I’ve had my fair share of times when people think that they know exactly what I’m thinking or feeling based on my body language. My arms are crossed? Well that must mean one of two things: I’m cold or I’m angry. Wrong. I’m slouching in my chair in class? That means I don’t really care about what’s being taught or I’m not paying full attention. Wrong. I’m not smiling or laughing at something my friend just said? Obviously I don’t like what she said. Wrong.
The truth? Sometimes I just feel like my arms are awkwardly hanging by my sides so I’ll cross them because it’s comfortable. I have a tendency to slouch in class because the desks are uncomfortable and if I’m going to have to sit in one for an hour and a half I’m going to make myself as comfortable as possible. I don’t find it necessary to smile or laugh at every single thing a person says because that just seems fake.
Reading body language is kind of like an English teacher analyzing literature: they’ll think the curtain is blue to reflect the depression and internal conflict the protagonist faces, but sometimes the curtain is blue just because the author likes the color blue.
By assuming you can read someone’s body language you’re assuming that you know what’s going on in their head and that can be very dangerous. If you think you know a person’s body language and make a move to respond to what you think you saw, you’re making it very possible for an uncomfortable or awkward situation to arise. It’s not that hard to misinterpret body language and cause something that could lead to much bigger consequences.
“You should never assume. You know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of you and me because that’s how it’s spelled.” – Ellen Degeneres
For example, on more than one occasion I’ve had a guy lean in to kiss me when that was the farthest thing from what I wanted. When I asked them why they thought I wanted to kiss them they all said the same thing: they read my body language and noticed that I was giving them “the signal”.
Luckily every time this has happened to me it’s been with someone I know fairly well, so we were able to laugh about it and move on, but this could have been a lot worse if it was with someone I didn’t know that well. The guy could have leaned in to kiss me and when I tried to pull away he could have gotten angry and done something a lot worse.
On another occasion I was sitting in one of my classes when my professor decided to call out a student for slouching. He made a scene out of it in front of the entire class only to find out that the kid had a back problem and that was the most comfortable way for him to sit in the tiny desks. It’s safe to say my professor ended up apologizing profusely and the kid ended up slouching further out of embarrassment.
In both cases, although vastly different, someone assumed they could read body language and it turned out wrong. I will admit that sometimes my body language really does mean what people assume. Sometimes I’ll cross my arms without thinking about it because I am cold or angry. Sometimes I slouch in my desk because I’m not interested in what’s being said or I’m not really paying attention. But that’s not always the case.
Too many times people have had their body language misread which can lead to uncomfortable situations, so even if you think you’re right don’t just assume you can read body language. Try talking to the person instead, I promise it’ll get you a lot farther.