What Every body is saying

Author: Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins

Reading people successfully—learning, decoding, and utilizing nonverbal behavior to predict human actions—is a task well worth your attention, one that offers ample rewards for the effort expended.

“Eye-blocking” is a nonverbal behavior that can occur when we feel threatened and/or don’t like what we see.

Commandment 1: Be a competent observer of your environment.

Just as careful listening is critical to understanding our verbal pronouncements, so careful observation is vital to comprehending our body language.

Observation is like a muscle. It grows stronger with use and atrophies without use. Exercise your observation muscle and you will become a more powerful decoder of the world around you.

Commandment 2: Observing in context is key to understanding nonverbal behavior.

Commandment 3: Learn to recognize and decode nonverbal behaviors that are universal.

when people press their lips together in a manner that seems to make them disappear, it is a clear and common sign that they are troubled and something is wrong.

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. Using

In reality, there are three “brains” inside the human skull, each performing specialized functions that work together as the “command-and-control center” that regulates everything our body does.

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.

Motions such as rubbing the forehead; touching, rubbing, or licking the lip(s); pulling or massaging the earlobe with thumb and forefinger; stroking the face or beard; and playing with the hair all can serve to pacify an individual when confronting a stressful situation.

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.

Violations of personal space cause us to become hypervigilant;

Leg crossing is a particularly accurate barometer of how comfortable we feel around another person; we don’t use it if we feel uncomfortable

Leg crossing, then, becomes a great way to communicate a positive sentiment.

According to Desmond Morris, scientists recognize approximately forty different styles of walking (Morris, 1985, 229–230).

When a foot suddenly begins to kick, it is usually a good indicator of discomfort.

The foot freeze is another example of a limbic-controlled response, the tendency of an individual to stop activity when faced with danger.

When an individual suddenly turns his toes inward or interlocks his feet, it is a sign that he is insecure, anxious, and/or feels threatened.

This is consistent with research indicating that people tend to restrict arm and leg movements when lying (Vrij, 2003, 24–27).

Just as your limbic system’s freeze, flight, or fight response shunts blood away from the skin, it likewise diverts blood from your digestive system, sending blood to your heart and limb muscles

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

Shoulders rising toward the ears causes the “turtle effect”; weakness, insecurity, and negative emotions are the message.

Sometimes called the “regal stance,” arms behind the back mean “don’t draw near.” You see royalty using this behavior to keep people at a distance.

Health, mood, mental development, and even longevity are said to be influenced by how much physical contact we have with others and how often positive touching takes place (Knapp & Hall, 2002, 290–301).

Arms akimbo 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.

In addition to being used to meet and greet, certain people use it to establish dominance.

As foreign as it may seem to Westerners, in many cultures men engage in hand-holding behavior. This is very common in the Muslim world as well as in Asia, especially in Vietnam and Laos.

Many cultures use touch to cement positive sentiments between men, something that is not widespread in the United States.

One of the signs that a relationship has soured or is compromised is a sudden decrease in the amount of touching

If you are in the Middle East and a person wants to hold your hand, hold it. If you are a man visiting Russia, don’t be surprised when your male host kisses your cheek, rather than shakes your hand. All of these greetings are as natural a way to express genuine sentiments as an American handshake. I am honored when an Arab or Asian man offers to take my hand because I know that it’s a sign of high respect and trust. Accepting these cultural differences is the first step to better understanding and embracing diversity.

finger pointing is viewed as one of the most offensive gestures a person can display.

For those of you interested in further readings on hand gestures around the world, I would highly recommend Bodytalk: The Meaning of Human Gestures, by Desmond Morris, and Gestures: The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World, by Roger E. Axtell.

Hands also indicate how much we care for ourselves and how we view social convention.

Nail-biting is generally perceived as a sign of insecurity or nervousness.

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.

Head tilt says in a powerful way, “I am comfortable, I am receptive, I am friendly.” It is very difficult to do this around people we don’t like.

Research has shown that once we move beyond a startle response, when we like something we see, our pupils dilate; when we don’t, they constrict

Incidentally, if you ever need an emergency pair of reading glasses and none are available, just make a small pinhole in a piece of paper and hold it up to your eye; the small aperture will bring what you are reading into focus.

If, however, we drop the eyebrows too low, as may be seen in a very defeated child, it is a universal sign of weakness and insecurity.

Eye blocking with the hands is an effective way of saying, “I don’t like what I just heard, saw, or learned.”

Looking askance is a display that is seen when we are suspicious of others or question the validity of what they are saying.

A real smile appears primarily because of the action of two muscles: the zygomaticus major, which stretches from the corner of the mouth to the cheekbone, and the orbicularis oculi, which surrounds the eye.

Note that when the lips are full, usually the person is content.

When there is stress, the lips will begin to disappear and tighten.

A sneer fleetingly signifies disrespect or disdain. It says “I care little for you or your thoughts.”

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.

We crinkle our noses to indicate dislike or disgust. This is very accurate but at times fleeting.

The palms-up or “rogatory” position usually indicates the person wants to be believed

Statements made palm down are more emphatic and more confident

Happy Reading 💚


What Every Body Is Saying

Image Credits to Ricardo Gomez Angel


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