How many times have you wondered what someone really thought? felt ‘triggered’ by someone’s words yet just carried on? noticed someone reacting and felt you knew why?

Here, red10 ‘s Hazel Howard explores one of the 16 concepts of a healthier mind, as researched in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) : that we need to calibrate on behaviours because, big or small, they are the most important information about ourselves or others.

Big actions speak louder than words

In her classic book “Mindset“, Carol Dweck retells a study she ran whereby she would ask children to choose whether to re-do a jigsaw puzzle they found easy or start a more difficult one.

Their action would tell Carol’s research team whether the child had what she called a “Growth Mindset” or a “Fixed Mindset”, which then had direct consequences on their future choices and achievement.

Their action spoke louder than any words they could say, or any questionnaire that they could choose answers from.

Small actions – or micro expressions – also speak louder than words

Small behaviours also give away more than you may think – even when you choose to say nothing.

Let’s take a closer look…

Have you noticed that when you have an emotional reaction inside, it shows up physically in your actions? It might be change in facial expression or a move of your body.

So when we interact with another person, what would happen if we pay attention to changes in their facial expressions or their physiology?

What would happen if we became more aware of the change in our own physiology, and asked ourselves “what’s the reason for that?”.

Avoiding mind reading

Once you’ve noticed a change in others, the only fact you can be sure of is that something has changed.

You don’t know specifically what, and it is not your place to fill it in; although we are all human and likely jump to our own conclusion.

Sensory Acuity, that is what Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) calls the process of noticing subtle shifts in behaviours or cues (called micro-expressions) which provides us with clues.

At the heart of Sensory Acuity is to recognise what is fact and what is perception. For example, if you were to see someone with their arms folded, you may think they are bored when in fact they are cold. Clues can easily be mis-interpreted.

Some clues that something is going on for that person are:

  • Physiology – for example, their skin colour may change; they may redden in response to a situation. We will not know the reason, so best to notice and ask.
  • They may also give auditory cues – raising of voices or lowering of voice…again, we can make assumptions, yet it is better to notice and ask.
  • Or their body language changes – they start moving their arms around. We can assign a meaning to this, yet with cultural variations as well as differing calibrations, it is better to notice and ask.

Enquire about everything – assume nothing

So, what do we do? We ask. We inquire and don’t cloud our judgement from our own experiences.

When you see someone frown, don’t say, “I think you have doubts,” but say, “I notice you frown. Can you tell me what’s on your mind?”

Calibration is purely factual and doesn’t link any interpretation to the situation – the only conclusion you can draw is that something has changed. You just don’t know what.

Stages to develop how you calibrate:

  1. Observation – deploy a ‘soft gaze’.
    This means that you look at everything at once that is going on with the individual from skin tone changes, to body language changes… take it all in not just focus on one area (such as raised eyebrows) what else is going on with them?
  2. What is ‘normal’ for that person – don’t jump to conclusions. Any idiosyncrasies you observe may be normal for the other person
  3. Observe for non-congruence from their norm; what is a deviation from this? Eye cues? Shift in breathing patterns… yes, it really is that subtle! Calibrate these micro-expressions
  4. To practice, slow down and observe what is going on around you. Take things in. To improve on calibration you have to be truly present and observe subtle changes as well as those more obvious.

Enquire about everything – assume nothing

The key approach is to enquire about everything – assume nothing.

This forms a gentle inquiry as to what you are seeing; ask gently – interrogation is never a clever idea and generally doesn’t encourage the other to open up.

It is important that you don’t automatically interpret their behaviour (much as though we all love to play the amateur psychologist).

If this is new to you, tread carefully. Look and listen for the signals and follow the steps mentioned above.

By ignoring this data, we are missing out on something so important that it caused unity of body and mind.

Yet by jumping to conclusions we are in danger of attributing different meanings to those intended.

Mis-handling situations can result in poor communication and damage to relationships; by deploying careful calibration we can enhance these relationships to develop into a greater understanding of both ourselves and others and ultimately greater outcomes in our interactions.