More than half of communication is nonverbal. Unless this is your first visit to Miss Pivot, you’re not surprised. Body language plays a huge role in our interactions with others. You can figure out when someone is attracted to you, when someone is checked out of the conversation, and when someone would rather be talking to your friend and you can leave now please. One of the things I’ve talked about before in regards to attraction is mirroring body language—when your actions start to mimic those of another (or vice versa, of course). It conveys a familiarity, a sense of being in sync.
Sometimes, however, people guard themselves. The more you know about body language, the more you can monitor your own. This can be beneficial, for example if you’re chatting with someone attractive. It’s another way of letting them know you’re interested.
I’ve met a couple men recently who gave away nothing. They didn’t seem bored, or interested, or uninterested, or looking to escape, or looking to escape with me…they didn’t seem anything. I had nothing to go on. (It was almost impressive, how controlled they were. Or rather, it would be impressive if it wasn’t so frustrating trying to read them.)
Not only does that kind of behavior give you less to work with as their conversation partner, but if you do fall into any mirroring…you end up looking like a pair of strangers who’ve just met. (Not…that this ever happened to me…or anything.)
But there is good news for these statues we occasionally run into. Body language is not the only way people mirror each other when they develop a comfort level. (Or, at least, want to appear to have developed a comfort level.) James Pennebaker, at the University of Texas at Austin, took a careful look at spoken language. More specifically, he took a look at function words. Function words are basically the small words we don’t spend much time thinking about—pronouns, prepositions, articles. This, there, an, though, I, that, and. You probably couldn’t even guess how many times a day you say those words. I wouldn’t be able to tell you, other than a very rough guess of “a lot?” After analyzing conversations between people on speed dates, Pennebaker and his graduate students were able to learn a surprising amount about people based on their use of function words.
People who had similar language styles (their use of these words) were much more likely to end up together. The more similarities in their language patterns also predicted how long they would stay together—the closer their language styles, the longer couples remained that way.
The reason for this is the same reason our body language starts to match up: it shows a genuine interest in someone. As you get closer and more comfortable with someone, the more someone analyzing your language would notice subtle shifts in the way each person speaks. People start to slowly speak more like the other. It’s the same reason you and your best friend say the same thing at the same time.
Pennebaker also found connections between language and other things, like lying and power relationships. (Do you use “I” more than your partner? If so, they have a higher social status.)
So remember this: if the body language is looking a little fuzzy, mind those little words you throw around. They might be guiding you towards your next relationship.