Body language is the language of body posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye movements. It reveals an individual’s state of mind, his or her attitudes, feelings and intentions, and personality traits such as extroversion, introversion, aggression, greed and rivalry. The language is so rich that researchers claim 60 to 70% of all meaning is derived from body language. “... There is no word as clear as body language, once one has learned to read it.”
Body language is of immense importance in qual. It greatly enriches its content, and empowers researchers to read their respondents’ minds. Qualitative researchers need to acquire expertise in the language, so that they can employ it to unlock and read minds, and grasp the full meaning of the messages conveyed to them. The knowledge of body language also helps the moderator to better manage the group engagement and interaction.
Body language is in part innate and instinctive, partly taught and partly imitative. We are experts in using it; we send and receive non-verbal signals all the time, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously. However even though our brains are “programmed” in the use of the language, we are not as capable of reading or interpreting it. Indeed when we try to understand it, it is almost like learning a foreign language. The examples provided next, many of which relate to the visuals in Exhibit 4.8, should give you a flavour of this extensive language.
Positive resolution is evident when a person leans forward with the head nodding in agreement.
Conversely negative resolution is evident when a person leans backwards, and moves his or her head from side to side.
That a person is thinking or trying to see things more clearly can be gauged if he is raising the head, and gazing, putting on/polishing spectacles.
In Exhibit 4.7, the child placing her hand on top of head suggests that she is deeply interested in what she is viewing. Depending on other body signals, however, hand(s) clasping the head can also be interpreted as a protective helmet against some perceived adversity or problem.
General expanding and opening of the posture, uncrossing of arms are some of the signs that tell us a person is opening up.
When a person folds his arms, this can indicate that a person is closing up, particularly if it is accompanied by other signals such as the shrinking or diminishing of the posture. The signals suggest that the person is putting up an unconscious barrier between themselves and others.
Boredom is indicated by yawning and/or by the head tilting to one side. It is usually accompanied by vacant staring at the speaker.
A person indicates uncertainty by shrugging his shoulders, and shaking his head.
Disinterest is also reflected by the shrugging of shoulders, but in this case it is accompanied by general lack of attention, or the examining of hands, legs and feet.
A person indicates irritation by leaning backward and tutting.
A person signals evaluation and indecision by placing the hand on or around chin/face, drawing down of eyebrows and/or the scratching of the ear/head.
Anxiety is reflected in a tense posture, such as the clutching of the chair.
The desire to speak is signalled by a raised finger, direct eye contact and perking up.
Desire to interrupt the speaker is reflected in multiple head nods or other impatient gestures.
Our eyes reveal more about our emotions than any other part of our body. Messages are formed from a combination of the gaze, the widening of the eyes, and the movement of the lids and the brows. For example, wide open eyes, with raised brows and raised lids indicate surprise. In addition to eye expression, the manner we exchange looks, the extent of eye contact, and the movement of our eyes also reflect what is going on inside our minds.
The act of controlling our body, so that it refrains from conveying messages that we want to conceal, is called masking. However, not all messages are easily masked; there are some body responses, such as perspiration, that are difficult to control. If for instance you are experiencing stress, your anxiety is likely to be reflected through perspiration, and your hands would tend to become clammy.
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