As an ex-FBI agent, Joe Navarro had plenty of opportunities to observe human behavior during his career. And what he noticed was that humans give away a lot of information, unintentionally and uncontrollably, because of the way our limbic brain acts unconsciously to protect and support us.
“Since the limbic part of our brain cannot be cognitively regulated, the behaviors it generates should be given greater importance when interpreting nonverbal communications.
You can use your thoughts to try to disguise your true emotions all you want, but the limbic system will self-regulate and give off clues.” (P24)
In other words, “don’t underestimate the importance of…
…HA!” (I couldn’t help it. You can’t blame me. ;P)
While it’s definitely tempting to dream about becoming a super-powered observer of all human emotion, capable of detecting lies at ten paces, Navarro is pretty clear that this is far more an art than a science, and that deception is unusually difficult to pinpoint. After establishing baseline behavior, you can mostly use these nonverbal tells to determine whether someone is comfortable or uncomfortable with a given situation, person, topic of conversation, or line of inquiry.
In a daily life setting, this could be practically applied to pick up on signs of discomfort that might help you avoid the following situations:
- unknowingly belaboring a topic that is sensitive or triggering to a friend
- offending people you don’t know well, and whose opinion of you may affect your future success (work superiors, family of a significant other, etc)
- remaining ignorant of significant issues of discomfort in your personal relationships
As well as noticing the signs of comfort that could clue you into:
- a conversational topic that will allow you to comfortably get to know someone better
- a spark of interest in a potential love match
- a possibly lucrative project or sale in the career or business field
While another reviewer critiqued this book as lacking flair and reading like a textbook, I actually found the simple, straightforward approach to be enjoyable and helpful. It’s a clear-cut, easy read that provides a lot of useful information.
What Every Body Is Saying
I’m going to pick one tell from each category that I found interesting:
NONVERBALS OF THE FEET AND LEGS
When at ease, people will often stand with legs close together — perhaps even crossed, if they are comfortable with those they are near.
However, a wide stance of the legs (leg splay) is a territorial marker that promotes an air of dominance and the ability to stand one’s ground.
“If you observe a person’s feet going from being together to being spread apart, you can be fairly confident that the individual is becoming increasingly unhappy. This dominant stance communicates very clearly, “Something is wrong and I am ready to deal with it.”” (P66)
Note: for those trained to adopt this stance, like military personnel and law enforcement, it is a good idea to be aware of when this posture is being adopted, lest it escalate conflict unnecessarily.
NONVERBALS OF THE TORSO, HIPS, CHEST, AND SHOULDERS
When someone answers a question like “Do you know about…” with a “No” answer, shoulders can shed light on the veracity of their answer:
“Expect people to give full (high) shoulder shrug when they confidently support what they’re saying. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know!” while both shoulders rise up toward the ear. …
If you see a person’s shoulders only partially rise or if only one shoulder rises, chances are the individual is not limbically committed to what he or she is saying and is probably being evasive or even deceptive.” (P104)
NONVERBALS OF THE ARMS
Arms akimbo is a stance that projects authority and dominance.
Imagine someone who is scolding you, with hands on their hips (thumbs to the back; fingers to the front) and elbows pointed outwards.
“For women, arms, akimbo may have a particular utility. I have taught women executives that it is a powerful nonverbal display that they can employ when confronting males in the boardroom. It is an effective way for anyone, especially a woman, to demonstrate that she is standing her ground, confident, and unwilling to be bullied.
Too often young women enter the workplace and are bullied nonverbally by males who insist on talking to them with arms akimbo in a show of territorial dominance. Aping this behavior–or using it first–can serve to level the playing field for women who may be reluctant to be assertive in other ways.” (P121)
Note: when the thumbs are turned forwards (and fingers are back), it is a more inquisitive and less dominant posture.
NONVERBALS OF THE HANDS AND FINGERS
- Hands in pockets with thumb sticking out = HIGH confidence.
- Thumbs hooked in pockets with fingers hanging limply = LOW confidence.
“Thumb displays are so accurate that they can help you effectively assess who is feeling good about himself and who is struggling.” (P153)
NONVERBALS OF THE FACE
“When we are stressed, we tend to make our lips disappear subconsciously.
When we press our lips together, it is as if the limbic brain is telling us to shut down and not allow anything into our bodies, because at this moment we are consumed with serious issues.
Lip compression is very indicative of true negative sentiment that manifests quite vividly in real time.” (P188)
A slight press may indicate a minor amount of discomfort, but as the lips press more firmly to each other (and begin to pucker the area around the mouth) higher anxiety, stress, or concerns are at work.
Again, the above are just a few of the MANY tells that were explained in this excellent resource.
This was a great guide to nonverbal signals, and how to interpret them to better understand the comfort (or discomfort) of the people around you. It is one I will recommend, and will likely revisit in some time, to review what I’ve learned.
Non Fiction Bingo 2018 Progress
What Every Body is Saying handles our “Communication” category of #nonficbingo2018.
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