When you meet someone new, how long does it take you to size him or her up and come up with your first impression?
Most people would say less than a minute, but science proves it’s a lot less time than that. Psychologists at Princeton have found through a series of studies that it only takes people one-tenth of a second to make an initial judgement of someone, primarily based on body language. And once you get past that initial judgement? Most communication is still nonverbal. In his book Silent Messages, Dr. Albert Mehrabian discusses the fact that only 7% of communication is through words; the rest of it comes from vocal cues and nonverbal messages, like facial expressions and stance.
To put it simply, if you’re not aware of how others are coming across to you and how you’re coming across to them, you’re missing the vast majority of human interaction. If you’re an ambitious young professional, understanding these cues could make or break your career. And if you’re looking to move up the career ladder, being able to harness your knowledge of body language can put you at a huge advantage in the office, in front of clients, or in other professional situations. An accurate, quick read could be the difference between impressing your boss and falling flat in front of colleagues.
Of course, all of this brings an important question to mind: How do you know if you’re reading body language correctly?
If you’re not sure, you’re in luck: The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley has devised a tricky body language quiz to test if you can correctly guess what emotions people are expressing. (Think: Is someone feeling embarrassed or amused? Expressing interest or just being polite?) The differences are often more subtle than you’d think.
Take the 20-question quiz—getting tips along the way about what to look for in people’s facial expressions. And if your score isn’t as high as you’d like, check out this resource for becoming more aware of the different types of nonverbal cues, and then start focusing on irregularities with those cues.
With a little work, you’ll be a body language-reading machine in no time.