Communicating non-verbally is useful in pretty much every area of life, but unfortunately not everyone is equally skilled at it. Just like with all human abilities, people vary in their ability to both understand and use non-verbal communication. As we mentioned in a previous article, those with Autism have particular difficulties in using this style of communication. But it is not only those with learning disabilities that can have problems here. In this article we’ll look at other groups which seem to be better or worse at understanding body language.
To begin with, age appears to improve an individual’s ability to understand body language, which may reflect that as we get more practice at using it, we get better. Success too, seems to be strongly related to an individual’s knowledge of body language, though in this case, it is likely that the skill at non-verbal communication itself is what is leading to the success. If there is a relationship here, then it is clearly an important ability to have and can have serious consequences throughout one’s life. Equally, this can be seen from the fact that people with mental disabilities tend to be worse at non-verbal communication.
There are thought to be some gender differences in this area, and most conclude that women are better at understanding this type of communication. Most researchers put this down to society’s expectations of women, as opposed to a natural ability, since females throughout the lifespan are encouraged much more to express emotions and understand those of others. Further research suggests that women can become even more accurate when they know they are being tested for it and have motivation to do so. The higher level of accuracy likely reflects their greater amount of practice throughout their lives, and perhaps if men were given greater opportunity and encouragement in this area then the results for the two genders would be more equal.
Another predictor of skill in this area is attachment style. This is developed in early childhood as a response to parenting. Those who are given enough attention in childhood are more likely to have properly developed non-verbal communication skills than those who were neglected. Sadly, those with neglectful parents at an early age are also likely to develop less healthy relationships in the future, meaning they will have less opportunities for improving their communication skills as an adult as well.
Strangely, non-verbal behaviour is an innate ability and so one’s ability to understand and use it is related to predisposition more than any actual reflection on intelligence. As well as us being unaware of learning non-verbal behaviours, we tend not to notice using them. Most are reflex actions and unless someone comments on them we have no idea that they are taking place. When we pick up on non-verbal cues too, we tend not to realise that this is what we are doing. We may know that someone is being sarcastic, but might not be able to explain why this the case.
Having said this, sometimes we can exert control over our non-verbal behaviour, and some people are better at doing this than others. One example of this would be a person who is in an unhappy mood, but has to go to a party, and so puts on a false smile to conform to the social norm and look like they are having a good time.
It appears that it is possible to improve your skills in this area somewhat through practice and there may be many benefits for doing this throughout life, since it means you can create a better first impression, better detect deception, and build better relationships with others, and there are many resources out there for doing this, so it could be something worth giving a try.
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