B2B International
B2B International

September 12, 2008

"Around 10 years ago, on a cold and snowy Boxing Day, I went hiking with my brother and his wife…", writes Paul Hague in his latest Thursday Night Insight post.

"Our starting point was a remote part of the Peak District.  We had only been walking for around half an hour when out of a forest ran a boxer dog puppy.  The dog had no collar; it was thin and scrawny and ravenously hungry.  To cut a long story short I inherited the dog and Alfie (as he was named by me) has become my shadow.

As a relative newcomer to dogs I became interested in communicating with him and bought a book called How To Speak Dog by Stanley Coren. Quite clearly doggy language is very different to French and Greek in that there are very few words – in fact, speaking dog is all about body language

One important communication device for a dog is its tail.  A wagging tail is an obvious sign of pleasure and happiness.  The tail between the legs indicates that the dog is crestfallen or sad.  Alfie had virtually no tail.  Whoever had bred him had docked his tail virtually clean off soon after he was born (by the way, this is illegal now).  This meant that when Alfie greeted other dogs, they found it difficult to read him.  His one inch stump would work like mad but this was not obvious to his canine friends.  As a result, he has had trouble socialising – his would-be mates cannot work out what he is saying.

Now the point of my story is that Alfie awoke in me an interest in body language.  After all, to be crude about it, we ourselves are only animals – something we forget just because we slip on a pair of jeans and a shirt each day.  In the 100,000 years of human-kind’s existence, we began a crude form of grunting language 50,000 years ago and modern speech is possibly no more than 30,000 years old.  This probably explains why, when we talk to people, around a half of the communication comes from body language, just over a third comes from the tone of our voice and only 10% comes from what we actually say!  We are still communicating like our animal cousins!

If this is the case then surely we should be paying far more attention to body language.  You would think that alongside the English lessons at school there would be a body language class.  And yet this is an area where we are left to fend for ourselves.  Not surprisingly, some of us are better than others, and those with a generous dose of X chromosomes seem to have the best body language antennae. 

As market researchers it is our responsibility to find out what is going on, and we do this principally through words in questionnaires and interviews.  How much more could we learn by observing body language?  The clues are always right underneath our noses – in people’s eyes, their hands, their facial expressions, and their tapping legs.  By the way, when someone rubs their nose, beware, because although this is a strong signal that they are telling a lie, they could simply have an itchy snitch.

And look at some non-verbal signs beyond body language. The car that someone drives makes a huge statement; their watch is carefully chosen and reflects strongly on their personality; the newspaper they read tells us far more about their social beliefs than 10 clever questions.  We seem to pass these issues by and yet surely they offer evidence on values and behaviour, perhaps much more believable evidence than the words that people use.

So, my insight tonight is hopefully clear – learn to speak dog and you will become better at listening to and understanding your fellow humans.