These days, people are more and more ignorant and clueless when it comes to detecting the nonverbal form of communication.
As you may know, the more we connected to the internet, the less social we became. I know, because I’ve been there, being addicted to the digital world that made me forgot (or never learned) how to interact with real people in real life.
I wasn’t aware if people are comfortable, angry, or interested in me. And when I realized what my problems are, I slowly change myself in the hope that I will not be that kind of person again. And this book is one of my attempts to do just that.
Also, another reason I want to read this book is…so I can ‘read’ people. You know, like those detectives in Hollywood movies.
Wouldn’t it be cool if I can somehow guess if people were lying to me?
And it turns out, the benefits of being able to read body language are not only to detect lies and being good at parties, but it’s much more than that.
So here it is, the things I learned from What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro.
1. Don’t rely on verbal communication, because people lie all the time.
One thing I observed from the people in my life is that they almost always assume that whatever other people say about themselves is the truth.
That guy who said that he’s a successful businessman? Yea I believe him.
That man who said he’s very good with the ladies? OMG teach me master.
As long as the person is confident in what he/she is saying, almost everyone will take it as the absolute truth.
No doubt, no suspicion, nothing. If you say A, then it’s A.
That’s why we shouldn’t rely only on verbal communication because people can say anything they want.
2. Nonverbal communication is more honest and often unveils the truth of what’s going on.
Although we can create some sort of fake story in our mind and say it out loud confidently, it’s not the case with our bodies.
People can fake a story, but in most cases, they can’t fake their body language.
You may say that you’re relaxed and confident, but the twitching of your legs says otherwise.
Only some people can actually fake it all (good actors, for example, and psychopaths too).
When you hear a man talk, don’t only listen to what’s he saying, but also observe his body language for additional information.
3. In order to ensure our survival, we have three forms of response: freeze, flight, and fight.
A few thousand years ago, when humans are faced with danger, the most common first reaction is to freeze since predators are usually attracted to movement. And in modern life, it’s the same. People freeze when they’re caught stealing, lying, or bluffing.
And usually, if freezing isn’t enough to avoid the danger, we flight or distance ourselves from the danger. In the modern world, especially if the danger isn’t physical, we rarely do that. Instead, we block ourselves from the ‘danger’ by closing our eyes, placing a pillow on our lap, or covering our face with our hands when we’re faced with an uncomfortable situation. Also, we may subconsciously point our feet and body towards the direction we want to go, an exit route perhaps.
Last, our last resort to deal with danger is to fight. This happens when there is no other way to avoid the danger we’re facing. In the modern world, obviously, you can’t just punch someone else for making you uncomfortable. So, what do people do? Well, they raise their voices, scream, adjust their posture, stare, and do many other things to intimidate the other guys. Being aggressive can be done without getting physical.
But you should remember, some people will actually fight and do you harm when they can’t hold it anymore. This is where reading body language becomes useful to detect early aggression so we can avoid it or be ready for a confrontation.
4. Humans do certain things when they’re stressed and relaxed, get to know them.
Our limbic brain makes us do different things when we’re relaxed (high confidence) or stressed (low confidence).
In short, when the limbic brain is in a state of comfort, this mental and physiological well-being is reflected in nonverbal displays of contentment and high confidence. We open up our bodies, sit straight, speak well, and do a lot of eye contact.
And it’s the opposite when our limbic brain is in a state of discomfort. Our low confidence is being reflected by our nonverbal displays, such as closing our bodies, placing a pillow (or bag) in our lap, twitching our legs, covering our necks, scratching our nose, slouching, and many other things.
Get to know these behavioral markers, and treat them as indicators of the actual emotion.
5. It’s about the baseline.
Just because someone is crossing their arms, doesn’t mean that he’s nervous being in front of you. Maybe the room is cold and he’s just trying to make himself warmer.
Or maybe someone is closing up her body during an interview and you assumed that she’s lying about her work experience. Don’t be too quick to judge, since most people are nervous when in a job interview.
It’s important to establish a baseline of someone’s behavior before making any assumptions. Make sure he/she is comfortable first and observed what he/she is doing when in a relaxed situation. If he/she is always slouching and covering his/her body using objects despite there is nothing that can potentially make him/her uncomfortable, maybe he/she is just a very anxious person.
Only when something is happening, you can observe their reactions to it. Maybe he started to twitch his leg when you asked about why he left his previous company. Or maybe she started to cover her body by using a pillow when you asked about what happened to the money she borrowed.
These pacifying behaviors are important markers to guess why they’re being uncomfortable when the topic came about. But make no mistake, pacifying behaviors don’t always mean deception, rather they’re just indicators of stress.
Your ability to link the pacifying behavior and the stressor that caused it will help you better understand the person with whom you’re interacting.
