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What Every BODY is Saying

JOE NAVARRO
2008

Mastering the Secrets of Nonverbal Communication
  • Nonverbal communication, often referred to as nonverbal behavior or body language, is a means of transmitting information - just like the spoken word - except it is achieved through facial expressions, gestures, touching (haptics), physical movements (kinesics), posture, body adornment (clothes, jewelry, hairstyle, tattoos, etc.), and even the tone, timbre, and volume of an individual’s voice (rather than spoken content). It comprises approximately 60 to 65 percent of all interpersonal communication.
  • Eye-blocking is a nonverbal behavior that can occur when we feel threatened and/or don’t like what we see. Squinting (as in the case with my classmates, described above) and closing or shielding our eyes are actions that have evolved to protect the brain from "seeing" undesirable images and to communicate our disdain toward others.
  • Because people are not always aware they are communicating nonverbally, body language is often more honest than an individual’s verbal pronouncements, which are consciously crafted to accomplish the speaker’s objectives.
  • Those who can effectively read and interpret nonverbal communication, and manage how others perceive them, will enjoy greater success in life than individuals who lack this skill.
  • Commandments of Noverbal Communication:
    • Commandment 1: Be a competent observer of your environment.
    • Commandment 2: Observing in context is key to understanding nonverbal behavior.
    • Commandment 3: Learn to recognize and decode nonverbal behaviors that are universal.
    • Commandment 4: Learn to recognize and decode idiosyncratic nonverbal behaviors.
    • Commandment 5: When you interact with others, try to establish their baseline behaviors.
    • Commandment 6: Always try to watch people for multiple tells - behaviors that occur in clusters or in succession.
    • Commandment 7: It’s important to look for changes in a person’s behavior that can signal changes in thoughts, emotions, interest, or intent.
    • Commandment 8: Learning to detect false or misleading nonverbal signals is also critical.
    • Commandment 9: Knowing how to distinguish between comfort and discomfort will help you to focus on the most important behaviors for decoding nonverbal communications.
    • Commandment 10: When observing others, be subtle about it.
  • Pursing of the lips is a nonverbal signal of displeasure.
  • Universal nonverbal behaviors constitute one group of body cues: those that are relatively the same for everyone. There is a second type of body cue called an idiosyncratic nonverbal behavior, which is a signal that is relatively unique to a particular individual.
  • The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
  • When not stressed, eyes are relaxed and the lips should be full. A stressed face is tense and slightly contorted, eyebrows are knitted, and the forehead is furrowed.
Living Our Limbic Legacy
  • There are three "brains" inside the human skull:
    • Reptilian (stem) brain
    • Mammalian (limbic) brain
    • Human (neocortex) brain
  • The limbic system of the brain plays the largest role in the expression of our nonverbal behavior. The limbic brain is the part of the brain that reacts to the world around us reflexively and instantaneously, in real time, and without thought. For that reason, it gives off a true response to information coming in from the environment. The limbic brain does not take breaks. It is always "on." The limbic brain is also our emotional center. Since these reactions occur without thought, unlike words, they are genuine.
  • The brain’s very elegant response to distress or threats, has taken three forms:
    • The Freeze Response is the first defense of the limbic system, was to use the freeze response in the presence of a predator or other danger. Movement attracts attention. Not only have we, as humans, learned to freeze in the face of observed or perceived danger, but others around us have learned to copy our behavior and freeze their behavior also, even without seeing the threat. This mimicry or Isopraxism (same movement) evolved because it was critical to communal survival, as well as social harmony, within the human species. A similar manifestation of the limbic freeze occurs during interviews when people hold their breath or their breathing becomes very shallow.Consistent with the need to freeze when confronted by a threat, people being questioned about a crime will often fix their feet in a position of security (interlocked behind the chair legs) and hold that position for an inordinate period of time. Thieves will try to hide their physical presence by restricting their motions or hunching over as if trying to be invisible. Another way people try to hide in the open is by limiting their head exposure. This is done by raising the shoulders and lowering the head - the "turtle effect." The "turtle effect" (shoulders rise toward the ears) is often seen when people are humbled or suddenly lose confidence.
