What’s Body Language Really Telling You? Why Tech Is More Telling Than Hand Gestures
I once had a coworker who used to fidget. No matter what was going on, he couldn’t hold still. Whether he was shifting in his seat, rubbing his neck, or chewing his nails, he was in constant motion. Most who looked at him assumed he was a nervous person, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. He was confident, capable, and one of the most respected leaders in the company. He wasn’t nervous—but he did drink about ten cups of coffee a day. That’s the problem with body language. Sometimes, we read too much into it. While studies tell us body language is important, what’s more important is getting to the truth.
The fact is some people are just awkward. Despite that, those people can also be a valuable part of your team, and you run the risk of missing out on their contributions if you make an immediate judgment based on their body language. I’ve found people gain just as many misconceptions through body language as they do information. In some cases, technology can be an asset that helps you avoid reading too much into body language—or misread it entirely—by eliminating it from the equation.
The Misconceptions About Body Language
When it comes to body language statistics, I’ve heard people estimate that anywhere from 50 to 93% of our information comes from nonverbal cues. When we see one of these nonverbal cues, we put our own slant on it. That doesn’t mean the slant is correct. Picture a person with their arms crossed. Just about everyone views this as some form of hostility. But consider the alternatives. A simpler explanation could be that the person is cold, suffers from back pain, or is just trying to hide a stain on their shirt.
There’s a principle in philosophy called Occam’s razor that, in its barest form, states the simplest explanation is usually the better one. The fewer assumptions you have to make to reach a conclusion, the more likely the scenario. In the scenario with the person with their arms crossed, you have to make several assumptions to reach the hostility conclusion. You have to assume that they’re angry, it’s directed at you, and that their posture is an intentional attempt to intimidate, which in most social situations is unlikely.
Of course, most people don’t apply Occam’s razor to every motion someone makes. Instead, they tend to jump to the least likely conclusion simply through habit. This becomes especially problematic when we are encouraged to “watch their body language” while rarely trying to look past it. In the end, we may miss out on a good business relationship because of it. This is why technology can be a good option to remove the misconceptions that body language creates.
Technology That Makes Us Better Listeners
Advances in technology have allowed us to get a better view of a person and we don’t even have to be in the same room to do it. While many of these new technologies are touted due to their convenience and portability, there’s another way these devices can be useful. That’s by creating some distance and with it, objectivity.
- Video Interviewing – Video interviewing allows you to interview more candidates in more locations, but it has an added benefit. It limits your view of the individual, meaning it limits your dependency on body language. As your only focal point is the candidate’s upper body, your focus is on their answers rather than their movements.
- Personalized video responses – This is different from video interviewing, as it’s more of a triage tool designed for scaling the interviewing process. In this, candidates may be asked to give a short speech on a pertinent subject and send it in for review. The difference here is the candidate is able to plan in advance and create a pitch for themselves that the interviewer can use to decide whether or not to move them forward.
- Timed online tests and scenarios – The best way to gauge someone’s ability to do the job is to actually have them do the job. When you can see them work in real time, through the use of online tools and mock scenarios, you can focus on results. After all, does it really matter if someone chews their nails if they’re the perfect candidate for your IT security position?
- Technology for measuring nonverbal cues – While body language might make you assume something about someone, technology can be used to measure things that people can’t control, like micro-expressions, voice box constriction, and heart rate. A traditional example of this is the polygraph, but there are many more technologies out there that can use things like tone, pitch, and even eye movements to look for deception. These technologies are becoming easier to implement and as such, are growing in popularity in pre-employment interviewing. Remote Risk Assessment (RRA) is a superior form of this, which uses a remote interview process teamed with biometric analysis to assess risk levels in an individual’s verbal answers. As this can be done remotely, it’s becoming more popular as a triage process to verify credentials, work histories, and more.
Technology limits our view of someone and forces us to focus on their words, rather than their movements. It also keeps us from making an entire assessment based on limited—often incorrect—information gained from body language. By using human interaction plus technology, you can make better, less biased, hiring decisions.
Clearspeed offers RRA to enterprises looking for easy to use, scalable risk assessment tools. Our technology allows you to get a risk heat map of your organization as well as find the best people to join it. For more information, contact us.
Image Source | Unsplash user Tim Gouw