The Internet overflows with dating gurus who fancy themselves body language experts. But when you read quality sources, like books written by consultants who make their living training law enforcement professionals, you quickly realize how much misinformation abounds about body language.
Most of us use body language subconsciously — out of habit — because we’re not consummate actors always performing for everyone around us. And very often the true message we send non-verbally differs from a false message we could send verbally.
In order to see the real message, you need to remember the 2 Cs: clusters and context. The problem with many online dating gurus is they don’t display any understanding of either clusters or context. They interpret individual gestures with the same meaning regardless of the situation.
Learning clusters and context
Suppose you see a man folding his arms. What does that gesture mean? It could mean he’s trying to shield himself from his surroundings.
But what if he’s sitting in church while someone prays? In that context, he’s more likely just being reverent. Context changes everything. Anyone ignoring context often misses the real meaning being conveyed.
Suppose a very upset woman is speaking to this man folding his arms. This context supports the interpretation of placing a barrier around himself. But don’t stop there. Look for clusters, which are combinations of gestures. The other gestures in the cluster provide added context that support a correct interpretation.
For instance, is the man standing up or sitting down? If he’s standing, how’s his posture? Is he erect or slumped? And if he’s sitting, what’s his position in the chair? Is he slumped back, straight, or leaning forward any?
And what’s the expression on his face? Is he frowning or smiling? Does he look impatient for the woman to stop talking so he can get a word in? Or does he appear to dread being in that moment?
When we focus on just one tree, we’re likely to miss the true landscape of meaning the forest provides. Only when we look for clusters with context can we correctly interpret individual body language gestures.
Many LDS singles ignorant of either clusters or context pretend to know the nonverbal message others send. Can you hear the cry of the single LDS woman? “Oh my! He’s sitting next to me! He must want to marry me!” Yet clusters and gestures can tell an entirely different story.
I remember once feeling rather discouraged as I came to sacrament meeting. I knew sitting alone would make me feel worse. So I looked for someone to sit with as I entered the chapel.
I saw a single sister sitting in one of the pews talking on her phone. I thought she might be the friend I needed. After all, she was a counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency. Boy, was I ever wrong! She extended her call until the meeting began and intentionally ignored me. Even more disheartened than when I came, I cried. She rushed away as soon as the meeting ended.
Looking at just the individual gesture — someone sitting next to you — you’ll likely misinterpret the situation. That situation becomes easier to see when you look at clusters — my slouched seating position, the frown and discouraged look on my face, my hands clasped together, tears streaming from my eyes — and context (which required some verbal communication in order to understand I just needed a friend).
Had this single sister interpreted my body language correctly, perhaps she would have recognized my need and been more compassionate. Instead, she missed an opportunity to provide Christ-like service.
Getting out of the way
We need to interpret body language correctly not only in others but also in ourselves. Because body language is subconscious and performed out of habit, we can unknowingly send the wrong signals.
Years before I met that sister, a friend asked me why I always walked around with my fists clenched. I was completely unaware of her observation, which seemed so ridiculous to me that I initially rejected it.
But as I considered my friend wouldn’t lie to me, I began paying attention. And I noticed she was right! Thinking back on past experiences, I could see how someone might misinterpret my body language gesture. I was my own worst obstacle. Realizing this, I made a more conscious effort to change.
Here’s the truth about body language: One individual gesture can have many different interpretations, each depending upon clusters and context. The next time you try to read someone’s nonverbal message, make sure you consider clusters and context. You’ll be more likely to foster understanding. And that will bring more joy in your journey.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and since 2018 I've been producing a weekly radio show to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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