Popular myths about nonverbal communication

It’s not a surprise to anyone that nonverbal language can tell us a lot about another person. Sometimes one can easily deceive us with his or her words, but a single glance at this person is enough to understand the one is hiding something from us. Not only the gestures but also the tone of a voice is a very effective tool for communication. Still, we shouldn’t rely on nonverbal communication too much. Numerous scientific researchers have proved that, no matter how effective this type of communication is, it is still not free from errors and is definitely not thus obvious as we imagine.

Myth 1: 90% of information is received nonverbally

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, you have heard an extremely popular claim that 90% of information is received nonverbally. It might also be that you yourself believe in this claim. Let’s find out whether it is actually true.

The belief of such an enormous power of nonverbal communication evolved in the 60s due to Albert Mehrabian who conducted a research of the way in which people are reading the emotions of others. In order to do it, he prepared a set of photos of people showing different emotional states and, in addition to it, a set of texts. The participants were looking at the photos, while listening to the texts which were read to them with a particular tone of voice and intonation. The results of the testy showed the researchers that people distinguish the emotions of others primarily via the nonverbal language, especially facial expressions, mimics and the tone of voice.

Unfortunately, some careless psychologists who got acquainted with the work Albert Mehrabian started using the claim about the nonverbal communication in other contexts as well. Finally, a belief in a total super power of this type of communication evolved and many people started believe that it is possible to understand almost everything without words at all.

Needless to say, this is obviously far from the truth. If there were such a skill, we wouldn’t have almost any difficulties communicating with people who are speaking in foreign languages.

Myth 2: Crossed arms mean a person is hiding from others

One of the most widespread myths about the meaning of gestures concerns the body position with crossed arms. There are many interpretations of this position, however, none of them doesn’t mean anything good. The most popular belief is that a person is crossing the arms in order to hide from other people for different reasons.

He or she might feel uncomfortable around others or even feel downward aggressive. However, there is no such a rule at all. Although sometimes people really cross their arms because they would like to hide their fear, anxiety or impatience, but this doesn’t happen too often since there are many other reasons why we prefer this position at a particular moment. For example, we can try to warm up by crossing the arms like that or feel more comfortable sitting on an inconvenient chair. Furthermore, our crossing arms might even be an unintentional attempt to copy the gestures of the person we are talking to right now.

As you can see, it is not a good idea to assign any meaning to gestures and to this one in particular.

Myth 3: Liars do not look straight into the eyes and usually look at your left side

Do you also believe people are not looking in your eyes when they are lying to you? Undeniably, this is an extremely popular belief about the nonverbal communication. Unfortunately, it is so deeply engraved in our minds that it is really difficult to believe this might not true, so we tend to treat people who are not looking into our eyes while telling something serious as liars.

Although this opinion is partially true, we should still be careful with our conclusions. Usually, only young children and rather inexperienced liars are doing their best to avoid the eye contact with the person their trying to deceive, however, it doesn’t work for many others.

On the one hand, the people who have been lying to others for quite a long time, are quite capable of doing it in such a way as you will have real problems with understanding whether they are telling you the truth or not. Such people have no difficulties with maintaining the eye contact and remaining totally calm. On the other hand, there are many reason because of which people are not able to look into your eyes while speaking and none of them is about being dishonest.

Many people are just too shy to look into your eyes or nervous because of some mental issues. They can also struggle with focusing their attention. In addition to it, people tend to be rather nervous while telling you the truth which might turn out for you rather unpleasant.

Another popular opinion is that lairs are looking at your left side. This one comes from Neurolinguistic Programming which is now regarded as a pseudoscience about manipulation and successful communication. In the reality, the research showed that looking at the left side of the person is not a typical behaviour of people who are trying to deceive us.

Katie Miller

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