6. The legs are the most truthful part of the human body.
Most people will not know this, but according to the author of this book, the feet and the legs conveys the truth better than any part of the human body.
Evolutionary speaking, our legs (and feet) are crucial for our survival. They help us to move around and detect danger before it could reach our most important organ (the brain). Thus, since their movements are almost always based on our true feelings, we can get a lot of information from the legs.
When people are relaxed, their legs tend to be calm and don’t make many movements. Some people also cross their legs when they feel dominant. People also move their feet a lot (let’s say jumping) and do gravity-defying behaviors if they feel happy and excited. This is very prominent, especially in little kids.
On the other hand, when people are stressed, their legs could freeze and curled up, or twitching like they need to go somewhere else (think of people holding pee, for instance). A lot of times people also subconsciously point their feet towards the nearest exit when they don’t like the person they’re dealing with.
Being able to see the leg is crucial if you want to get a more accurate assessment.
7. The torso, the arms, and the hands are (in most cases) the most visible parts of the human body that are somewhat reliable.
As we already established, there is a general pattern of what we do whether we’re relaxed or stressed.
We open up when we’re relaxed and confident (think of a leader or a guy at the poolside sunbathing), and we close or cover our body when we’re stressed and anxious (think of a man being interrogated at a police station or a girl when her friends asked her about things she’s not confident about).
And since many of our vital organs are located in the torso, it’s very logical that our limbic brain state is represented by what we do with our torso. Our body may slouch or we may cross our arms to protect the organs, or we may lean to the other person because we’re comfortable with her and wants to get closer to her.
A lot of information is being displayed by our torso, arms, and hands, and in the modern world where sitting is the norm and looking down to the feet isn’t considered polite (eye contact is to be expected in most cases), our only viable option would be looking at the middle part of the body.
And a person’s personality may also be displayed with what he/she is wearing on a daily basis. People with high confidence people tend to show their skin more compared to people with low confidence. Showing our vulnerabilities means that we’re confident that we’re not in danger.
8. The face is the least truthful part of the human body.
Truth to be told, our face is our best hope when it comes to expressing our emotions since it’s the face we are seeing (most of the time) when we interact with other people.
We smile when we’re happy, we laugh when our friends do something stupid, and we contract our facial muscles when we’re angry. It’s universal and everybody does the same thing regardless of our language, religion, or culture.
There are many behavior markers of the face, such as smiling when we’re happy, frowning when we’re angry, and closing our eyes when we’re sad or scared. If I list them all here then this wouldn’t be a blog post, it’d be a book.
However, if you think that the face always displaying the truth, I’m sorry, but that is just plain wrong.
As we already know, people lie all the time, and we’re naturally trained to fake our facial expressions since we were a kid. We were forced to smile even when nothing is exciting. We were forced to keep calm even though in actuality we were uncomfortable.
That is why we shouldn’t rely on the face to be our primary indicator when interacting with other people.
9. Those nonverbal signs are indicators, and they’re not 100% accurate. But the more indicators showing, the more accurate is the reading.
Not every twitching leg is a sign of anxiety, and not every scratching of the nose is a sign of lying.
Just because you know some of the behavior markers, doesn’t mean you are an expert interrogator.
Think about how scientists predict the weather or the migration of a pack of whales. They didn’t say, “Oh it’s going to rain today because it’s a little bit cloudy here!” or “The whales are going southeast because it’s very clear that they did that a few months ago.”
They gather a lot of data and analyze them carefully to predict something, and even the result is far from 100% accurate.
All I’m saying, don’t just see a behavior marker and then accuse someone of lying or being not confident. You can guess what they’re feeling, but never accuse until further evidence is gathered. After all, the intent of this book is to help us socialize better, not to find who is the killer.
10. Reading body language is a skill, so it must be practiced and honed.
Just like many books that teach us how to do something and acquire new skills, we’ll likely not be any better at doing it just because we finished this book.
In this case, finishing the book is only an eye-opener to the world of body language and gesture. You will not be better at reading other people’s body language unless you’re actively practicing.
Be more observant, see what people do in public spaces, and you may start seeing patterns and small details that most people wouldn’t be aware of. You could see whether someone is happy or sad without them saying anything.
The more you practice, the better you are at detecting early signs of deception and danger in general. You could even protect yourself and help others that are in danger, by detecting bad people that do bad stuff to their children, for example.
There is a reason why law enforcers are usually required to be able to read body language. It’s so they can detect liars and people with harmful stuff in their mind and perhaps to prevent a crime.
In short, this is a good book for people who wants to get better at socializing and being able to understand other people.
Or maybe you just want to be better at poker, then maybe you could benefit too from this book.