So, I pitched my Beach Blanket Bingo – Antarctica Edition! teambuilding vacation idea to Bill. He looked at me with an expression that said: did I really hire you? Then, he shook his head slowly, left, right and then left again. He walked away to do something else. Something that didn’t necessitate Annette Funicello, beaches or Antarctica, I’m guessing.

But his completely comprehensible and nonverbal communication got me thinking. Probably like you, I have vague memories of being potty trained. As a kid, when my parents took my brother and I to a new place, I visited the bathroom. Was I avoiding an accident or did I just like checking out new bathrooms? I couldn’t tell you, but I remember doing it. However, while I can sort of remember potty training, I have no recollection of learning that a shake of the head meant “no”. I don’t know how I learned that a nod meant, “yes” or “go on, you’re doing it right.” Do you?

Thanks to pop psychology, we know that if someone is standing with arms crossed, that’s an indication of defensiveness or some sort of discomfort. But how do little kids understand body language before they can even understand Dr. Phil? suggests that “from the time they are babies, children imitate what you do.” You smile, they smile. Essentially, babies are damp little mirrors. When does the actual understanding come in?

In the 1950s, there was an anthropologist named Ray Birdwhistell. Birdwhistell had a theory that “no more than 30 to 35 percent of the social meaning of a conversation…is carried by the words” ( His concept was that most of what we get out of an interaction is gleaned from the way the other person moves. Birdwhistell called his concept “Kinesics” and it is made up of “facial expression, gestures, posture…and visible arm and body movements” ( Birdwhistell further believed that these movements are as “systemic and socially learned as verbal language” ( Furthermore, because these “nonverbal signs…are learned” ( from a very young age, we didn’t even notice that we were learning them.

I have a friend who tells me not to lie to children because children always know. Oh, right, little onesie wearing polygraph machines? Sadly, this is true (and creepy). According to, “when your nonverbal communication sends a different message from your words, your child is more likely to believe the nonverbal communication.” This does makes sense, as kids are still part of that visceral, natural world. I have to say, it makes me wholly uncomfortable: you can’t figure out where your head goes when putting on a shirt, but you know I’m lying when I say I believe in Santa? Get outta here…

Final proof that Birdwhistell was on to something regarding body language: text messages. How many times have you had to send an apology text because someone didn’t understand that you were joking? This is a daily occurrence for me. The man knew what he was talking about.

Bourke Accounting professionals are fluent in both verbal and nonverbal language. However, even if our Bourke Accounting experts know you’re uncomfortable about something, they won’t call you out. Bourke Accounting tax preparers and bookkeepers will listen until you’re ready to share. After a few gentle head nods, you’ll know that you’re getting the best (and most welcoming) financial service in the business.

Come see us any time. Our number is 502-451-8773 and don’t forget to visit our website at See you soon!

Written by Sue H.