Human interactions, the stuff you might miss.
The layman’s guide to not fucking it up completely.
Today’s disclaimer of doom! Please be aware of your own behaviour, if you are going to take up watching body language as a hobby; be aware of subtlety. If you’re paying too much attention you are edging into creepy stalker territory. This is not attractive.
OH NO, she’s off on communication AGAIN.
Yes, she bloody is – this time however she isn’t going to just rant semi-coherently. She’s going to put a lot of time and effort into researching some basic patterns and try to communicate to you what you should be looking for. Hush, you asked for it.
Of course by research I mean I’m going to do a lot of surfing and compare it to what I already know or suspect. We all know I’m far too lazy to do it properly.
Signals make the world go round.
It’s unbelievably important to realise that ONE obvious seeming signal is not enough to make a judgement call off. I’ve fallen into this trap a few times myself. Someone makes the ‘laugh and touch’ manoeuvre (I’ll get to that one later) and I assume they meant more by it than they did, regardless of the following series of lesser signals. So, if you think maybe you’ve got one on the hook – for god sakes don’t jerk the line back and try and reel them in too quickly. Pay attention.
Communication falls into a number of subcategories, and sometimes you have to watch for inconsistencies. The prime example of this – and I do this one myself so pay attention! Is verbal flirting, while giving no body language signals. I watch people fall into this gaping hole a lot. OMG she’s flirting with me I AM SO IN!!! If there is no touching, if there is little or no body movement at all. Dude, sorry – you are not in at all. She’s just a tease, and not a bit interested. This sounds harsh. Sadly it is also TRUE, or at least usually true. She’s just not that into you. Or he, all this is meant to be fairly non gender-specific. Unfortunately I also know a number of people who are totally #EPICFAIL at the tease, in that they give ALL the signals with absolutely NONE of the intention. I apologise for these people, they are major DICKBAGS.
There are a lot of complications to the idea of a comprehensive guide to reading body language. The one I am finding most difficult to work around is the simple fact that people are DIFFERENT. Body signals are usually at least similar from one person to the next, however personality type can go a long way to changing the degree of the signal. A shy person for example tends to make smaller signals that are harder to pick up on but more accurate. An extroverted person tends to make larger signals but with a higher degree of misinterpretation. Then of course there are varying degrees of DICKBAGS.
Ok, ok – a fair number of DICKBAGS have no clue that they’re doing it wrong. And those ones are actually the ones I’m more interested in here. Because the ACTIVE DICKBAGS well they’re just not that interesting. You’ll bump into them from time to time; they’ll get you all over excited and then leave you hanging. You’ll be mad as hell for a few minutes and then you’ll shrug them off. Probably. It’s the ones that have no idea that there’s any problem with their signalling that are going to give you trouble. Because if you’re anything like me, mixed signals lead to you spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out what the other person actually wants. Let me give you a hint. THEY DON’T KNOW EITHER. Almost invariably the unconscious mixed signal sender is just as confused as their signals. And fair warning, it’s probably safe to assume they have baggage for Africa.
Speaking of Africa; another thing that may be relevant, depending on who you’re interacting with is cultural background. Most of my knowledge relates to the sorts of interactions I most commonly have or can observe. So I can’t vouch for its veracity in a different cultural setting.
There are a few differences between the genders, though these are less than you might imagine. Women tend to be more subtle about touching. And less subtle about eye contact and facial expression. We are also, sadly, less likely to take the lead. We tend to follow your signals rather than start making obvious ones of our own. (Take me out of this equation, I’m skewing the averages. Subtle is not a word that’s often used to describe me.) It is worth remembering that even if we’re not making obvious signals we are almost certainly making quiet little signals. This is probably a fair chunk of the reason why women get so very pissed off when their partners are not paying attention.
|Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals|
So it’s really, really awesome that you want to learn to read those signals better – but it’s a really complicated game. It’s also really important to remember that no matter how much you know about reading peoples communications. IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO GET IT UTTERLY WRONG. (Note to self: OMG It’s even possible for ME to get it wrong, who’da thunk it. Sulks in a corner.) Not to mention, that there are exceptions to each and every rule. So don’t get hung up on the idea that this is black and white stuff. It’s human psychology, there is no black and white.
To add even further to the mixture of confusion and terror you are now feeling. It’s also quite possible for someone to be sending you all these signals unconsciously because they ARE INTERESTED but for whatever reason, have no conscious intention to do anything about it. She IS that into you, but she has a nice boyfriend at home. It’s unfortunate sometimes that we still unconsciously send these signals when we’re not actually ‘on the market’ (OH GOD HOW UNFORTUNATE!) but there you are.
Right. I think I’ve finished blathering on for now. Let’s get to the meat of this.
Communication is usually divided into two subcategories. Verbal and non-verbal communication. I hate these terms, they’re far too limiting. And they pretty much get used because people are too lazy to write OR read the much longer list of potential communication types. I’d prefer to think of them as vocal and non-vocal and even these labels are just group headings, because each one breaks down a bit more.
Here’s my list, I’m sure there are probably more.
Verbal communication: D’uh, talking. Which people do (properly) far too infrequently. This can also be broken down into Content and Tone. (What you say and how you say it).
Non-verbal vocalisations: Those cute little noises we stupidly let fall out, yes they quite often mean ‘stuff’.
Touches: I primarily mean hands, and to a lesser degree feet here. Reaching over to lay a hand on a knee or shoulder, playing footsies under the table.
Posture: How they’re standing in relation to you. How they’re holding their head, arms, legs.
Eye contact: OH MY GOD SO IMPORTANT.
Eye communication: Winking, eyebrow raising….
Closeness: How far into your personal space are they?
