Putting it in CONTEXT.

HappyLooking at the picture of this man, what do you see? Happiness?  Fear? Excitement? Shock? It’s difficult to determine without seeing the rest of the photo right?

We can draw many conclusions. The man’s elevated eyebrows and his widened eyes is often described as a flash.  That happens when we see something surprising – positive or negative. Is he smiling or grimacing? Experiencing roller coaster fun or roller coaster fear? Shock usually results in a slackened jaw as opposed to this picture, so maybe he isn’t shocked. And so we can go on guessing. We need context. Unfortunately, I don’t have the rest of the photo, so even I am guessing at what exactly brought on this particular facial expression.

In the time I have wandered this planet (doesn’t that just sound poetically dramatic?!), I have learned how we as humans often draw conclusions long before we have enough information. We, I, have done this. I have a very expressive face – it moves a lot and reveals every single one of my thoughts and emotions. Despite this, people still can misinterpret my expression and it happens quite often. Just as I can misinterpret someone else’s expression without seeing the bigger picture.

Tension in the hands, the direction of the feet, movement of the shoulders, touching of the throat, drying hands on pants, picking imaginary lint off sleeves, all of these are bits of extra information to give us a complete picture of someone’s nonverbal communication. And don’t forget the words! They lend even more context.

The longer I wander this planet (I’m overusing, I know, but I‘m loving this phrase now!!), the less willing I am to jump to immediate judgements. There are certain behaviours that are completely unacceptable to me. But it is the motivation behind those behaviours that I will not judge. I don’t know the context – why did he say that, do that, react in that way? Context also include age, gender, culture, socio-economics, education and a long list of other influential factors. One culture’s head-shake is another culture’s nod.

My point? When interpreting nonverbal cues, take time to analyse the context. My larger point? In everyday life, take the time to consider all the different factors that formed a specific habit, behaviour, mentality. It might just make us all a bit more tolerant/understanding and make interpreting verbal and nonverbal communication more accurate.


One thought on “Putting it in CONTEXT.

  1. Okay, I’ll take a whack at it. It appears to me that this man is in a conversation with a front-seat passenger whilst driving. His facial features taken as a whole suggest to me that the conversation is important, that this man is “driving” it, that he’s about to ask a question, that he is very invested in receiving a particular answer, and that (assuming the conversation is in English) the question begins with the word “did”. His raised left shoulder could convey emotional intensity, but it could just as easily indicate that he is about to make a right-hand turn. Many broad-shouldered men lift their right shoulder (especially when driving smaller cars) to avoid knocking their elbow on the door handle. Too bad we’ll never know.


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