    • The Flight Response: the goal of this choice is to escape the threat or, at a minimum, to distance oneself from danger. We have adapted the flight response to meet our modern needs, which is to either block or distance ourselves from the physical presence of undesirable individuals or things. Blocking behaviors may manifest in the form of closing the eyes, rubbing the eyes, or placing the hands in front of the face. The person may also distance herself from someone by leaning away, placing objects (a purse) on her lap, or turning her feet toward the nearest exit. People lean away from each other subconsciously when they disagree or feel uncomfortable around each other.
    • The Fight Response: final tactic for survival through aggression. Eye blocking is a very powerful display of consternation, disbelief, or disagreement. One form of modern aggression is an argument. The use of insults, ad hominem phrases, counterallegations, denigration of professional stature, goading, and sarcasm are all, in their own ways, the modern equivalents of fighting, because they are all forms of aggression. You can be very aggressive without physical contact, for example, just by using your posture, your eyes, by puffing out your chest, or by violating another’s personal space. When we are emotionally aroused - and a good fight will do that - it affects our ability to think effectively.
  • The "prime directive" of the limbic brain is to ensure our survival as a species. It does this by being programmed to make us secure by avoiding danger or discomfort and seeking safety or comfort whenever possible. It also allows us to remember experiences from our past encounters and build upon them. Whenever there is a limbic response - especially to a negative or threatening experience - it will be followed by what I call pacifying behaviors. Also known as Adapters.
  • Pacifying behaviors in people tell me when they are not at ease or when they are reacting negatively to something I have done or said. Neck touching and/or stroking is one of the most significant and frequent pacifying behaviors we use in responding to stress. Sometimes we pacify by rubbing our cheeks or our lips from the inside with our tongues, or we exhale slowly with puffed cheeks to calm ourselves.
  • The brain requires the body to do something that will stimulate nerve endings, releasing calming endorphins in the brain, so that the brain can be soothed. For our purposes, any touching of the face, head, neck, shoulder, arm, hand, or leg in response to a negative stimulus (e.g., a difficult question, an embarrassing situation, or stress as a result of something heard, seen, or thought) is a pacifying behavior. These stroking behaviors don’t help us to solve problems; rather, they help us to remain calm while we do. In other words, they soothe us. Men prefer to touch their faces. Women prefer to touch their necks, clothing, jewelry, arms, and hair.
  • Men tend to massage or stroke their necks to pacify distress. This area is rich with nerves, including the vagus nerve, which when massaged will slow down the heart rate. Men typically cover their necks more robustly than women as a way to deal with discomfort or insecurity. Whistling can be a pacifying behavior. Some people even talk to themselves in an attempt to pacify during times of stress.
  • Some behaviors combine tactile and auditory pacification, such as the tapping of a pencil or the drumming of fingers. Yawning not only is a form of "taking a deep breath," but during stress, as the mouth gets dry, a yawn can put pressure on the salivary glands. The stretch of various structures in and around the mouth causes the glands to release moisture into a dry mouth during times of anxiety.
  • Leg cleansing: person places the hand (or hands) palm down on top of the leg (or legs), and then slides them down the thighs toward the knee.
  • The Ventilator involves a person (usually a male) putting his fingers between his shirt collar and neck and pulling the fabric away from his skin.
  • Some individuals will pacify by crossing their arms and rubbing their hands against their shoulders, as if experiencing a chill.
Nonverbals of the Feet and Legs
  • Our feet and legs transmit information about what we are sensing, thinking, and feeling. Concentrate on the suspect’s feet and legs first, moving upward. Read the face last. When it comes to honesty, truthfulness decreases as we move from the feet to the head.
  • Happy feet are feet and legs that wiggle and/or bounce with joy. Happy feet must be taken in context to determine if they represent a true tell or just excess nervous behavior. Moving feet and legs may simply signify impatience.
  • We tend to turn toward things we like or are agreeable to us, and that includes individuals with whom we are interacting. If we are displeased with the conversation, our feet will shift away, toward the nearest exit. When a person turns his feet away, it is normally a sign of disengagement, a desire to distance himself from where he is currently positioned.
