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Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:20 AM

Communication: 80% Body Language; 15% Tone & 5% Actual Words.

There is a post about a woman who had a cashier say "Merry Christmas" in an antagonizing manner. The focus in the thread is on the words.

But we human beings don't communicate with "just words" - we use body language and tone. The "right words" can turn into dread insult depending on the body language and vocal tone used. Don't believe me? Try picturing the following --

The words are "I'm sorry."

= Picture a small child, head bowed low and tears streaming. Do you believe them? Do they mean it?

= Next a teenage, with arms crossed, a defiant look on their face, and a tone dripping with sarcasm. The words are the same; do you believe them? Do they mean it?

= Now an adult, lips pursed, not looking you in the eye, an annoyed expression on their face. Same questions.

= Last another adult, holding their arms out to you, direct eye contact, a sympathetic expression on their face. Same questions.

In each case, the words are the same, but in each case we are trained to determine the context by the body language (lowered head, arms crossed or extended, lips pursed, gaze averted or direct eye contact) and the vocal intonations - devastated, sarcastic, annoyed, sympathetic.

Sometimes words are just words; sometimes "Merry Christmas" is a friendly greeting, and sometimes it is a hostile insult.

In all situations, including today's "Merry Christmas" discussion, if we pretend there is NO PROBLEM ("you imagined the insult!"), we cannot address the issue(s). If we pretend people are telling the truth when reality is that they are lying, one side gets to call the other crazy, and the problems continue. And people who trust only "the words" while ignoring body language and tone issues are missing the majority of communication we human beings use to build - or destroy - our communities.

In the case of the hostile "Merry Christmas" encounter, I believe the poster accurately reported her perceptions. I trust her skills in decoding the meta-message. With that being said, the "real issue" is the perception of a "war on Christmas" - it is designed to make a majority of believers think they are a persecuted minority.

Being a persecuted minority is a reason for outrage and hostility. It destroys community; it doesn't pull neighbors together - it pulls them apart.

How can we reach these people? How can we stop "the war on Christians" when only certain media outlets are fighting it?

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Arrow 27 replies Author Time Post
Reply Communication: 80% Body Language; 15% Tone & 5% Actual Words. (Original post)
IdaBriggs Dec 2012 OP
NYC_SKP Dec 2012 #1
IdaBriggs Dec 2012 #9
ann--- Dec 2012 #2
LisaLynne Dec 2012 #4
LineLineLineNew Reply .
lumberjack_jeff Dec 2012 #22
jberryhill Dec 2012 #6
Mariana Dec 2012 #7
Marrah_G Dec 2012 #11
ann--- Dec 2012 #25
Marrah_G Dec 2012 #27
aquart Dec 2012 #3
Mariana Dec 2012 #5
IdaBriggs Dec 2012 #8
Z_I_Peevey Dec 2012 #10
Mariana Dec 2012 #13
FarCenter Dec 2012 #12
SheilaT Dec 2012 #14
IdaBriggs Dec 2012 #17
Odin2005 Dec 2012 #15
IdaBriggs Dec 2012 #16
Odin2005 Dec 2012 #20
IdaBriggs Dec 2012 #23
hifiguy Dec 2012 #18
hughee99 Dec 2012 #19
IdaBriggs Dec 2012 #24
WillyT Dec 2012 #21
Kolesar Dec 2012 #26

Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:21 AM

1. This is why emails and internet discussion board messages are so often misinterpreted.

It's frustrating sometimes!

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #1)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 10:07 AM

9. Tone on a message board - sigh.

Got to love that thingy!

Haven't seen you in a while - how are you doing?

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)


Response to ann--- (Reply #2)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:34 AM

4. Hasn't anyone ever said something like "excuse me" to you in a sarcastic manner?

Pretty much any phrase can be meant in a less than favorable way.

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Response to LisaLynne (Reply #4)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:51 PM

22. .

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Response to ann--- (Reply #2)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:45 AM

6. Have a nice day!

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Response to ann--- (Reply #2)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:47 AM

7. The OP of that thread apparently thought the same thing

until it happened to her.

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Response to ann--- (Reply #2)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 10:25 AM

11. I am not Christian

If I were to say "Happy Holidays!" to a customer and that customer looks at me angrily and says "Merry Christmas" then I would take that as a hostile reaction to my holiday wishes.