Facial Expression: D’uh
Fidgeting: Generally I mean playing with random objects.
So when trying to read someone’s signals you potentially have a hell of a lot to be looking out for. It’s worth noting here that really you don’t need to notice it all, and for the sake of deciding whether someone is ‘interested’ or not – the things you most need to pay attention to are eye contact, posture and touch. A lot of the other stuff will likely lead you astray at first anyway, since it gets all complicated by how nervous a person is.
So let’s cover those things.
Eye contact. How much eye contact a person will make is fairly dependent on how shy or nervous they are but in general someone who is interested in what you’re saying or interested in holding your attention will make regular and sustained eye contact with you. Widening of the eyes is a good indicator of a more than passing interest too (though more so with girls than boys). Some body language trainers talk about dilated pupils as a good indicator here too, but I actually think not so much. For a start a lot of the chasing game takes place with a certain amount of booze or drugs in the system, and these both cause pupil dilation too so who knows where you stand there. Also, I know that my eyes widen, but have never seen evidence of my pupils dilating (yes I have looked for it – I am that obsessed with psychology).
Someone who is looking away most of the time, or looking over your shoulder rather than at you, is probably just not very interested. You can try changing the topic but it probably won’t help. Even if you’re talking about the most interesting thing in the world to them, if they won’t look at you they aren’t interested. Sorry. It happens to all of us.
Posture. How someone is standing in relation to you can tell you an awful lot about how comfortable they are around you. If someone is angling themselves towards you, and/or leaning towards you they are both comfortable around you and interested (not necessarily interested IN YOU, but at the very least interested in what you are saying). You can test drive how interested by changing your posture a bit and seeing how they change in relation to you.
Added to this is the concept of ‘mirroring’. Again, I’m not convinced of the efficacy of monitoring this but it can certainly be a good indicator of a person’s desire to keep things comfortable between you. Mirroring is quite simply the mimicking (usually unconsciously) of your body positioning. Change position a few times, if they follow suit, they at least want to keep things comfortable. Where I become unconvinced about this as a technique for spotting a potential partner is, I know I do this with friends.
Arm crossing is a defensive posture (unless they’re just cold! Ask! This could be the perfect opportunity to be a gentleman/lady) It may be that you are a touch too close and making them feel uncomfortable. Try backing off a little. It may be that you just are shit out of luck here.
Another one I’m not entirely convinced by is positioning of the feet. It’s one that psychologists talk about quite a bit but from what I have observed, a confident person may point their feet towards you regardless of their feelings, and equally a less confident person may point their feet away. It’s far more telling of how comfortable they are than their actual feelings towards you. I’ve also seen it in a dominance/submission sort of scenario – someone who is trying to take a position of dominance may very deliberately point their feet at you and lean towards you to try to get you to take a submissive stance. Don’t knock it, it works.
Touches. If someone slaps you on the back this means bugger all. However a slow deliberate hand on the wrist or knee, particularly accompanied by laughter and you are well in (This is the laugh and touch manoeuvre, it is very very common and totally worth keeping in mind). A more light slappy touch, like a gentle slap to the thigh when you said something silly… middle ground. Could be friendly, could be initiating more. I use it in both contexts so it really isn’t anything to judge by. Though again a reasonable indicator that they are at ease in your company. In short, a gentle touch is everything, a solid touch is nothing. In between and well they’re at least comfortable enough to touch you, I’d keep paying attention.
There are a myriad of ways someone might initiate a touch, touching can be a very intimate thing – and can be easily misinterpreted. There are certain touches for example that I take both seriously and intimately that you might feel very differently about. On the whole just be careful and watch responses. If you don’t like the way someone is touching you, withdraw from it. Anyone who takes offence at you removing yourself from something that makes you uncomfortable isn’t worth your time. And the other way around, if you’re reaching out to touch someone, watch their responses – now is a good time to be looking at their eyes; it’s very difficult to keep your true reaction out of your eyes.
And now, for some verbal indicators.
Short answers are bad. Not always, obviously, if you asked a yes/no question don’t go hoping for a thesis. But if you get a stream of short answers to probing questions, probably not going so great. Couple that with a lot of looking around randomly and it’s a safe bet that you are wasting your time.
Subject changes are not always a bad sign. If they’re changing the subject a bit but not actually leaving they’re probably looking for common ground. So you’re probably interesting enough for them to bother. Which is not to suggest that someone being uninterested in you is an indicator that there is something wrong with you. A lot of people find me dull I’m sure. And there’s nothing fucking wrong with me right?
If you’re hitting on Schmoo (WTF, why would you be doing that!) and he says ‘what a lovely story’ - walk away. This is his subtle subtle way of saying you are boring the tits (of which he has a fair set) off him and he doesn’t like you enough to bother being polite about it. I’m only bringing this up because I’m a bitch.
At the end of all of this I have this to say. Everyone should be themselves, especially when your playing the chasing game. The vast majority of failed relationships happen because the person you met in the first place isn’t real. We pretend to be more than we are, or we put on masks that we think make us more interesting or attractive. It may even be true sometimes, but unless you’re planning on keeping it up forever more, eventually the truth will out. And sometimes the truth, while not bad, is not what the other person was looking for or expecting. Anyway, wouldn’t you rather they were falling in love with you than with some crazy perception of you?
Thanks to Will Howard for the word Dickbag.
Thanks my special friend for being so utterly cocked up in the signal department that I have a fantastic point of reference to work from.
Thanks to my awesome, talented and massively shy lovely boy for being so massively shy that I’ve had to learn to read signals at an advanced level.
Thanks Cocknozzle, for being such a super cocknozzle that I feel an almost constant need to help other people not fall into the land of Nozzlecocktasia. A place in no way related to the Douchenozzlarium.