  • Clasping of the knees and shifting of weight on the feet is an intention cue that the person wants to get up and leave.
  • When the toes point upward, it usually means the person is in a good mood or is thinking or hearing something positive.
  • When people try to control their limbic reactions or gravity-defying behaviors, it looks contrived.
  • When feet shift from flat footed to the "starter’s position," this is an intention cue that the person wants to go, or do something or engage further.
  • When people find themselves in confrontational situations, their feet and legs will splay out, not only for greater balance but also to claim greater territory. If we catch ourselves in a leg-splay posture during a heated exchange and immediately bring our legs together, it often lessens the confrontation level and reduces the tension.
  • The more advantaged we are socioeconomically or hierarchically, the more territory we demand. Each of us has a space requirement called Proxemics, that is both personal and cultural in origin. When people violate that space, we have powerful limbic reactions indicative of stress.
  • When you cross one leg in front of the other while standing, you reduce your balance significantly. The limbic brain allows us to perform this behavior only when we feel comfortable or confident. We normally cross our legs when we feel comfortable. The sudden presence of someone we don’t like will cause us to uncross our legs.
  • When two people are talking and both have crossed their legs, they usually cross them in one direction subconsciously in favor of the person thry like the most.
  • During high-comfort social interactions, our feet and legs will mirror those of the other person we are with (isopraxis) and will remain playful.
  • Touches or caresses: During courtship, and particularly while seated, a woman will often play with her shoes and dangle them from the tips of her toes when she feels comfortable with her companion. People play footsies under the table because it feels good and can be very sexually arousing. Conversely, when we don’t like someone or don’t feel close to them, we move our feet away immediately if they accidentally touch beneath the table.
  • If you are dealing with a person who is socializing or cooperative with you, his or her feet should mirror your own.
  • Most people have a place to go and a task to accomplish, so they walk with purpose. Predators (muggers, drug dealers, thieves, con men) lurk about waiting for their next victim; therefore their postures and pace are different. There is no purposeful direction to their travel until they are about to strike.
  • When a person talks to you with feet pointed away, it is a good indication this person wants to be elsewhere. Watch for people who make formal declarations in this position, as this is a form of distancing.
  • While jiggling may be a show of nervousness, kicking is a subconscious way of combating the unpleasant. If a person constantly wiggles or bounces his or her feet or leg(s) and suddenly stops, you need to take notice. This usually signifies that the individual is experiencing stress, an emotional change, or feels threatened in some way.
  • The foot freeze is another example of a limbic-controlled response, the tendency of an individual to stop activity when faced with danger.
  • A sudden interlocking of the legs may suggest discomfort or insecurity. When people are comfortable, they tend to unlock their ankles. The sudden locking of ankles around the legs of a chair is part of the freeze response and is indicative of discomfort, anxiety, or concern.
Nonverbals of the Torso, Hips, Chest, and Shoulders
  • The torso will react to perceived dangers by attempting to distance itself from anything stressful or unwanted. We may also blade away (turn slightly) by degrees from that which does not appeal to us or we grow to dislike.
  • Distancing can also take the form of what I call ventral denial. Our ventral (front) side, where our eyes, mouth, chest, breasts, genitals, etc. are located, is very sensitive to things we like and dislike. By moving closer together and exposing our ventral (weakest) side when we like someone or something, we show that we are giving ourselves in an unrestrained manner. Reciprocating this positioning by mirroring, or isopraxism, demonstrates social harmony by rewarding the intimacy and showing it is appreciated.
  • A very powerful way to let others know that you agree with them, or are consciously contemplating what they are saying, is to lean toward them or to ventrally front them.
  • When it is impractical or socially unacceptable to lean away from someone or something we dislike, we often subconsciously use our arms or objects to act as barriers.
  • A sudden crossing of the arms during a conversation could indicate discomfort.
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, women tend to cover their torsos even more so than men, especially when they feel insecure, nervous, or cautious.
  • Crossed arms with hands tightly gripping the arms is definitely an indication of discomfort.
