Key References:

Body Language, Body Mechanics, Kinesis, Non-Verbal Communications, whatever you want to call it, is a vast topic. There is a tremendous amount written about it in all sorts of books, but most of it is what I call the "pop psychology" variety. There are four accessible authors that I think provide the most important background information related to this topic:

1. From 1971 study by Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, "Silent Messages" Others "listen" to you and judge the "emotional content" of your message based on the following input:

Visual / Body Language 55%

Voice / Tone / Inflection 38%

Contents / Words 7%

Mehrabian also did some interesting contributions on sitting arrangements in his follow-up book "Nonverbal Communication" (1972).

2. From the work of Edward T. Hall, "The Hidden Dimension", Doubleday, 1966. Personal space or proxemics is described by Hall as having four zones. Remember, these zone dimensions are North American based.:

Intimate: 0 to 18 inches
Personal : 18 inches to 4 feet
Social: 4 to 12 feet
Public : 12 feet and greater

Hall's original work is "The Silent Language (1959).

3. From the work of Julius Fast, "Body Language", 1971
This was the first book to address what various gestures might mean. He wrote many other follow-up books. The one that I like the most is "Subtext: Making Body Language Work in the Workplace", 1991. Today Roger E. Axtell has written a series of "travel books" that I found very entertaining and up to date. The title of interest in this area is: "Gestures: The do’s and taboos of body language around the world".

4. After more consideration, I have decided that the work of Desmond Morris is seminal.  Best known for his ground breaking work "The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal" in 1967 to his latest book "Bodytalk: The Meaning of Human Gestures" in 1995, Morris is a prolific writer.  The two relevant books that I believe are now out of print are "Manwatching" (1977) and "Gestures" (1979),  but the background to this content can be found in his subsequent publications.

Finally, there is the area of Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP.
It originated in the mid 70’s from the work of John Grinder and Richard Bandler ("Frogs into Princes", 1979).  It is often ignored in the overall discussion of body language, but I feel it is an important contribution worth considering. This is a very complex topic and the practice of NLP is about modeling of specific behaviours. Understanding eye movements is a key component of NLP. Many motivational speakers use a variation of the techniques. One of the most successful is Tony Robbins, author of "Unlimited Power", who calls his similar approach by another name.


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