I’d be curious to know which non-verbal cues are the most readily interpreted. Language seems like it would rank right up there near the top. An accent reveals someone’s location of origin. Although in the US a tinge or a twang, here or there, can cover a large geographic mass.
In Minnesota we have a number of cities with American Indian names like Edina, Wayzata and Mahtomedi. A stumble here puts the speaker clearly out of state. The use of soda or pop lets us know who is from Wisconsin or Illinois.
But what about other indicators, facial expressions for instance. There are those who greet people full on, eyes wide, and smile bright. There are those who look down and away and mumble. There are again others who stand upright, rigid and talk with the hushed MPR voice that they do so well on Saturday Night Live. Each of these descriptions may have led you to conjure up an image and start coloring in some thoughts around these characters.
Facial gestures can also steer conversation. A hard stare, a doubting wrinkle at the brow, a mocking curl of the lips, are all tools that one can use to impose status, perceived or real, over another. And this type of power, is oh so important in managing the conversation and the direction of the interaction.
Body language is on a continuum. You’ve got the leaners and the straighten uppers, the gesticulators and the laughers. But I’ve always been impressed with the brashness of those who will turn their shoulder (or full body) to create a block between a newcomer and a gathered group. I mean you might as well shout for all to hear: “I don’t want you here!”
People are so caught up in what is said. I find the silent part of language is far more sophisticated. This is where the demarcation of in-group and out-group are drawn. This is where it is quietly confirmed whether you’re in, or out.