The Friend Category

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on non-verbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements or tone, and 55% through nonverbal elements known as body language (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc).  This means that 93% of communication is through non-verbal means.  The first step in understanding the psychology of body language is to first understand how the primitive portion of our subconscious brain categorizes people that we interact with.  When you meet someone new, their body language triggers your subconscious brain to place them into one of four categories which are as follows:

1.       Friend: This means you believe they are a good person and you are safe around them.  Your subconscious response is to approach them and listen to what they have to say.

2.       Enemy: This means you believe they are not a good person, you do not trust them and you are not safe.  Your subconscious response is to retreat.  You will not listen to what they have to say because your brain has already made the decision to get away as quickly as possible.

3.       Attraction: (Warning, this category is extremely primitive) You look at them in terms of physical or sexual attraction.

4.       Indifferent: You do not believe that there is any form of connection at all.  Therefore, you don’t really listen or pay attention to them.

If you want to be effective in working with people, you must strive to present yourself with the proper body language so that those you encounter will place you immediately in category 1, which is the “Friend” category.  All of the other three are ineffective if you intend to work with, persuade or inspire them.  People may look at you and hear you out but they will not be listening to you or take you seriously.  Remember, the four categories are driven by our subconscious brain, meaning this is not something that an individual thinks through or even knows they are doing.  But it is real and extremely powerful.  Mark Bowden has become the world renowned body language and behavioral psychology expert.  Here are a few ways that Mark has discovered that you can use body language to present yourself in such a way that you will be placed in the Friend category of those you encounter:

1.       Smile: A full hearty smile is the most important thing you can do with your body language.  If you smile appropriately you will get a smile back, meaning their subconscious brain has placed you in the friend category.  An eyebrow raise added to a hearty smile is also a great way to make a good first impression.

2.       Posture: Good posture tells the other party that you are healthy, capable and confident.

3.       Handshake: Your handshake should be firm but not overbearing.  It needs to be palm to palm and you should try to let the other party have their hand on top.  This make the other party feel empowered and removes any subconscious threat.

4.       Gestures: The gestures that you use strengthen your message and reinforces that the other party is safe around you.  Your palms should be open and turned up and your arms should stay between your stomach and chest.  Your hands at chest level is the passion zone and your hands at stomach level is the safe zone.  Hands together, hands in pockets, balled in a fist or behind the back all triggers a fear response.  Open palms are safe, closed fists and finger pointing are not.

5.       Mirror: Mirroring the other parties positioning makes them feel safe.  If they are sitting with their leg crossed then you do the same. 

6.       Reinforce: Always reinforce when you get the behavior that you want. If you want them to smile, make sure you acknowledge each smile with a smile and nodding of your head.  If you want feedback or you want them to discuss next steps, smile and nod when they do so.  You will get more of the things you reinforce with a smile and a nod.

No matter what you are trying to accomplish, your ability to communicate and work with others will enhance your effectiveness.  With 93% of communication being nonverbal, I highly encourage you to use tone and body language education and awareness to ensure that the primitive subconscious brain of each person you encounter places you in the friend category.  Once a group of people are safely working together as friends there is no limit to what dreams, ideas, creativity and innovation will emerge.  Use your body language to present yourself as a friend, and you will unleash a whole new realm of possibility for what you can accomplish as well as others.


Get the Latest from Swift Straw via email