body that can be controlled in an independent way - arms , legs, eyes, mouth and so on - which introduces a further dimension of analysis, given that this multiplicity of sources translates into the possibility of having a single phrasing composed by different elements (for example, I cross my arms, my ankles, and I look away from the interlocutor, with my face showing an expression of contempt, something, therefore, that shows a clear will to close), or to have more phrasing in parallel, not necessarily logically connected, as happens for example when trying to mask an emotion through the attempt to voluntary control the gestures and the face (for example, involuntarily turn the feet towards an escape direction, and grabbing a wrist with the hand, but at the same time making a smile of convenience, not sincere, that does not hide my desire to stop contact).

Although the management of this complexity is well addressed by the rule of the "3 C" and by the basal behavior (or, wanting to unify the two, from the rule of "5 C" - Context, Complex, Consistency, Custom, Change) (1) (3), it is evident how in practice, taking all these aspects into account is an operation that is anything but easy, certainly far more complex than simple listening in the case of verbal communication.

The difficulty, in particular, lies not only in being able to observe the interlocutor as a whole - here women are advantaged by virtue of their peripheral viewing angle of about 45 °, wider than the male one - but also in understanding if what happens must be considered part of the same sentence or several sentences, eventually in conflict with each other and, for sure, then connected to what is said verbally.

If then we consider that while speech can be repeated, this is not possible for non-verbal (see, in this regard, my previous article), it follows that not only is it necessary to observe carefully, but we must also not lose the moment, since only in this way will we have all the elements needed to try to understand how the phrasing is developing and what it can mean.

Moreover, in relation to speech, where the words order in some (many) cases has no influence on the overall meaning of the sentence, since it is quite a common experience that different syntactic structures can correspond to the same semantic structure (think, for example, to the active or passive form of verbal constructs), this is much rarer (maybe impossible) for non-verbal communication, where a short sequence of gestures and expressions generally has a very different meaning from the sequence where these are reversed or mixed, which is particularly important if the sequence involves both negative and positive gestures and expressions: it is very different, as regards the progress of the conversation, the passage from negative gestures to positive ones (recovery of the situation) with respect to the inverse (compromising the situation).

Finally, to make matters even worse, the emotional state of the issuing subject also comes into play, which could be such as to disturb the progress of the conversation, through gestures and facial expressions resulting from the sudden the unconscious spreading of emotions (2), which have nothing to do with the object of the conversation, but which could be evoked by something that is said or shown.

How to conclude, if not once again emphasizing the difficulty of the interpretation of body language and the importance of following, always and in any case, even if this is not easy, what the methodology tells us (perhaps this is an excessive term, considering the only partially scientific support for this type of interpretation), and also remembering that every communicative act always takes place "here and now", so that every rule, every good practice, must always be reified according to the specificity of the act itself and of the context in which this is achieved.

 Andrea Zinno - De Corporis Voce

Bibliographic references
  1. Allan Pease and Barbara Pease - "The Definitive Book of Body Language" - 2003
  2. Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen – “Unmasking the Face” - 2003
  3. Wikipedia - Stanislavski's system