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Response to Marrah_G (Reply #11)


Response to ann--- (Reply #25)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 08:46 AM

27. Since you did not bother to read what I wrote

And instead just chose to be rude instead I'm going to "get a grip" and put you on ignore.

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:33 AM

3. Uh, some people -cough-Republicans-cough- don't get the 80% body language.

They go solely on the 5% words. Which is why a change to Happy Holidays can freak them.

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:44 AM

5. The people who are saying this kind of thing

doesn't happen are either dishonest or willfully ignorant. Go to any conservative forum and read the "War on Christmas" threads. The participants brag about doing exactly what was done to the OP of that thread. I don't think it's particularly common, but it certainly does happen.

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Response to Mariana (Reply #5)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:58 AM

8. So, how can we FIX it? I am at a loss.

It is like the bully who is smacking you around shouting "Stop hitting me!"

No one is hitting them. They are hitting others. Why is the bully doing it?

The bully truly believes he is "defending himself" -- while the rest of us are being left bruised and battered going "what the heck just happened?"

How do we Stop the FICTIONAL War? We can't "stop fighting" because WE aren't fighting in the first place.

I think the post that clarified this for me was the one where the woman was just paying for a purchase, and the hostility occurred.

She did nothing wrong. Somebody launched a pre-emptive attack on her.

How do we stop this?

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Response to IdaBriggs (Reply #8)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 10:21 AM

10. Well, I complain. Loudly.

Last Christmas I encountered some particularly bad service in a chain shoe store as I attempted to purchase a gift card for my granddaughter. Without going into all the gory details, I'll just note that a transaction that should have taken, at most, five minutes, took upwards of 15 minutes and at the end, I did not have the gift card. But my bank account had been charged for the transaction.

I had to return later in my very busy day (I was on my lunch hour) to straighten out the mess.

I was fine--curt, rushed, but not rude-- until the clerk called out to me in a sing-song, mean-spirited way as I left the building, "Have a blessed day!". Sugary-sweet, phony voice. Just went all over me.

I called headquarters to complain. Got a free gift card. Don't know what happened to the clerk, because I haven't been back into the store.

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Response to IdaBriggs (Reply #8)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 11:16 AM

13. You can't control what other people do.

So, I don't think you can stop it. And, an awful lot of people here seem to approve of such behavior. Look at how they treated the OP on that thread. It's fucking disgraceful. There will be no help from that lot, that's for sure.

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 10:30 AM

12. Ignore all that non-verbal crap

You'll be happier.

(Actually, ignore the verbal crap too, and focus on outcomes.)

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 12:58 PM

14. If those percentages are actually accurate,

how do we EVER correctly understand the meaning of someone on the phone or here on DU or via any means by which we cannot see them. Do blind people constantly get actual meaning wrong?

I know that emoticons got invented around the time email became common, and they are extremely helpful.

I do know that my son with Asperger's, who generally cannot read body language, often misunderstands people, although now that he is almost 30, he's a lot better than he was.

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Response to SheilaT (Reply #14)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 02:46 PM

17. The numbers are pretty old/standard reported in different books on communication.

It is why you can "tell" what is going on with someone sometimes without them even saying a word. I've done the exercise with people at different points - "show me SAD! MAD! GLAD!" and kids especially are good at identifying the body language/displaying the body language. The writings of Deborah Tannen (I think that was her name) were especially fascinating, because all of it (including speed of word use) can also vary by region, which brings in a whole other set of rules, and then you have the whole "men versus women" thing. (Famous example: "What's wrong?" If a woman says "nothing" it means, "nothing unless you love me and ask follow up questions" while for a man it means "nothing, so drop it already, okay?")

Tone counts for A LOT in communication; the "subtle" sarcasm of the obnoxious teenager is pretty clearly understood by most folk.

And of course, any and all rules always have exceptions, which makes communication even more challenging - lol!

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 01:08 PM

15. This is why we Aspies have so much trouble in social situations.

It's like Neurotypicals have this kind of ESP I don't have!

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Response to Odin2005 (Reply #15)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 02:39 PM

16. Totally off topic, but on the Aspie side...

Do you have sensory issues? *Major* thing happening over in the PGP -- 100% of the kids with sensory processing issues (including an autism only subset) are seeing the sensory processing stuff "resolving/starting to resolve" by about week six.

