It is pertinent for us to be critical when reading articles claiming to provide fool-proof tips on a very broad subject, such as dating, friendships, or workplace issues. Many of these articles can provide misleading advice that can lead individuals to make snap judgements or decisions on issues that, in reality, require critical thought and rational decision-making skills. Here, I will analyze the article, 10 Ways to Read Your Partner’s Body Language, an article I found on the popular website, Realbuzz.
In the article, 10 Ways to Read Your Partner’s Body Language, the author is attempting to provide advice on how to interpret the body language of your significant other. They provide a list of nonverbal cues to look out for when you want to know what your partner is thinking or how they are feeling within the context of a romantic relationship. It appears that the author’s target audience is individuals within romantic relationships. They seem to be targeting both men and women for the majority of the article, though in one tip, they focus on a single woman looking to interpret the nonverbal cues of a potential male date.
Before we delve into the content of the article, I would like to mention that it does not differentiate the information based on gender, culture, age, or the stage of the relationship, all of which are characteristics that can influence nonverbal communication. In their research, Tracy Prinsen and Narissra M. Punysnunt (2009) find that there are differences in nonverbal communication between gender and the different relationship stages, which for the purposes of their study include casual dating, exclusively dating, long term relationship, cohabitation while in a long term relationship, and marriage (p. 1). So, be sure to take these factors into account when determining how useful the following information could be for you. There are only a few items in the article relevant to the concepts studied thus far, so I will only be touching on the advice that seems the most relevant.
The first tip given is to watch your partner’s eyes when you sense deception. The idea is that, because it is a common belief that people avoid eye contact when lying, liars will make more eye contact than normal in an effort to hide their deception. This idea is actually supported in the textbook; in fact it is mentioned in a very similar fashion: “Liars often sustain more eye contact and fidget less, in part because they believe that to do otherwise might look deceitful,” (Adler, Rosenfeld, Procter, 2015, p. 184). However, it is important to remember that we are only capable of identifying deception slightly more than half of the time and in order to avoid mistaken accusations we should always seek more information than simple nonverbal cues (Adler, Rosenfeld, Procter, 2015, pp. 183 & 185). It is also relevant to point out the different meanings eye contact holds cross-culturally. According to the textbook, “East Asian cultures tend to see the avoidance of eye contact as a sign of respect and excessive eye contact as unpleasant and even aggressive,” (Adler, Rosenfeld, Procter, 2015, p. 187). Therefore, these behaviors can hold various meanings within relationships depending on culture.
Within this article, the hands and fingers are mentioned a total of four times. It appears that the author finds hand gestures important when perceiving the meaning of nonverbal behavior. This is somewhat consistent with the textbook in that gestures are considered fundamental elements of communication (Adler, Rosenfeld, Procter, 2015, p. 188). However, it is important to consider the intentions of your partner. For example, the first gesture mentioned in the article is the “fake tear wipe.” It is suggested that this hand motion can indicate distress. But consider that maybe they have a loose eyelash or a hair hanging from their lashes. This would certainly not be an intentional communicative behavior. If you were to interpret this to mean they are upset when they are not, then we would call this attributed communication (misperceived intent to communicate) (Jennifer Bute, class presentation, September 8, 2015). If you act on this behavior when communication was not intended, then it could lead to unnecessary conflict. So, it would be wise to approach this information with caution.
Another piece of advice given is to watch your partner’s face if you want to know how interested in you they are. The author claims that if your partner is interested in you then they may be nodding, have raised eyebrows, or widen their eyes. Facial expression is considered by some to be one of the most important communicative capabilities we have, right after verbal communication. Plus, these are all generally accepted cues depicting interest, so they should make sense, and they usually do, but remember that the face is very complex. In the textbook it says that there are “at least 8 distinguishable positions of the eyebrows and forehead, 8 more of the eyes and lids, and 10 for the lower face,” (Adler, Rosenfeld, Procter, 2015, p. 186). There is a lot of room for error there, or as mentioned above, non-communicative behavior.
You may notice by now a pattern: the tips can be useful, but should be viewed with caution. While the article seemed to provide some accurate information regarding deceptive behavior and the importance of gestures and facial expressions, you have to remember that not all nonverbal behavior is communicative. There can always be multiple reasons for someone’s body language. The tips provided here should be taken with a grain of salt, and should not be used as definitive indicators of any particular meaning. If you find a nonverbal cue to be problematic, you should talk to your partner about it before jumping to conclusions. If the behavior is unintentional, let them know that it bothered you. In some situations the behavior can be changed, or its meaning can be better understood in order to avoid repetition of the same conflict in the future.
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