There are so many answers to this question that I feel spoilt for choice! Based on my experience as both an academic and a practitioner in the field of nonverbal communication, I will address the three I come across the most.
1. You can tell if someone is lying based on their body language.
This is without a doubt the most common myth I come across in relation to body language. I have lost track of the number of times I have been asked to write about, speak about, and present on this topic. What is even more worrying, is that I am often asked this by fellow nonverbal communication coaches. Each time I am asked this question, my answer is always the same; based on the enormity of research evidencing that body language is not a good indicator of deception, and the inexistence of any robust evidence to the contrary, we can be confident that there are no specific non-verbal cues that distinguish honest from deceptive people.
If you are interested in the science behind deception detection, I urge you to stop looking for answers in the field of nonverbal communication and investigate forensic linguistics and statement analysis.
2. Body language is 93% of communication
Although it is great to see people recognising the importance of body language, the principle that we can assert an overarching percentage as to how much of our communication is nonverbal is simply not the case. Human interactions are much too fluid, dynamic, and complex for a percentage to be consistent across the board.
This percentage did come from empirical research; however, it has come from a misunderstanding of the research. In a classic study by Albert Mehrabian, Mehrabian found that 93% of the communication that took place occurred through the nonverbal channel (specifically communication of liking and disliking). But here is the important bit, Mehrabian never stated that we can put an exact percentage to the verbal vs. nonverbal element of human communication in general and has refuted the claim repeatedly.
3. Body language is pseudoscience
On the opposite end of the scale to the last myth, I am often met with individuals who think that any claims as to the importance or application of body language are pseudoscientific. This is certainly not the case.
As human beings we have been shaped by evolutionary pressures, and this extraordinary process has left us with elements of a universal language, nonverbal communication.
Although there are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding the field, body language research has led to an invaluable understanding and impact across several domains, inclusive of but not limited to clinical practice, forensic investigation, interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, and employability skills. I am amazed by the extraordinary research being conducted around the world, and with every new discovery being made, the power of body language becomes clearer every day.
This question originally appeared on Quora.
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