How body language helps us read emotional intelligence of others

Last week, we found that emotional intelligence involves emotional self-awareness and management and ability to read and manage the emotions of others. It is believed that more than half of our communication is non-verbal or body language.

The earliest known research on expression of human emotions was carried out by Charles Darwin.

Through it he concluded that the universal human emotions had similar expression and that by looking at people’s faces one could discern them. Those were emotions such as anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness and sadness. Many other studies have demonstrated that since human beings express emotion in very similar ways, it is possible to read their expression through different parts of the body beginning with the face.

Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) involves the test takers identifying emotions by reading faces depicting different emotions. It then reports on the ability to identify emotions, use emotions and solve problems with them, understand the causes of emotions and openness to emotions and to fuse emotions with thinking.

How come a person who can express his/her own emotions and read the emotions of others through body language possesses critical qualities for success in career and life? Well, it is because emotional intelligence is the predictor of success in life and career. Here are some of the ways reading body language helps us:

Communication: Research has established that non-verbal communication accounts for more than 50 per cent of all communication.

A person may be failing to read communication beyond words and to communicate through body language. Half of all communication lost one way and half lost the other way is a big loss.

Context: It provides context for words used. This is most noticeable when the words used conflict with the mood or body language of a person. I come across this often in therapy. I might ask a client how he is feeling and he responds ‘fine’, but shaking his head. It is for me to probe or confront the inconsistency.

Empathy: It helps to connect with people and their needs. This may be a family member, friend, colleague or customer. In career the person who uniquely reads and understands the needs of a client and then addresses them will be the most successful one.

Care: At times people are unable to put their feelings into words. These people may have low EQ. Many medical and mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and depression render people unable or unwilling to communicate in words. Proper care for such people calls for a good reading of their body language.

Careers: Success in jobs such as investigators, detectives, interviewers, immigration officers and airport security requires high competence in reading body language. They get only a brief moment to observe or interact with a person within which they have to detect emotions such as fear, anxiety or deception which may lead to further inquiries.

Influence: Being able to influence people calls for good use of one’s body language and reading that of others. Influencers such as marketers, trial lawyers, parents, preachers or CEOs do not succeed purely because of the power of their argument, but the ability to draw the desired ‘yes’.

The good news is that emotional intelligence, including emotional expression and response, can be learnt by anyone at any age.

The writer is a Psychologist, Coach & Organisational Consultant.

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