Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not the body language…

I recall once meeting an Asia toddler who could prattle away perfectly in Mandarin. I was impressed, because I know I’ll never get to first base with a complex tonal language, but this ankle biter was all over it.

Kevin Rudd is also at home speaking Mandarin, probably Cantonese and a bunch of unfathomable tongues. The fact is, he’s a focussed sort of bloke, and when he became aspiring PM Kev learned how not to speak body language.

I like that in the sense that the message comes back to his words, but it is disconcerting and leaves a lingering distrust; if only because we expect to see the whole package. I was thinking about this watching Rudd say sorry. The vid is in the previous post.

There have been recent reports about formally teaching people to read body language. I think the concept is dangerous and a crock. Dangerous because body language is unconscious and has no hard and fast rules; that various movements can have a range of possible reasons.

I recall the first time I flew into the US I was warned not to move my eyes in customs; that darting eyes suggested some sort of guilt and looking up and to the left when answering a question suggested an attempt to make up an appropriate answer.

The reality, as has since been recognised, is that customs is a stressful place to be and many of the ‘signals’ can as easily be straight nervous reaction as any kind of guilt. Just a plain bloody waste of time, which is a shame as it might have done away with the KGB tactics now employed.

A crock because both the making and reading of body language is instinctive and intuitive. As soon as people are given a set of guidelines they start over riding the natural capacity to read body language without thought.

But body language can also be very manipulative in the right hands (no pun intended). Kev can turn it on and off as he requires. A good student of the language can emulate empathy and a whole range of emotions in small groups or one on one.

Personally I prefer the whole thing be left to instinct, but if people are to be taught how to read it they’d better also be taught how to uncover intentional manipulation.

1 comment:

D.K. Raed said...

I think I agree with you about trying to read body language of strangers. I do think once you are familiar with a person, their body language speaks about as loudly their voice.

BTW, I was told not to blink too much in customs, also not to sweat which is kind of hard when a giant hot flash overtakes you, hahahhah.

Wow, your PM speaks Mandarin? Must be so nice to have a leader with a brain!