  • It is interesting to note how many people vomit after experiencing a traumatic event. In essence, during emergencies the body is saying that there is no time for digestion; the reaction is to lighten the load and prepare for escape or physical conflict.
  • Whether done consciously or subconsciously, the torso bow is a nonverbal gesture of regard for others.
  • Clothing needs to be considered in the overall scheme of nonverbal assessment, but we have to be careful when we assess a person on the basis of clothing only, as it can sometimes lead to the wrong conclusion.
  • When the brain is saddened or we are ill, preening and presentation are among the first things to go.
  • Splay behavior is disrespectful and shows indifference to those in authority. It is a territorial display.
  • Humans puff up their chests when trying to establish territorial dominance. When a person is under stress, the chest may be seen to heave or expand and contract rapidly. When the limbic system is aroused and engaged for flight or fight, the body attempts to take in as much oxygen as possible, either by breathing more deeply or by panting.
  • Partial shoulder shrugs indicate lack of commitment or insecurity. Shoulders rising toward the ears causes the "turtle effect"; weakness, insecurity, and negative emotions are the message.
Nonverbals of the Arms
  • When people are truly energized and happy, their arm motions defy gravity. It is the insecure person who subconsciously restrains his arms, seemingly unable to defy the weight of gravity.
  • When we are upset or fearful, we withdraw our arms. Our arms come straight to our sides or they close across our chests. It protects the body while presenting a nonprovocative position.
  • Not only do important items tend to be better protected with the arms, but also those things we do not want noticed.
  • The typical body language of shoplifters is firstly: individuals tended to look around a lot; secondly, they tended to use fewer arm movements than regular shoppers.
  • When people place their arms behind their backs, first they are saying, "I am of higher status." Second, they are transmitting, "Please don’t come near me; I am not to be touched."
  • As a species, we have learned to use touch as a barometer of how we feel. We reach toward the things we really like and hold unpleasant things at arm’s length.
  • Confident or high-status individuals will claim more territory with their arms than less confident, lower-status persons.
  • Arms akimbo (hands on hips) is a powerful territorial display that can be used to establish dominance or to communicate that there are "issues."
  • Interlaced hands behind the head are indicative of comfort and dominance. Usually the senior person at a meeting will pose or "hood" this way.
  • Fingertips planted spread apart on a surface are a significant territorial display of confidence and authority.
  • When approaching a stranger for the first time, warmth can be demonstrated by leaving your arms relaxed, preferably with the ventral side exposed and perhaps even with the palms of your hands clearly visible.
  • One of the best ways to establish rapport with someone is to touch that person on the arm, somewhere between the elbow and the shoulder. Of course, it is always wise to assess the person’s personal and cultural preferences before you proceed.
Nonverbals of the Hands and Fingers
  • There is practically nothing your hands do that is not directed - either consciously or subconsciously - by your brain. Our brains are still hardwired to engage our hands in accurately communicating our emotions, thoughts, and sentiments. The human brain is programmed to sense the slightest hand and finger movement.
  • When the hands are out of sight or less expressive, it detracts from the perceived quality and honesty of the information being transmitted.
  • Since handshaking is usually the first time that two people actually touch, it can be a defining moment in their relationship.
  • If you feel the need to establish dominance, the hands are not the right way to do so.
  • Many cultures use touch to cement positive sentiments between men.
  • In many countries throughout the world, finger pointing is viewed as one of the most offensive gestures a person can display.
  • We use our fingers to preen our clothing, hair, and body when we are concerned with how we look.
  • Self-preening is acceptable, but not when others are talking to you. This is a sign of dismissiveness.
  • Nail-biting is generally perceived as a sign of insecurity or nervousness.
  • When you make contact with someone who has sweaty hands, you can assume he or she is under stress. Sweaty palms are not indicative of deception.
  • When the limbic brain is aroused and we are stressed and nervous, surges of neurotransmitters and hormones such as adrenalin (epinephrine) cause uncontrollable quivering of the hands. Our hands will also shake when we hear, see, or think of something that has negative consequences.
  • When we are genuinely excited, our hands will quiver, sometimes uncontrollably.
