Dangerous Body Language

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve all heard that saying. Words do hurt of course. But before a situation climaxes to any type of verbal or physical engagement, there is body language. When someone picks a fight, words are not always used. When words are used, there is always dangerous body language that goes with it.
Anyone that has ever seen any type of fight started has probably witnessed gestures from one or both of those involved in the altercation. Bruce Lee made famous the hand movement that in essence welcomes a fight. The body language behind that simple hand invite says something like, “bring it on”. Others stick up a middle finger or clinch fists and point it at the person they’re mad at.

I remember a man in a van behind my car when I waited for a traffic light to change one day. As soon as the light changed, I pressed on my accelerator but apparently not fast enough. The man started honking his horn at me. I looked up at my rear view mirror and noticed him throwing a fit. His face was extremely red and his arms where swaying everywhere as he hit his dashboard, wheel, and the roof of his van. It was scary. He was out of control. I could not hear one word, but I did see how frustrated he was.

We should respond to dangerous body language by thinking about the consequences on how we choose to react. If we mirror similar dangerous body language, we are asking for a fight. A wise teacher once said, “A soft answer melts anger.” Sometimes our efforts to melt away dangerous body language will not work.

At a therapeutic family home in upstate New York, a young man was showing body language of oppositional defiance towards staff workers. He was fuming mad. Literally breathing out like a bull about to be let loose out of his pen. One staff member took a risk and stretched out his hand to put on the young man’s back attempting to speak calmly to him. Instead, the young man felt his personal space was invaded upon. No doubt the young man saw this as dangerous body language. He reacted by turning around, shrugging off the staff’s attempt to reach out, and lashed out a verbal assault on the staff member. Wisely, the staff member remained silent.

When we see dangerous body language in another individual, we should treat it as a warning sign that boldly says “stay away.” Like the bright colors of a poisonous snake indicating “I’m dangerous.” These are extreme examples of course; but yet practical ones.

We can implement our understanding of dangerous body language in everyday little situations at home, work and play. Why let things escalate? Now that we understand a simple body impression can give off the wrong message and escalate from there, we need to be sensitive to what we see in others.