Communication 5/12/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

As much as an estimated seventy to ninety-three percent of communication in humans is non-verbal.  We look to verbal cues, such as facial expression and body language to understand one another.  Those who are intelligent will take the time to learn these cues so they can use them for personal purposes.  For example, having arms crossed suggests a stand-offish attitude, while open arms are more inviting and relaxed. 

In offices, it’s not uncommon to see desks arranged such that it is between the visitor and the person in the office.  As I worked in the police department, this standard orientation was in pretty much every office you would see.  I was fortunate in that they built a new building for my evidence section, and I had the opportunity to arrange the office myself.  I put the desk around the wall, so there was nothing between me and somebody walking into the office.  I wanted people to read my body language.  I was rarely upset with people, so I hoped that they would be able to see that in my body language, rather than hiding it behind a barrier between me and my office visitor. 

Children will use visual cues long before they can speak.  In an experiment, they had mothers and their children in parks approached by a person dressed as a clown, something that was probably not something that the child had seen before.  Invariably, the child would look at the mother to see how it should respond to this strange person.  They had arranged for some of the mothers to laugh and smile, and the others to cry and frown.  Invariably, the child would do what their mother did in responding to the clowns.  These children were too young to understand or speak a language, and yet already they understood body language.

The lack of this body language has caused me, and many other people, significant problems in email and messaging.  Even now, there are times that I am certain that I’m writing something that is so obviously over the top that it cannot be taken as anything but sarcasm, only to discover that it just didn’t come across as such.  Hopefully, when speaking with people, I hope that it’s more obvious when I’m being sarcastic, but sadly, my sense of humor is so dry that I’m not sure it is.

For you, my loyal readers, I hope that I have been obvious when making sarcastic remarks.  I don’t think I’ve had any comments from disgruntled readers over something meant to be a joke, so hopefully I am sufficiently cognizant of this shortcoming in the written word that I have appropriately and sufficiently compensated for the lack of body language. 

For me, my feet speak volumes.  When I’m nervous, I tend to shake a foot, rather frantically, or rock.  I’ll cross a leg with a foot hanging more or less free and I’ll shake it vigorously, or I’ll just shake a leg like I’m trying to keep up with a frantically fast song, or I’ll rock in my chair.  It took a therapist to point this out to me, telling me that it’s a sign that I’m nervous or uneasy. 

It’s interesting learning your own physical signs.  Maybe you do the same, or maybe it’s something else, but now I will “catch” myself doing this, and I’ll realize that, while I hadn’t thought it was the case before, I am indeed uncomfortable about something.  Recognizing this, I’ll frequently stop whatever it is so as not to let whoever I am with notice it (although they probably already have) and ask myself why I’m uncomfortable.  It allows me to move my concern into my head and treat is as a problem to be solved, something that I’m good at. 

I imagine some people are better at reading body language than others.  Gamblers, for example, look for what they call “tells”, something that gives away when a player is bluffing.  Maybe they speak a little bit faster, or higher pitch, or the get an uncontrollable twitch.  This is the reason so many gamblers will wear mirrored sunglasses to hide their eyes, usually where these tells manifest.  My friend, studying psychology, may well have had an entire class in the subject, and if she didn’t, there should be one. 

The other day I struck up a conversation with the people at my gun club about a client who, apparently, had committed suicide in the shootin- range.  This occurred before I started going (but not long before) and seems to be a fairly common problem.  Somebody suicidal will go to a shooting-range, rent a gun and pay for a lane and simply aim the gun at themselves.  It’s heartbreaking, and as much fun as I have shooting, seems like a waste of a perfectly good day on the lanes.  I can’t help but wonder, though, if there’s a way to tell if somebody is a danger of such an act.  I’m guessing the individual who did this was calm, collected, and didn’t seem very upset, but could there be another way to tell? 

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