  • Steepling of hands, fingertip to fingertip, is one of the most powerful displays of confidence we possess.
  • Hand-wringing is a universal way of showing we are stressed or concerned.
  • Thumbs up is almost always a nonverbal sign of high confidence. Often seen with high-status individuals, the thumb sticking out of the pocket is a high-confidence display.
  • Thumbs up is usually a good indication of positive thoughts. This can be very fluid during a conversation. Thumbs in the pocket indicate low status and confidence. People in authority should avoid this display because it sends the wrong message.
  • Using the hands to frame the genitals is often seen with young males and females during the courtship years. It is a dominance display.
  • Research tells us liars tend to gesture less, touch less, and move their arms and legs less than honest people.
  • We often pacify anxiety or nervousness by stroking our fingers across the palm or rubbing our hands together.
  • A microgesture is a very brief nonverbal behavior that occurs when a person is attempting to suppress a normal response to a negative stimulus
  • When the hands stop illustrating and emphasizing, it is usually a clue to a change in brain activity (perhaps because of a lack of commitment)
  • Nonverbals of the Face
    • Faces do not always necessarily represent our true sentiments. This is because we can, to a degree, control our facial expressions.
    • Negative emotions - displeasure, disgust, antipathy, fear, and anger - make us tense.
    • Our faces may show a constellation of tension-revealing cues simultaneously: tightening of jaw muscles, flaring of nose wings (naral wing dilation), squinting of the eyes, quivering of the mouth, or lip occlusion (in which lips seemingly disappear), eye focus is fixed, the neck is stiff, and head tilt is nonexistent.
    • Squinting, furrowing of the forehead, and facial contortions are indicative of distress or discomfort.
    • Facial cues may be so fleeting - microgestures - that they are difficult to pick.
    • Positive emotions are revealed by the loosening of the furrowed lines on the forehead, relaxation of muscles around the mouth, emergence of full lips (they are not compressed or tight lipped), and widening of the eye area as surrounding muscles relax. The head will tilt to the side, exposing our most vulnerable area, the neck.
    • From birth we find comfort in dilated pupils, especially those with whom we are emotionally attached.
    • When we become aroused, are surprised, or are suddenly confronted, our eyes open up - not only do they widen, but the pupils also quickly dilate to let in the maximum amount of available light.
    • We squint to block out light or objectionable things. We squint when we are angry or even when we hear voices, sounds, or music we don’t like. Squinting can be very brief - 1/8 of second - but in real time may reflect a negative thought or emotion.
    • Arched eyebrows signify high confidence and positive feelings (a gravity-defying behavior), whereas lowered eyebrows are usually a sign of low confidence and negative feelings, a behavior that indicates weakness and insecurity in a person
    • Eye blocking with the hands is an effective way of saying, "I don’t like what I just heard, saw, or learned."
    • A brief touch of the eyes during a conversation may give you a clue to a person’s negative perception of what is being discussed.
    • Delay in opening of the eyelids upon hearing information or a lengthy closure is indicative of negative emotions or displeasure.
    • Where the lids compress tightly, the person is trying to block out totally some negative news or event.
    • The wide-eyed look normally associated with surprise or positive events. This is also another form of the gravity-defying behaviors usually associated with good feelings: the eyebrow raise or eye flash that takes place very quickly, staccato-like, during a positive emotional event.
    • When we look directly at others, we either like them, are curious about them, or want to threaten them.
    • Clarity of thought is often enhanced by looking away, and that is the reason we do it.
    • A downward gaze may demonstrate that we are processing a sentiment or a feeling, conducting an internal dialogue, or perhaps demonstrating submissiveness.
    • Higher-status individuals can be indifferent while lower-status persons are required to be attentive with their gaze.
    • Roving eyes make a person look disinterested or superior.
    • Our blink rate increases when we are aroused, troubled, nervous, or concerned, and it returns to normal when we are relaxed.
    • We look askance at people when we are distrustful or unconvinced.
    • Real smile forces the corners of the mouth up toward the eyes. A fake or "polite smile": the corners of the mouth move toward the ears and there is little emotion in the eyes. Real smiles are difficult to fake when we have a sincere lack of emotion.
