Anthony J. Iantosca, BCFE
Base Line and Context
Part Three (3)
Growing up in a Culture very different than my own and not being
very proficient at speaking the language at that young age. I used what I came
to understand later in life as body language or nonverbal communication. At that
time I was able to understand a person's feelings and intentions by watching
their facial expressions and overall body movements. As a young boy growing up
in Boston's Chinatown my friends spoke either Toisanese or Cantonese or a
combination of both with a little English thrown in-between. I was taught and
understood a few words but that was about it. How did I get my point across?
How would I understand what others were saying to me when my friends were not
around to translate for me? I watched peoples expressions and overall body
movements. A real friendly smile or the smile that was not a true felt smile,
the "sucker punch look" as I called it. Today I know this "tell" is an
asymmetrical smile also known as "contempt." The way people walked up to me, how
they would talk to me, and the expressions on their face. How some of the older
kids would look at me when I was walking down Tyler or Beach Street. This told
me if I was in red, yellow or green. To put it bluntly, if I was going to get
my rear end kicked. Their actions and looks alerted me to what was to follow.
Most times it was just ball busting or bravado, a few times it was not. First,
you must be a "Competent Observer of your Environment."
At that time the only real entertainment any of us could afford was going
to one of Chinatown's movie houses every weekend. China Cinema, Star or Pagoda
and watching the newest Gung Fu or comedy movie that was being released by the
Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong every week. We could sit there all night for a few
dollars. At that time "Fu Sheng" was the martial arts hero along with a
guy called "Jackie Chan." Who knew!
My older Gung Fu brother ( Di Lo) Philip would ask me? Tony how do you
know what is going on? At that time they did not dub the movies in English as
they did later on. I said by watching their actions and facial expressions. Also
by understanding the "context" of the movies plot line.
Their facial expressions and overall body language was so over
exaggerated it was very easy for me to follow along. When I opened my Martial
Arts School in Boston's Chinatown, I started to read books on body language by
Julius Fast , Allan Pease and the few books I could find at the Boston Public
Library that were available at that time. It was all very confusing. One book
would say one thing, another book would say something else. The more books I
read, the more I got confused. The reason for my confusion was these books did
not explain "context."
One of the most important factors in understanding nonverbal
behavior that most of these book did not focus very heavily on, was "context."
That is the key to understanding and decoding nonverbal communication behaviors
accurately. You must decode the "tells" based on the context of the situation
you are in. Nonverbal behavior can and will be very confusing without "context,"
it is not a cookie cutter or one size fits all read. The same non verbal "tell"
will have a different meaning under different circumstances and
The second most important factor when you talk or meet someone for the
first time and as you continue to interact with them is you need to get a handle
on their "baseline behavior patterns." You need to note how they act and
express themselves normally when they are stressed or not stressed in a state
of "comfort or discomfort." How they sit, where they place their hands, their
posture and their facial expressions. How they tilt there head, voice tones,
pacifying behaviors, etc. You need to differentiate between their normal relaxed
"comfort" behavior patterns or when stressed and in a state of "discomfort."
Establishing a person's "baseline behavior" is critical because it allows you to
determine if these "tells" are universal behaviors that are the same for
everyone or what is called "idiosyncratic" non verbals that are unique to one
Example: I have a very dear loved one who I have known for a very long
time. She will pop one shoulder up and down like a car piston when she sees me,
when she is talking, answering a question, asking a question, etc. This is a
"idiosyncratic" "tell" unique to her. A one shoulder shrug is an indication that
the person is not totally limbic committed to their statement. This can be
looked at as being deceptive. If you did not know her or her baseline non verbal
"tells" she can be misunderstood and misread as being deceptive.
She is not, she is the most honest person I know. She acts this way when
she is emotionally stimulated for good, bad or indifferent. A unique
"idiosyncratic" tell. I can always tell when she is going to ask me a question
of some sort, before she opens her mouth her shoulder starts popping.
Once you have determined their true baseline behavior patterns then you can
accurately decode when he/she deviates from their "baseline behavior patterns."
When did their base line behavior change? What caused that change? Remember, "a
change in their behavior is a change in their reality."
So gentlemen before you think that the lovely lady sitting in front of you
for the first time with her eyes wide open and her pupils dilated thinking she
is showing signs of interest, check on the light conditions in the room.
Stimulation of the autonomic nervous system's (sympathetic branch,) known for
triggering " flight or fight" responses when the body is under stress, induces
pupil dilation. The visual cortex in the back of the brain assembles the actual
images we see. But a different, older part of the nervous system-the
autonomic-manages the continuous tuning of pupil size (along with other
involuntary functions such as heart rate and perspiration). Specifically, it
dictates the movement of the iris to regulate the amount of light that enters
the eye, similar to a camera aperture. Pupils will dilate in low light
conditions, when under emotional stress, when thinking about a difficult math
problem, when in a state of sexual arousal, looking at a picture of a lovely
woman or handsome man even when a bull moose is charging you and you are
surprised and frightened.
Look for clusters of behaviors that will show interest. Is her lips
slightly parted, are her legs and feet pointed in your direction, is she showing
ventral fronting, is her neck tilted, does she touch her neck, twirl her hair,
does she touch and expose her wrists? This is showing signs of interest. On the
flip side of the coin, if her eyes are dilated because of low light
conditions, and her feet are pointed away from you, there is slight lip
compression, she is not showing her neck, lack of ventral fronting (sitting on
an angle away from you) looking around the room, checking her phone, she wants
away from you. Even with those lovely dilated pupils.