Three Body Language Myths to Reconsider

While body language cues are sometimes easy to decode, some of your perceptions about this unspoken form of communication may simply be untrue.
Amanda Carrozza
Published: November 15, 2017
As any successful veterinarian would attest, when you’re examining pets and consulting with their owners, making the proper diagnosis takes precedence. And with your staff, taking the lead on difficult procedures is second nature. As focused as you may be on the task at hand or the conversation you’re having, part of you is picking up on the nonverbal communication of those around you. Whether consciously or subconsciously, reading body language accurately is part of being a successful professional, especially in the veterinary field.  

You can tell a lot by the way people conduct themselves. The nervous hands of a novice veterinary technician or the swollen eyes of a concerned client tell you a lot about a situation without any exchange of words. And while some nonverbal cues are easy to decipher, you might unknowingly misjudge a situation or a person based on body language myths you perceive to be true.

But you might want to think again. Here are some common body language cues that you may be getting wrong.

Myth #1: Liars don’t make eye contact.
The Truth: It tends to be more common for young children to avoid eye contact when lying, but this is a trait most people grow out of or learn to control in adulthood — especially if they become skilled liars. In reality, people may avoid eye contact because they are nervous or have a short attention span or because it is culturally appropriate to do so.

Need more proof? A 2012 study focused solely on whether a person’s eye movement indicated lying confirmed that no correlation exists between the two.  

Myth #2: Crossed arms signal frustration or resistance.
The Truth:  Someone who has his or her arms crossed could be communicating a variety of things. Could resistance to the situation be one of them? Yes, absolutely. But crossed arms may also signal nervousness or anxiety. Some people revert to crossed arms or a “self-hug” as a form of stress relief. Others cross their arms in uncomfortable situations to shield themselves from whatever or whomever is making them nervous.

It’s also not uncommon for people to mirror the actions of others during conversations. Are your arms crossed? That could be an instant giveaway as to why the person with whom you’re speaking has his or her arms crossed as well.

Myth #3: Moving your hands when talking is a sign of uneasiness.
The Truth: While excessive fidgeting is how some people react when they are feeling uneasy, hand movements are sometimes necessary to convey a point. This is especially true when a client is explaining the signs his or her pet is displaying and might need to gesture to certain body parts. In turn, clients might look to your own hand gestures to follow along and interpret the diagnosis you’re explaining.

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