“Every little movement has a meaning all its own.” Those are the opening lyrics of an old Broadway show. It might have been about a hula dancer, but it could also apply to our universal body language which reveals our inner attitudes.
We should all learn to interpret body language to be able to detect the innermost feelings of those we’re dealing with. For one thing, it might improve our poker performance.
If you’re discussing politics with a small group try to get the pursed lips count, a subtle sign of disagreement, and you’ll have an estimate of the Republicans and Democrats in your audience. Those that you see tapping their fingertips together are thinking over your ideas, but have yet to come to a decision. They’re probably the independent voters.
If your wife or husband asks who ate the last two donuts, your shoulder shrug, indicating you have no idea, would be less of a fib than a wordy denial. It’s a kind of spasmodic Fifth Amendment plea.
Sometimes we’d rather delete our own body language message like the grimace that creeps across our face when a neighbor asks to borrow our lawn mower. It remains there until he explains he’s having a big family barbecue, his mower just died and his shaggy lawn will be an embarrassment. Your grimace changes to a sympathetic tilt of the head and he gets the mower.
I once helped a young mother by reaching for some top shelf baby food at the supermarket. I noticed the toddler sitting in her shopping cart was giving me the thumbs up sign. Imagine that, I thought, he probably hasn’t learned to talk yet and he’s giving me the body language sign of approval! But then he stuck his thumb in his mouth, so it was probably just a coincidence.
Last week I watched a five-man crew sent out to replace a manhole cover on my street. Body language was loud and clear during the operation. Two men, each displaying a “why me?” scowl began to lift the heavy cover while two others stood watching with hands in pockets. I don’t know what the hands-in-pockets body language signifies. It could mean “So that’s how it’s done” or maybe just “Boy, it’s cold today.”
The fifth man stood at a distance with his hands on his hips which is the usual body language statement for “I am in charge.” (For young girls it might mean “Don’t you think I’m pretty?)
A couple of days later I encountered my friend Pete, who’s far from young and pretty, standing alone on the sidewalk in the middle of town with his hands on his hips. “Pete,” I said, “you’re showing me the ‘I am in charge’ body language gesture. What are you in charge of?”
“I’m not in charge,” he said. “I’m in trouble. My suspenders broke. Have you got a safety pin?”