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How to Sense Someone’s Feelings by Copying Their Posture

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Glenn Stok studies self-awareness and emotional well-being. He writes about it to help readers apply mindful attention to social affairs.

Copying body position is a way to sense one's feelings.

Copying body position is a way to sense one's feelings.

Cloning one’s posture is an effective method for getting in touch with their feelings. It helps develop empathy for that person.

According to Psychology Today, empathy is the animated enactment of another person's thoughts and feelings from his or her point of view, rather than from one's own.¹

So how do we do that in such as way that we can truly get in touch with their emotional state and recognize the feelings they are having? Let's discuss this.

How to Experience What Someone Else Is Feeling

Getting in touch with the thoughts and feelings of others may be difficult if we don't feel their emotions. We end up missing what's going on for them, and we can't judge where they are coming from with what they do or say?

One of the points in the definition of empathy above is that we need to eliminate our personal point of view. That helps us focus on what the other person's body posture is telling us.

The best way to feel their feelings is to simulate what their body is doing. We do that by cloning their posture.

With many social interactions, we often tend to know very little about one another. We miss out on the innermost feelings one may have. There is nothing more gratifying than having someone genuinely understand the meaning of what one is saying.

When we have a conversation with someone, we can usually be sure that their words are carefully selected to filter their emotions and feelings. Effective communication requires understanding the true meaning of what someone is saying and grasping the feelings behind it.

When we pay attention to non-verbal physical communication and clone the other person's posture, that gives us the ability to feel what they are feeling, and we find it easier to express empathy.

Cloning One's Posture to Sense Their Feelings

To fully understand what's going on for another person and get in touch with their feelings, you need to grasp their emotions as you listen to them talk.

Their feelings and emotions can be detected and felt with startling realism. You can do that by holding yourself in the same body position as theirs. For example:

  • Try making the same facial expression.
  • Hold your shoulders the same.
  • Position your arms and legs the same as theirs.
  • Lean similarly to how they are leaning.

What I mean by this is to clone everything about their posture accurately. That includes carrying out their mannerisms. When you do all this, you'll find that you can actually experience their mood, temper, and frame of mind. You will feel all this yourself, and you will understand where they are coming from a lot better.

You need to pay attention to their facial expression. Try to imitate it. You'll immediately feel something different, possibly in line with what they are feeling.

The shoulders tend to hold a lot of stress. So notice how they are holding their shoulders and immediate that.

If they are slouching, then do the same. Lean in or out similarly to how they are leaning. All this will reproduce the feeling of their stress level in your own mind.

I think this works well because it puts you in the same physical state as theirs. So you'd be doing it in reverse—rather than having the same stimuli affecting you, you're merely putting your body in the same mold, and therefore can feel the same feelings.

Seeing Things From Their Perspective

We can learn much more by watching how the other person is holding their body and movements they make. That's a form of physical communication where one's gestures are observed.

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If they tend to face away, or turn their entire body facing sideways, they may have a feeling of flight—the desire the get away from a situation.

Their hands tell a lot too. Whatever is going on in their thoughts may be physically communicated through the way they hold or move their hands. If they are angry, they may be holding their hands tightly in a clenched fist. Cupping or holding the hands can indicate that they are confused and trying hard to understand. Covering the mouth could mean one is lying or merely not sure of themselves.

If they are relaxed, they may just let their hands hang on their sides or in their pockets. Pocketed hands are a meaningless position, however. Many men do that just because it's a comfortable way to stand.

Covering one's mouth could mean they are lying.

Covering one's mouth could mean they are lying.

Non-Verbal Communication Through Body Parts

  • Face: Shows emotion.
  • Covering mouth: This could mean one is lying.
  • Shoudlers: Shows stress level.
  • Arms: Shows one’s mood.
  • Hands: Despite cultural differences, hands can illustrate thoughts (see details below).
  • Legs: Despite upbringing and gender differences, leg positions can indicate comfort, disinterest or insecurity.

Non-Verbal Communication Through Hand Gestures

  • Clenched Fist: Shows Anger.
  • Hands in Pockets: This is meaningless. People sometimes merely feel more relaxed this way.
  • Hands Held: Sometimes means that one is confused.
Confused look with hands held.

Confused look with hands held.

Show Compassion With Active Listening Skills

There is one final thought dealing with understanding another person, and that depends on how we react while we are the listener.

When we are in a conversation, and the other person is talking, are we really listening? Or are we reacting?

So that we can really know what the other person is all about, we need to know what is going on for us as well. We need to realize how we react to the thoughts and feelings that they are expressing.

To explain what I mean, think back to a time when you had a strong feeling about something that someone was telling you. How were you reacting?

  • Were you reacting to his or her feelings?
  • Or were you reacting to your feelings about the subject?

We may respond to things based on our own feelings. If we genuinely want to understand, we have to put a considerable effort into understanding by viewing the world from their perspective and observing their body language.

Then we need to include one important thing. We need to confirm what we understood. We can do this by rephrasing what we heard and saying it back to them. Then get a confirmation that we "got it." That will validate our desire to understand what is being said. It will show that their feelings are important to us.

Psychologist Carl Rogers described the process of “active listening,” whereby the listener explains what they heard until there is a mutual agreement between the listener and the speaker.²

If you are not sure you understood something, just ask. If you are not getting it, say so.

He or she should be pleased that you are trying to understand better. If they really want to be understood, then they should not be intimidated by your extra effort. You will be creating the opportunity to communicate better and with the least amount of misunderstanding.

To Summarize

We can make a worthy attempt at getting closer to the correct meaning of what the other person is trying to tell us by paying attention to body language, physically positioning ourselves similarly to their posture, and practicing active listening.

Experiencing one's feelings in this manner will help us understand them on a deeper level.

Reference

  1. Empathy | Psychology Today
  2. Carl R Rogers (1957), Active Listening, (ASIN: B0007FAIPA), Industrial Relations Center, The University of Chicago

© 2009 Glenn Stok

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