Author: Bo Sjöberg, NLP Institute

People have different kinds of body language – from the exchange of bacteria, through unconscious messages in speech and body movements, to complex combinations of scents – all of which often take place without conscious control. Whilst we are busy speaking, our bodies and unconscious are having their own conversations.

In his new jeans, he gets ready to climb into the poker room at a tournament. Turned halfway to one of his adversaries, he stretches out his hand in a gesture of friendship.

Without looking him in the eye, he says a few friendly words.  The electrical conductivity of his skin increases during this meeting, as his tension causes him to sweat.

Sweat contains salt, which conducts electricity. When he sat down at the short end of the table, his skin’s electrical conductivity returns to normal. The rest of the players now gather round. A lot of them also shake hands. Skin contact, such as what occurs in a handshake, is one of the most effective ways of transferring colds and other viruses. 

When a person sneezes, for example, micro bacteria are transferred to the hand when it is held up to the face. The next time that person shakes hands, the bacteria are transferred. The game begins and the most respected player makes a joke.

Everyone in the group contracts their zygomaticus major, the laugh muscle, and the corners of their mouths go up in a smile. For most of those in the group, their eye muscles do not react – they are smiling false smiles.

Some in the group consciously crinkle their eye muscles, but they are still unable to mask their false smiles. For a fraction of a second, approximately a quarter, they have involuntarily exposed a different expression.

Their eyebrows now begin to move more frequently, and their blink rate increases from approximately 18 times per minute to 25 or more. Then come the crossed arms and decreased blinking rates, which reduce the tempo again.

Discussions begin and most of the people in the group begin to adapt their voices so that it matches the alpha male frequency. Body language, opinions and the tempo begin to match.

An innumerable amount of signals are exchanged at the unconscious level. But, which signals are decisive? Our brain has only one way of getting information about the outside world – through our senses.

Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – the brain’s program – behaviour

Research shows that we are able to consciously detect 7± 2 signals at the same time, whilst we receive approximately 2.3 million signals a second. Therefore, it follows that most signals are unconscious.

It is impossible to consciously keep track of them all. Through consciously focusing on certain signals, tells, we are more able to use our unconscious capacity and develop our unconscious ability to read them.

It can be compared to riding a bicycle: first, you are actively concentrating on what you are doing, how to hold the handlebars, what speed you should be going at, how to sit, etc. and after you learn it all, you place cycling in your unconscious and only passively concentrate on cycling.

You can use your consciousness to think about other things. In the same way as learning how to ride a bicycle, you can develop your unconscious ability to “read” body language.