Completely unexpected. One of the moms with a hypotonic child who also had SPD noticed it, and started jumping up and down pretty fierce (in a good way), so we added it to the list of "things to be tracked" and like I said, 100% improvements; I received two "bless you!" emails about Thanksgiving family gatherings with SPD kids not melting down.

Not a cure, but a piece of the puzzle I think.

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Response to IdaBriggs (Reply #16)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 08:13 PM

20. Yes I do!

I cannot wear clothes that have certain synthetic fibers, like acrylic "wool" in some cheap sweaters, they make me itch like hell! certain sounds, textures, and colors also drive me up the wall.

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Response to Odin2005 (Reply #20)

Wed Dec 12, 2012, 09:39 AM

23. Seriously, you might want to try the protocol we are using.

I can't guarantee anything, but *something* is going on with these deficiencies issues. (The Project is only for children twelve and under.) When I say we are having a 100% success with the sensory processing issues, I am NOT exaggerating - kids who couldn't wear tags, handle loud noises without melting down, bursting sensations in their mouth - you know the stories - experiencing SIGNIFICANT cessation of these symptoms by six weeks.

#3 (at 82 days): During a program at the nature center, the kids sang a song (he participated which that alone is huge for him) and when the kids said shhhhhh (to make the wind sound) he told me it was loud and covered his ears. He didn't start screaming at everyone to be quiet. He didn't run out of the room or start stimming. He just calmly covered his ears during that part.

#20 (at 48 days): We've had the biggest changes here! My son has always been sensitive to clothing. I had to remove tags, stick to softer fabrics, avoid clothing decoration that was stiff, etc. He's always refused to wear jeans even though he's asked to wear them, he always ended up taking them off because they bothered him so much. He's now wearing jeans no problem for the first time ever! It's like they are no big deal. He's grown 2 inches and out of most of his clothes. I put new clothes the next size up in his drawers and I didn't remove the tags. Not a single complaint. Just a month ago he was asking me to remove a tag from a new shirt he'd gotten, this is a recent and drastic change. Also, for the first time in his life he finger painted. With his fingers!!! He's always refused in the past. He'd use a paintbrush. Sometimes I could get him to dip a finger but the instant he felt it he'd want to wash the paint off, if not meltdown entirely. He was the only preschooler in his library class not to play with shaving cream foam the librarian sprayed on the tables last year. Anyway, he finger painted at home this week. He was so excited! He wanted to call his grandma and tell her that he did it and that it was fun. I can tell it means so much for him to be able to do things he's wanted to do but was too overwhelmed in the past to do. We went to visit alpacas and he let them eat feed right out of his hand even though that meant their tongues licked him. He did it no problem as I watched in shock.


I have no idea if it will help an adult (and we don't have the resources to investigate), but I *highly* recommend you do some investigation. It can't hurt.

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Response to Odin2005 (Reply #15)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 02:48 PM

18. Oh, ain't that the truth.

I can pass for normal or just a bit "off", as one of my theapists said, with friends or co-hobbyists (I always have an icebreaker to talk about with other people into high end audio or playing music, and that gets me over those first few awkward minutes), where I am more of a Twilight Sparkle (nerdy and a little awkward, but basically socially competent) but I instantly turn into Fluttershy in a formal situation or with people I don't know. Viz



I have an Ivy League law degree, worked for Jennifer Granholm in law school (she was editor of a journal I worked on) and graduated with the FLOTUS but I've never been able to get and hold a decent-paying job because I am the worst interview in the world and don't mix with others in the workplace. I don't "get it" so I just avoid it.

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 03:03 PM

19. It depends on what you're trying to communicate.

I've never received a set of detailed instructions through body language and tone. "Today I'm going to show you how to fix an airplane engine... pay close attention to my hips."

For social interaction, though, it's probably about right.

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Response to hughee99 (Reply #19)

Wed Dec 12, 2012, 09:42 AM

24. Lol! I understand what you are saying - there are different types of communication.

and "meta-messages" are not as important in detailed instructions (except for the clear "everyone knows this" stuff, which tells everyone where to start, and what has to be explained).

It is the social communication that I am referring to - the "how we build relationships and identify friend from foe" stuff.

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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Tue Dec 11, 2012, 09:47 PM

21. K & R !!!




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Response to IdaBriggs (Original post)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 08:11 AM

26. I told my professor "Merry Christmas" and he freaked out

Purdue sucks

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