The following stream-of-consciousness style essay is inspired by The Charisma Myth by Olivia Cabane. You can read my summary and review of the book on Goodreads.
The point of The Charisma Myth was to help the reader adjust their body language to reflect their interests and desires. And it was interesting for me to read not just as a means of self-development, but also as a means of self-awareness and interpersonal awareness.
Obviously, people don’t always mean what they say. But the opposite is true too. Sometimes people do mean what they say, and if you read too deep into the language used or body language exhibited (even if the assessment is completely subconscious), then you can easily misunderstand people.
To use an example from the book: You scrunch your face after I say how important personal privacy is in the context of government surveillance. I can assume that you reacted that way because you don’t like what I said. But maybe the sun is just in your eyes. Another example: Someone asks you how long you’re going to be “stuck” in your current job. You can assume that they think you’re powerless over your situation, or that they disapprove of the work you’re doing. But maybe they’re just trying to be funny, or maybe they didn’t give their word choice much thought. It’s easy to misunderstand people when we delve too deep into things.
And it can be hard to say exactly what you mean. You don’t think in words or language, so speaking involves several encoding and decoding processes. Things quickly get lost in translation. And everything gets more complicated when you yourself don’t even know what you mean.