The Big Question is: Can we fake it?
The answer is a big NO. But we can definitely use it to our advantage.With a right assessment of what the other is feeling and the right responses (gestures) you can turn a NO to a YES in business, you can build rapport faster, you can break defenses, etc etc. :)
Understanding body language is no easy task. There are lots of considerations but once you get used to it--like in any other task/skill-- it will be easier and almost automatic!
Let's start with a definition of body language. It is the expression of our real feelings/emotions using our body-- it may be conscious but is mostly unconscious. The body reveals what the mind is thinking even if the conscious mind is trying to conceal it.
Three Rules for Accurate Reading (by A & B Pease)
Rule 1 Read gestures in clusters
Never ever interpret a gesture in isolation. One gesture can mean a lot! For example, crossed arms can mean defensive, insecure, hostile, or is just hiding a stain in her dress or a big belly and a hundred more possibilities.
Gestures should only be read in clusters/groups. For example, relaxed arms/legs, leaning forward, while stroking the chin may mean "I am thinking about it but I'm positive."
Rule 2 Look for congruence
Is what he/she is saying consistent with what their body is revealing?
Once, i caught myself saying "Sige, okay lang." (Sure, it's okay.) while shaking my head (as if saying no).There is incongruence between my words and action. Action really speaks louder than words! I'll admit, I was just shy to say no at that time. We really can't fake it!
Rule 3 Read gestures in context
Look around. Consider the environment and what is happening.
A person might cross his arms and legs because it is cold-- not defensive. Or when talking with a woman in a crowded place, a woman might cross her arms to protect her bosom-- not because she is negative about what you are talking about.
Always remember these three. It will help you a lot. At first, the task of understanding body language might be difficult but with regular practice, you'll be a pro! :)
Source: Pease, Allan & Barbara (2004), The Definitive Book of Body Language, 20-24.
Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beddy/27955977/