Body Language

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Formally established in the 1950s and popularized in the 1970s and 1980s, the study of body language became mainstream pop-psychology and a mature research discipline with the publication of books such as Body Language (by Julius Fast) and Man Watching (by Desmond Morris). Hitching a ride on the cresting wave of Freud's psychoanalysis, the study of body language, formally known as "kinesics", is a natural extension of psychoanalysis's systematic exploration and mapping of "unconscious" behavior as a key focus. Now it is not only a fun conversational topic, but also a management tool for assessing candidates and employees.

Like psychoanalysis, kinesics has transformed human behavior into a code to be broken and controlled. Similarly, in both the workplace and in private life, as signs of something else, our gestures, like our neurotic symptoms, are now closely scrutinized for their deep "meaning". Whether the goal or need is to "read" others or to control how you are read, familiarity with body language is now, for better or worse, part of Life 101.

A person's body language is a very telling sign in determining many things about people and their relationship to or commitment to a given situation. The study of people's body language, meaning their demeanor and physical reactions in a situation, has become more popular in recent years as an assessment and predictive method used in professions such as law enforcement or political punditry.

The manner in which an individual acts in a given situation can reveal much information about their motives, intentions, level of interest, or even their level of truthfulness. Reactions that are considered when observing for these things can be eye movement and focus (for example, looking someone directly in the eyes when speaking versus looking down or around the room), posture, hand and arm movements, shifting of the body as if uncomfortable or anxious, and many others.

Well-known among these signals, whether intentional or not, are nose rubbing and mouth covering (as indicators of distaste or concealment) "steepling"-pressing the tips of the left and right-hand fingers together, palms vertical and apart (as sign of certitude or superiority), crossing the arms (as a resistance signal) and "postural echoing" (the display of identical postures or gestures by two or more people, signaling emotional congruence such as mutual interest or resistance).

One extension of the study of body language focuses on the positioning of one's body vis-à-vis another person. Called "proxemics", this research area has identified, among other things, the "right" and "wrong" seating positions for meetings-e.g. sitting diagonally opposite the only other person at a table (because it conveys emotional distance). This negative message is reinforced if one of the parties has crossed his or her legs away from the other.

The way that one conducts themselves physically in a situation will have a significant impact on the outcome of the event. For instance, in a job interview the potential employer may observe the interviewee's actions and posture to decide if they are a good fit for the position they are applying for. As an example, if someone is interviewing for a sales position but is not assertive in things like shaking hands or looking in the other persons eyes when speaking to them, the likelihood of the employer choosing them for the position may plummet , whether consciously or unconsciously. If an employee is suspected of disobeying policy and is questioned about it, the manager or person in authority over them will want to take note of things such as fidgeting or looking away when speaking, as these may be signs of dishonesty or being nervous about disclosing information.

Because we are such expressive creatures (unlike insects whose skeletons are rigid and external), almost every aspect of of visible selves can convey a wealth of information about our moods, attitudes, levels of engagement or estrangement, character and personality. Accordingly, body language is not only something to study and learn from, but also to control, modify and elicit.
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