Like Mehrabian before him, Allan Pease created a new concept on the mystery of how we communicate – and I feel, like Mehrabian, his ideas have sometimes been misinterpreted.

In Body Language – How to Read Other’s Thoughts by their Gestures* he explains the various types of gestures people use when they are experiencing certain emotions or opinions.

But the one thing that Allan really hammered home was that we could not make any such claim from isolated gestures. We had to look for clusters and then put them into the context of the moment – that is the circumstances and the surroundings. Only then, could we make realistic assessments of meanings.

And I think many people have lost that in grabbing for the sound-bites … again!

Allan also points out that culture also affects the way we use gestures, and I am here to tell you – that so does socialised conditioning!!

Now I do not like to stand around with my arms dropping loosely to my side – it is far too reminiscent of standing to attention. And almost instinctively, I find myself bracing up and curling my fingers in accordance with long heard orders from the drill sergeant.

So instead, I loosely cross my arms; usually with my palms resting on the inside of my forearms. There is nothing aggressive or defensive about this stance, and it is driven by mere comfort. And yet I have lost count of the many times I have been told something along the lines of “Crossed arms? That means you’re very defensive” and when I demur, they often continue “You should read Allan Pease on Body Language!”

Well I have, lots of times, and nothing Allan tells me changes my opinion. He insists that before making definitive decisions we should consider the context.

Someone feeling chilly, or in a cold room will often cross their arms to stop from shivering; most ex-servicemen and women I have spoken to have also admitted to crossing their arms, and for the same reason I do!. So there are another two very differing reasons for the phenomenon of crossed arms!

However, if the arms are tightly crossed, if the feet are firmly planted and somewhat apart – I would begin to suspect the person could be a little defensive bordering on aggressive. And if I noticed a scowl or frown, with some tighten of the lips – I might be very wary. And if this was in response to some highly contentious issue on which I was passionately declaiming my point of view, I would probably be right in deciding the other totally disagreed with me and watch out for fireworks.

You see, we need to make informed decisions from all the clues, not just pick one and fixate on that – and that is what Allan Pease clearly states in his books.

Allan has brought some important understanding to the eternal question of “How do we really communicate” – but we fail the test if we take everything out of context and come to some very foolish conclusions based on isolated gestures.

So if we come across each other at a networking function, or some other event and you notice that I am standing chatting with my arms crossed – please also note that they are loosely crossed, my hands are clearly visible, I am probably smiling and nodding and I certainly will be looking at the other person.

All of which, taken in context means “Aha! Another ex-servicewomen enjoying a chat!” and this time you would be perfectly correct.

Michele @ Trischel

*Pease, A.V., Body Language – How to Read Other’s Thoughts by their Gestures, Sydney, Camel Publishing , 1981

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