Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Week 49 - Writing Between the Lines

2 Dec - 8 Dec: Actions really do speak louder than words.

Sixty to eighty per cent of communication occurs through gestures, most of them borne from primitive instincts, so forget the dialogue, and hone your kinesiology skills.
"I've got this," (for I am big and strong).
"Look at me," (I have features of a good baby-maker).

Back in my managerial days, I considered myself somewhat of a body language expert. I read the hilarious books by Allan and Barbara Pease (check out Allan’s YouTube videos), and on my quieter days, I studied my colleagues to learn what they were really thinking.

Real Life Scenario #1:

My little-big-man supervisor, Barry, would always, without fail, take a seat in my office with his knees far apart and his hands behind his head. “I am big and powerful,” his body would scream while his mouth asked about the project, “and so are my genitals.” Barry would then offer his suggestions regarding the issues at hand, his fingers touching in a classic steeple gesture, confident that his way was the best way. When I offered an alternative viewpoint, Barry would swing his ankle onto the opposite knee, ready for an argument, and then rub his eye and look at the carpet. “I think it’s a good idea,” he would lie, “but stick with my approach for now.” While I pressed my point, Barry would perch himself on the front edge of the seat, his mind already in the HR Manager's office. “I hear you. I really do.”

Real Life Scenario #2:

Although Barbie was engaged to be married to Bert, whenever Ken was close by, Barbie would play with her hair (a lot), tilt her head to expose her neck, flip her hand to show the fine skin of her wrists, slip her shoe on and off her foot, and cross and uncross her legs. I would guess that she was ovulating if she went so far as to twist her foot around her calf muscle and hook it behind her opposite ankle, as men cannot physically do this.

I found body language an ally in the workplace - when feeling especially childish, I would call a stand-up meeting and study whose feet were pointing where to determine who liked who the most - but the wordless messages we send to people are universal, and so ingrained that it’s difficult to disguise them.

Try this exercise: Cross your arms (a negative, defensive gesture in warm places). Seventy per cent of people will fold left arm over right; now try unfolding and refolding your arms with the other arm on top.

This is relevant to nothing, but here are some interesting historical facts from Allan Pease:

·        Nodding originates from bowing, a sign of submission, or subordination, that is, an effort to appear smaller when intimidated. Tipping one's hat and its offspring, saluting, are off-shoots of the bowing gesture.

·       Shaking one’s head is an instinctive gesture that babies learn when they have had enough to eat.

·        Smiling is a teeth-baring gesture that says, ‘I am fierce and can hold my own. If you don’t mess with me, I won’t mess with you.’

·        Crossing arms instinctively protects the heart and lung area.

·         Men’s brains are wired for hunting food. Women’s brains are wired for bearing children and protecting the nest. This is why men are generally more spatially aware than women (run, throw rock, hit deer), and most woman can multi-task better than most men.

Exercise 95. Do your stories reflect an understanding of wordless communication?
Exercise 96. Do your stories reflect an understanding of the cerebral differences between men and women, that is, why men don't listen and women can't read maps (see Pease's lecture if you're not convinced).


  1. My follow-up questions are as follows (for thought or comment):

    Did you feel a little uncomfortable reading this post?
    Were you offended?

  2. I loved this post and had to laugh at your work-place examples. In my "former life" working with college students, many would come into my office at varying stages of crisis. I would listen to their tales of woe, but I would also carefully watch their body language, their eyes and listen to the tone of their voice, not just their words. So much of what they weren't verbally saying was showing elsewhere and that is how I figured out what I needed to do to help them. As for colleagues, ugh-- yes lots of passive-aggressive body language occurred.

    Great article- reminded me to think about this more as I create characters and dialogue.

    1. The woes of college students - now there lies a story or two.

      As a private person, really intuitive people make me nervous. Non-verbal communication can get very very personal very very quickly, whether we want it to or not (usually the latter).

      As an objective observer and the writer of truthful lies, however, a seductive smile can say more than a page of dialogue, right? I hope so, because I suck at dialogue.

    2. By the way, Julie, have you been nabbed for the Next Big Thing blog hop? (I lose track of what's bouncing where.) I wouldn't mind hearing your answers to the questionairre if you're interested and willing.

    3. Mike tried to nail me down for this hop. My WIP is more "in progress" now than ever so I'm not quite ready to answer the questions. I have a lot of deconstruction and construction to do first. But thanks for thinking of me.

      If you have a job that requires "hearing" more than just the verbal words a person speaks, hopefully you're good enough at it that you don't make the other person feel analyzed, just understood more thoroughly. At least I hoped that was the end result.

      And the woes of college students do make for interesting (and funny) stories as do the woes of parents of students.

    4. Understood, Julie. 'More in progress now than ever' sounds a bit ominous, but it sounds like you're tackling it with usual aplomb.

  3. Okay Egg, I absolutely LOVED this article. It didn't offend or make me uncomfortable in the least, nor do I see where it would anybody (genitals? we all have them in some form). This is such a wonderful topic and I'll explore Pease's lecture later. Sorry for getting by so late...doctor's appts today took a lot of time. I was actually looking for your Next Big Thing thing. LOL!