    • When the lips disappear, there is usually stress or anxiety driving this behavior. When the lips disappear and the corners of the mouth turn down, emotions and confidence are at a low point, while anxiety, stress, and concerns are running high.
    • We purse our lips or pucker them when we are in disagreement with something or someone, or we are thinking of a possible alternative.
    • Sneer fleetingly signifies disrespect or disdain.
    • Lip licking is a pacifying behavior that tends to soothe and calm us down. You see it in class just before a test.
    • Tongue jutting is seen when people get caught doing something they shouldn’t, they screw up, or they are getting away with something. It is very brief.
    • A furrowed forehead is an easy way to assess for discomfort or anxiety.
    • Nail-biting is an indication of stress, insecurity, or discomfort.
    • People will blush when they are caught doing something they know is wrong. Then there is the blushing that occurs when a person likes someone but doesn’t want him or her to know it.
    • Blanching (turning pale) can take place when we are in the sustained limbic reaction known as shock.
    • We crinkle our noses to indicate dislike or disgust.
    • A person with his chin down is seen as lacking confidence and experiencing negative sentiments while a person with his chin up is perceived as being in a positive frame of mind.
    Detecting Deception
    • It is extremely difficult to detect deception. There is no single behavior that is indicative of deception. Those who are lying or are guilty and must carry the knowledge of their lies and/or crimes with them find it difficult to achieve comfort, and their tension and distress may be readily observed.
    • The more comfortable a person is when speaking with us, the easier it will be to detect the critical nonverbals of discomfort associated with deception.
    • Establish high comfort during the early part of any interaction. Try to remain calm as you ask questions, don’t act suspicious, and appear comfortable and nonjudgmental. When we are comfortable, there should be synchrony in our nonverbal behavior.
    • Asynchrony is a barrier to effective communication.
    • The use of objects is a sign that an individual wants distance, separation, and partial concealment, because he or she is being less open - which goes hand in hand with being uncomfortable or even deceitful.
    • When making false statements, liars will rarely touch or engage in other physical contact with you.
    • Assessing the nature and length of the relationship is also important in discerning the meaning of such distancing behavior.
    • Any facial expression that lasts too long or lingers is not normal, whether a smile, a frown, or a surprised look. Such contrived behavior during a conversation or an interview is intended to influence opinion and lacks authenticity.
    • Predators and habitual liars actually engage in greater eye contact than most individuals, and will lock eyes with you.
    • If the head shake or head movement is delayed or occurs after the speech, then most likely the statement is contrived and not truthful. If a head movement is inconsistent with or contrary to a person’s statement, it may indicate deception.
    • To read pacifying nonverbals in interpersonal interactions:
      • Get a clear view.
      • Expect some pacifying behaviors.
      • Expect initial nervousness.
      • Get the person with whom you’re interacting to relax first.
      • Establish a baseline.
      • Look for increased use of pacifiers.
      • Ask, pause, and observe.
      • Keep the person you are interviewing focused.
      • Chatter is not truth.
      • Stress coming in and going out.
      • Isolate the cause of the stress.
      • Pacifiers say so much.
    • Look for synchrony between what is being said verbally and nonverbally, between the circumstances of the moment and what the subject is saying, between events and emotions, and even synchrony of time and space.
    • Observing emphasis is important because emphasis is universal when people are being genuine.
    • The palms-up or "rogatory" position usually indicates the person wants to be believed or wants to be accepted. Statements made palm down are more emphatic and more confident than statements made with hands palm up in the rogatory position.
    • When we are confident and comfortable, we spread out.
    • When people are being deceitful or are outright lying, they subconsciously tend to stoop or sink into the furniture as if they are attempting to escape what is being said
    • If only one shoulder comes up, or if the shoulders rise nearly to the ears and the person’s head seems to disappear, it is a sign of high discomfort and sometimes seen in an individual preparing to answer a question deceptively.

    These notes were taken from Joe's book.
    Find more about his work at www.jnforensics.com/


  • © 2020 Cedric Joyce