A strategy guide for student leaders by student leaders.
Emotional Intelligence: Interpreting Body Language
If emotional intelligence is considered a “soft” skill, then body language is the “hard” data points that you will use to interpret a person’s mood. Master the interpretation of body language and you will be better able to understand a person’s behavior and motivations.
If emotional intelligence is considered a “soft” skill, then body language is the “hard” data points that you will use to interpret a person’s mood. The more you get to know your members, the more you will understand where each person’s emotional baseline exists and how that baseline is physically expressed. Body language patterns and the emotions that they likely signal tend to be consistent across people in general. However, whenever you extrapolate information from generalizations, it’s vital that you look at patterns as opposed to individual data points. Someone who furrows their brow may be angry or just thinking. Other context clues are required to properly ascertain the underlying emotion. Thus, for the below examples of body language, I want you to take each point as a single stroke that makes up a larger picture. For example, if someone is smiling, are their eyes also crinkling? If someone is slouching are their feet also dragging? If a person is giving you conflicting body signals, which emotion is more likely the winner given what you know about the person’s personality and how they express that personality? These are questions you need to ask when determining what a person’s body language tells you about their mood.
With eyes, there are two areas to consider: pupils and area around the eyes. Pupils can dilate or constrict. Constricted pupils indicate fear, anger, or discomfort. Dilated pupils indicate interest or comfort. Bright light can cause pupils to constrict, and dim light can cause pupils to dilate. In fact, high-end restaurants will almost always have dim lighting to promote pupil dilation.
Wide eyes can indicate shock or surprise. Narrow eyes indicate anger or annoyance. Furrowed eyes indicate concentration or confusion.
A crinkled nose indicated disgust or that someone just passed wind. Flaring nostrils indicate anger or aggression.
A mouth that’s curved up generally indicates positive emotion like happiness or amusement. A mouth that’s curved down generally indicates negative emotions like sadness or boredom.
Pursed lips indicate a desire to concentrate or veil a strong emotion. Pouty lips indicate flirtation, embarrassment, or an attempt to avoid punishment.
The neck is a very vulnerable part of the body. If someone is playing with a necklace or equivalent that can indicate an aberrant mood. These can include stress, discomfort, or boredom, among other things.
Shoulders that are in a relaxed or slouched down indicates a relaxed or saddened disposition while shoulders hunched up indicate stress or some level of discomfort.
Hands and arms are some of the most expressive organs of the body. A person who has crossed his/her arms is in a stand-offish position and will not be amenable to new information. A person who holds one arm with a hand is feeling subconscious. A person holding his/her hand hands in front of his/her stomach or pelvic region is expressing nervousness or fear. Hands that touch the face can indicate nervousness or stress. Active hand gestures can indicate happiness or excitement. Hands in the form of a steeple, behind the head, and on the hips can indicate confidence and comfort.
The feet can tell you a lot about the person’s current feelings. Consider them with relation to gravity. A person who is feeling down will look as though the weight of the world is on their shoulders. They will drag their feet and be slow about moving. A happy person will act as though gravity has no effect including skipping and being very free with their feet. Tapping feet can also indicate happiness or nervousness.
People are social beings. Especially if your organization is close knit, members will pick up on the mood of other members. Strong emotions or well-respected members can both influence the group. If you enter a room and find that a particular mood dominates (as perceived through your analysis of body language), the best way to alter or enhance the mood is to identify the originator. Ask around and try to observe how individuals change their behavior around certain individuals. Once you’ve identified the influencers, you should formulate an action plan.