Forms of Mannerism

Mannerisms provide insight into a person's attitude.
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Identifying psychological states behind mannerisms can provide insight into the behavior of individuals and make communication more effective. Mannerisms are micro-behaviors and lend insight into the mental attitudes of a person. The ability to identify psychological states can be used for more effective work in fields that rely on communication.

1 Mannerisms Reveal Attitudes

It is useful to be able to see a mannerism, understand a person’s attitude or state and make decisions relative to the circumstance. The study of mannerisms is of particular interest to writers and psychologists. Writers, in an effort to bring realism to the characters in their writings, will describe details of behavior that illuminate some aspect of their characters' personalities. Psychologists study mannerisms in an effort to diagnose and treat their patients. In his article "Signs of Insecurity," psychologist Dr. Gerald Stein writes, “The ability to maintain eye contact is hard for many individuals who lack confidence. They will turn away or look down, but rarely hold the gaze of the other by looking into his or her eyes.” These kinds of mannerisms -- or behaviors -- reveal that a person feels awkward in a given social situation.

2 Frequent Mannerisms Are Behaviors

It is the interaction between psychological states and circumstances where frequent mannerisms find their wellspring as behaviors. Some general states and mannerisms that someone might engage in include anxiousness, where a person is chewing her fingernails, tapping her foot or looking at her watch. Another mannerism that provides clues to a person's attitude might be eagerness, where a person is sitting forward in his chair or rubbing his hands together. Someone who is bored might be popping gum, yawning, twirling her hair or playing with her hands. A person exhibiting disbelief might roll his eyes, look away, squint, sniff or clear his throat.

3 Gauging Positive Regard

Other mannerisms to look for indicate whether another person has a positive attitude toward you in a communication. For example, if you are trying to reach an agreement in a negotiation, you can predict whether the other person is likely to agree. If she is open to the ideas you are communicating, she will tend to adopt the same body posture as you. People mimic the behavior of those they are in agreement with and copy their gestures.

4 Mannerisms Are Subconscious

It is the subtle and automatic nature of mannerisms that make them telling of a person's attitude at any given time. Since mannerisms are subconscious, most of the time, these little habits merge into the general background of a person's life experience. Charles D. Spielberger notes in his book "Anxiety and Behavior" that many engage in mannerisms that involve "even complex motor skills" without being aware that they are doing so. At a deep subconscious level, communicating and employing mannerisms is the universal way people exhibit their true feelings to others.

Based in Washington, D.C., Max Freely is a social entrepreneur providing digital media content for organizational communications. In his free time, he organizes community events to promote cultural appreciation and awareness of social causes.