    I was literally laughing out loud at your examples. Spot-on! I know the types. And I know the gestures. I'm an ENFJ (extrovert intuitive feeling judging) personality type and can't help but study people...it's in my nature. I learn more from what they say than not. I'd rather see the person talking than just hear or read their words. That's why expressing body language in your work is so important. So the reader can see and hear them.

    I've always been able to mix with many, but never felt like I fit in with any. From a military family, always moving, it felt like I was on the outside looking in, really having to study people quickly to make friends. Funny about how life situations create all these little things that go into what makes a person tick.

    I want to read MORE on this topic. So wonderful.

    1. OH Myers Briggs talk! I do leadership and team development workshops on a consulting basis using the MBTI. Let me analyze you PLEASE OH PLEASE!?

    2. Myers Briggs - now there's a nightmare from my past. Agghh.

      Thanks for taking the test cases in the intended spirit. I have good relationships with both ex-colleagues, actually. And yes, genitals are a necessary part of life. (Where, oh where, is this writing blog going??)

      I agree, Julie, most intuitive people are not mean and nasty about it, in fact, people in general are not deliberately nasty... not on the outside, anyway. That's why peeling back the wrappings and writing fiction is so much fun, I guess.

    3. First, a correction...I learn more from what they DON'T say than what they do. I don't know how I managed to mix that up.

      Second...a reminder that the J for judging is the ability to discern, not that I'm (always) judging people! :o) But I probably am.

      And third...if you analyzed me, Julie, you may not like me anymore! Or I'd have men with straight jackets show up at my door.

    4. Oh. My. God. NOT Myers Briggs!! ML, I'm surprised you can recall your personality type right off the top of your head (unless you've been recently assessed).

      I couldn't remember mine so I dug out my old files to refresh my memory. I'm an ISFJ (introvert, sensing, feeling, judging). But that was about ten years ago when the company I worked for had a seminar on it. Though reading through the report now, some of it isn't as spot on now as it was back then.

    5. Oh goodness...it's probably been a good 10-15 (20?) years, but it was easy to remember - it fits me to a tee. Oh yeah, and because it's also Oprah's type. :o)

  4. Looks like I've got a lot of catch-up reading to do. :)

    1. Don't we all Jeff. Man, I'm waiting for a few spare days to dive into the material on your blog. You astound me.

    2. Yes, I was quite impressed with Jeff's working blurb. :o)

  5. I think for a story to be successful and have an impact on the reader it has to have plenty of wordless communication. As writers we have to draw readers into our stories by showing the actions and emotions of the characters. Otherwise the story is flat.

    I love this post, because I too like to watch the body language of people. However, the true gift in doing this is to not make people feel analyzed, as Julie said above. If you allow people to feel comfortable around you then your conversation with them is more relaxed and genuine.

    Unfortunately in social media and our virtual blogosphere world there's no body language to rely on. We only can analyze what's written between the lines in order to decipher the truth behind what's being said, not said, or implied. No body language, only word language. :)

    1. Hi Demetria,

      Too bad our "word language" has been replaced by those goofy emoticons, which have become a necessary evil. Ever read a handwritten letter from the "old days"? Those writers actually took the time to describe their feelings.

    2. I think I've said it before, but you're a wise woman, Demetria.

      I find it a challenge keeping the verbs of gestures fresh without getting ridiculous. 'He, um, looked at her.. stared at her.. surveyed her.. beheld her?'

      And yes, I agree the virtual world is especially challenging. Half the time, you can't even tell if you're talking to a man or a woman!?:'@ (Hey, I just made up an emoticon. No wonder I'm not a big fan of them.)

  6. Hiya,

    "Do your stories reflect an understanding of wordless communication?"

    I sure hope so. I created a mute character, who must communicate through a variety of gestures. The wordless communication between her and the protagonist has been a blast to write, and forced me to sharpen my imagination of her behavior. With your ideas, I would love to add the differences between male and female wiring.

    Fun topic. You made me think about my own body language at my school. I'm afraid I have a tendency to send some negative messages, mostly "saying" that I don't have the time to hear your story about your goldfish.

    1. A mute character's dialogue - what a fantastic writing exercise. Darn, you have a way of making me think, 'wish I'd thought of that.'

  7. Great Post and never imagined you were concerned that someone may be offended by what you wrote.

    As for the non-verbal communication. I did some of this in my work. I have a scene where two pilots are forced to communicate using hand signals, head movements and moving the wings of the aircraft. I think it works well.

    1. Ha ha. I'm still getting used to a different culture. Aussies tend to 'take the piss' out of each other, and I have managed to offend a septic or two. (Septic tank = yank for those not familiar with rhyming slang, and yes, it has been explained to me why that generic term for a U.S. citizen is inaccurate, by one of those aforementioned offended people.)

      But now I know how mature you lot are.... I'm going to have to try harder.

      The pilot scene sounds fascinating. I'd be interested to see how much emotion is in those nods, winks and wing dips.