Last week I read a book I’d been meaning to read for a long time — Love Signals: A Practical Field Guide to the Body Language of Courtship by David Givens, Ph.D. It turned out to be even better than expected. In fact, I made 163 highlights and took 19 pages of notes!
Now we’ve all heard the term body language and are aware of how it works to some extent. But the word language is not even a metaphor here. Body language is literally a language, and if you’re not familiar with the vocabulary and syntax, you might miss something life-alteringly important.
Luckily, language operates at an unconscious level, so you’ve probably been doing a good job of understanding body language all along. At the same time, a little bit of extra training can put you way ahead of the competition – and enrich the experience of peoplewatching next time you’re in a public place.
Here are some fascinating snippets from the book:
— You have a whole center in the temporal lobes of your brain dedicated to responding to hand shapes. I believe this must be why hands are so expressive and why they’re the toughest problem a painter had to solve when drawing a portrait: what do you do with the hands?
If your goal in a social situation is to be approached, a simple yet highly effective thing you can do is to display your hands palms up. Palm-up gestures are more inviting than palm-down ones.
— Meeting an unfamiliar member of the same species is an anxiety-provoking event which makes us send stranger anxiety cues. Two of these are gaze avoidance and tight lips. If you’re doing those, people will stay away. Another is the tongue show – a slight protrusion of the tip of your tongue past your teeth, like a little cat. Apparently that also keeps people away.
— There are five phases to courtship: attention, recognition, conversation, touch and lovemaking. The sequence is common to cultures studied worldwide. Get good at each one!
— For Phase One, Attracting Attention, you’re basically saying “I’m here!” before words are exchanged. You do this with “clothing, facial adornment, aromas, gestures, and deeds, nonverbal messages broadcast in all directions,” as Givens puts it.
At this point you’re doing two things:
1) You’re letting your presence be known. Do this by moving around, taking up space, and wearing bright, high-contrast colors on top. Fruity colors are much better than black. Also, have an animated, expressive face.
2) You’re broadcasting “I mean no harm” with submissive displays. The submissive displays are particularly important if you’re a guy, and particularly effective if you’re a woman. Some good submission, no-harm gestures are palms up and neck exposed. For guys, chin down is better than chin up.
— For Phase Two, Recognition, your main tool is eye contact. You can either use direct eye contact, or a sweeping gaze across the other person’s field of vision which will eventually lead to eye contact.
–For Phase Three, Conversation, I wrote a whole book which you can read – it’s called The Tao of Dating. This article’s about body language, though, so let’s get back to that.
— Phase Four is Touch. Touch is a major big deal because it’s just so damn primitive: “After smell, touch is humankind’s oldest sense. So powerful are touch cues that initial body contact must be made with care.”
— Here’s a great general piece of courtship advice by Givens:
“The best strategy in courtship is to attract notice without seeming too obvious, eager, or blunt in the process. Overstatements in Phase One— coming on too colorfully, too aromatically, or too soon— keep others away. Courtship works on a principle of luring. Instead of chasing, cornering, and capturing a mate, you emit ‘come hither’ signals and await a response. You hold back initially and play what amounts to a waiting game, in which lure, not seize, is the rule.”
— Apart from her face, the most noticed feature of a woman’s body is her waist. It drove me nuts a few years ago when women wore those empire waist dealies (i.e. maternity dresses) which totally obliterated waistline information. Don’t do that! Especially if you have a nice hourglass shape to your torso, you would do well to accentuate that by bringing attention to your waist.
— The sideward head tilt says “I am interested”. It works really well! It’s also a little bit of a submission gesture, so guys – use it to look less threatening.
— Guys telegraph unconscious interest through “pigeon toes” – the tips of the feet pointing at each other. Look for it!
— Another sign of friendly intention is the shrug display. One shoulder at a time works; two shoulders at a time work, too. Guys – don’t overuse it lest you start to look too submissive. Friendly is good; wimpy is not. Women can use it all they want. Try the single-shoulder shrug right now just to notice how it feels.
— Moving together in sync with your partner (what Givens calls “isopraxism” and what I call “mirroring”) shows that you two are into each other.
— The movement of hands during the Conversation Phase is crucial: “Like e-mailed emoticons, gestures add emotion to words. Hand gestures show conviction, engage listeners personally, and lend credibility to verbal remarks. A hand moved toward your partner’s body brings you closer together in space. Studies find that without hand gestures, words are less dramatic, less expressive, less interesting, less believable, and harder to comprehend.”
— For best results, walk on a partner’s left side and speak into the left ear. For a right-handed person, the left side hooks in to the right half of the brain, which is the more emotional part.
— The way you can tell if a man’s interested in you as more than a friend is by the frequency of touch: “When a woman gets more than the usual number of pats, brushes, and tickles from a friend, he wants to be more than friends.”
— For women, shoulders are an underutilized resource. Bare shoulders are particularly powerful: “Though not on top of a man’s most-attractive list, shoulders are among a woman’s most expressive body parts. Controlled, like the muscles of facial expression, by special visceral nerves, their movements are impulsive, volatile, and seductive.” Since they’re mostly under unconscious control, guys should pay attention to the information women are conveying through the shoulders.
The book is 256 pages long, and what I gave you above is just a fraction of the 19 pages of notes that I took and a tiny bit of what’s in the book. So if you’d like to become an instant mini-expert on the body language of yourself and others, you probably want to read this book. Maybe you’ll figure out something you’ve been doing wrong. Maybe you’ll be able to enhance your own nonverbal signaling abilities, both in social and business settings. Or maybe you’d just like to be able to decipher the hidden language that’s being spoken in public spaces all around you from Atlanta to Zurich. As Dr Givens says, 99% of the language of courtship is nonverbal, so you would do well to master it.
The point of learning this material is to apply it to your life such that you have more love, more companionship and more joy in it. Summer’s a great time for self-improvement, so by all means, take the time to learn this and other material, experiment with it, and improve your life. And if you feel as if you learn better through a structured course, I recommend for the ladies Project Irresistible: 6 Weeks to Your Happiest, Healthiest Love Life and for the men, The Metamorphosis Program. My treat to you: first lesson for both programs is free to download, my treat.