Reading body language on a date isn’t easy, says media trainer

Did she flip her hair often? Did he make solid eye contact when he talked to you? These could be signs the person likes you—or not, according to the author.

You know when you go out on a date and really like the other person—but never hear from her (or him) again?

Mike was one of those people. He went on a date with Lauren and thought they really hit it off. She didn’t agree and chose not to respond to his subsequent voice mail and text messages.

Mike got upset and drafted a 1,604-word email to her. His email was posted to the social bookmarking site Reddit this month, where it immediately went viral. Even though the authenticity of the email hasn’t been independently verified, it’s worth taking a look at a few key excerpts and figuring out where “Mike” went wrong.

Here’s a portion of Mike’s crazy email:

“I assume that you no longer want to go out with me…I suggest that you make a sincere apology to me for giving me mixed signals. I feel led on by you.

“Things that happened during our date include, but are not limited to, the following:

“You played with your hair a lot. A woman playing with her hair is a common sign of flirtation. You can even do a google search on it. When a woman plays with her hair, she is preening. I’ve never had a date where a woman played with her hair as much as you did. In addition, it didn’t look like you were playing with your hair out of nervousness.

“We had lots of eye contact during our date. On a per-minute basis, I’ve never had as much eye contact during a date as I did with you.

“You said, ‘It was nice to meet you’ at the end of our date. A woman could say this statement as a way to show that she isn’t interested in seeing a man again or she could mean what she said–that it was nice to meet you. The statement, by itself, is inconclusive.”

It’s easy to mock Mike (and don’t worry, I will), but his mistake is a common one. Many people mistakenly believe they can dissect a person’s thoughts simply by paying attention to his or her body language.

A bevy of books on the topic, along with cable news “body language experts,” have convinced people that they can look at a single gesture and know precisely what it means.

The truth is more complicated. Body language can best be judged in the aggregate. One gesture may not mean much on its own, but observing three non-verbal signs that all point to the same thing can be a much more accurate measure.

Mike assumed that Lauren played with her hair because she was flirting. But she might have just been uncomfortable, or perhaps she was self-aware because she had found a few split ends prior to her date. She might have been making eye contact to be polite, or perhaps she simply couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

Poor Mike should have realized that Lauren actually gave him a massive clue. It wasn’t through her solid eye contact or hair playing—it was her decision not to call him back. With clues like that, he shouldn’t have had to spend a whole lot of time dissecting body language.

Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training blog and president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

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