Hi everyone

I heard the podcasts about micro communications and the secret of a great handshake and both fit in an area I'm very interested in and that has brought me great results: body language.

The thing with body language is that we all know it. We can all say that we felt uncomfortable by someone's handshake, posture, etc, but we don't quite know why that happened. Understanding body language is not about being able to "read" other people but more about to be able to pass the right signals and understand the disguised and often unconscious ones. That's why a smile is so important!

About the handshake. I believe that the podcast is fantastic because it teaches what to do. But why do people react well to it? First, because we enter the other person personal space without invading their intimate space. Mark mentioned several "moves" people do when handshaking, most of them invade the intimate space, like shoulder movement and using two hands to sandwich. Second, our hand is not palm up (which is perceived as reverence (sp?)) or palm down (which is perceived as arrogance, like a king or a godfather). Think of the kiss of the ring and how both leader and follower behave in it. The only thing I believe wasn't mentioned was extending the fingers and touch the wrist. Again, that is an invasion of intimate space, so it will be uncomfortable and therefor perceived as unprofessional.

About the micro communications. I could write for quite a bit about that but it all boils down to how we open up to the other person in terms of the podcast. All mammals expose their belly when they are interested, available, calm and trustful. If you ever had a dog you know what I mean. If we want to show interest to what someone else is telling us, we face them and don't cross our arms or legs. Their limbic system will immediately read "he wants to know what I have to say". Even if you don't, doesn't hurt to be polite on a unconscious level. This is exactly what Mark mentioned when mentioned the perpendicular of his shoulders with the person he is speaking with. Smile means we are relaxed, nodding means we are listening. Works like a charm and opens a big door when we have to say we don't agree because it won't be taken as hostile.

Last but not least, look at their feet. If one or both of their feet are pointing away from you, that is the strongest non-verbal indication that the person you are speaking with wants to be somewhere else. It doesn't mean you or what you are saying is not interesting but at least it is not as important as what that person needs to address somewhere else.

If you find this interesting for your professional (and even personal life) I'll be more than glad to give easy tips, point to books, etc.

Hope it helps!

naraa's picture
Training Badge

 I find this very interesting, thanks for the tips, please post some more.  Can you post some tips on body language to help identify when people are lying or hiding something?  

I once saw a TED podcast about it, but I remember more the verbal tips, like avoiding using names and using "that person", avoiding being specific like I am not "that type of people", double negative, etc.

Another one that I would like to know is whether there are body language tips to identify when someone wants to say something but is sort of shy or scared to do so and how do we "body language act" to encourage the person to open up.



Solitaire's picture

This is very interesting and helpful, thanks RVLADIMIRO!

I would be very interested also in the answers to the questions that Nara asks.

Also any books you would recommend for this topic?


naraa's picture
Training Badge

Here is an interesting talk about body language and non-verbals and how it affects the way we feel and think about ourselves and others.

rvladimiro's picture

Hi again, sorry I've been absent.

That video is brilliant. Before seeing my perception of non-verbals was that everyone reacts to it, knowing how and why we react allows us to understand other people better or pass a message non-verbally. That video pretty much says that not only other people react to our non-verbals but we do to.

The first question about lies or better said deception in a broader context because lying is just a part of deception. We cannot detect it to make it worse we are taught not to show emotions since a tender age so we are trained by our parents to be socially deceptive. The good news is that we can detect comfort and discomfort. If someone shows signs of discomfort when saying or hearing something, it does not mean they are lying, it just means that they are not relaxed about it. They can be lying, or the subject may be sensitive for them, or they feel they might get into some kind of trouble for saying whatever they'll say, probably the truth. If you have some kind of role power, people will not lie to you often but they may try to sugar coat or route responsibility and they will show signs of discomfort when doing it.

The easiest way I learnt to get non-verbals are to find behaviours in adults that I can relate to behaviours in babies. For instance, babies have pacifiers to calm themselves if they feel stress or discomfort. Adult pacifiers are touches, for instance men in suits pull their necktie to get some room between the shirt and neck and in that motion they rub their necks. Any slight rubbing in face, neck, ears. And since I mentioned men in suits, women touch very slightly the spot between the collar bones (don't know the name in english) or a necklace in the same spot if they use one. We all know what means if someone makes an ugly face and rubs the hand in the back of the neck. That person is very uncomfortable with something, now tone that movement down to the smallest touch or rub. Think about it, why do we all do it? There's no need for it, we are just calming ourselves. Our limbic system needs a human touch and we deliver it to ourselves without even thinking about it.

The second question is where I think non-verbals is more useful. The way we 'read' people will always lack enough data to make us be sure of what is going on. We can get hints about how they are feeling but no absolute truths of their behaviour. This said, I think that getting the right message to other people is more useful than actually thinking I can accurately read them.

Getting people to open up is all about not showing power. Think of a military, wide shoulders, chest protruding, feet in the line of the shoulders, hands grabbed in the back. Those are all signs of power and confidence. We can add an authority tone of voice. Those are all good things if that's the message we want to get across, but to get people to trust us to open up, we should pursue the opposite. What we say is important, we have to show we trust them, so we walk halfway on what we are able and confident we can speak of. For instance I'm very open about my family life. This gives everyone around me a sense that they know me and that I'm overall a nice guy because I have a great and happy family so I can't be a bad person, right? Second part is the non-verbals. If I approach someone with whom I have some sort of power role I never show that power. If I approach their desks, I don't sit on it or stand above them sitting down but rather crouch making myself smaller than I am and lower than their eye level. If we are standing I don't take a defensive stance (crossing arms or anything that hides the chest or belly is a defensive stance) or a power stance like steeple hands or puffed chest and wide feet. I rather present myself relaxed with my chest pointing to them. I usually have something in my hands, like a smartphone or a pen that I just use to keep my hands busy with some sort of small motion.

I didn't find these things myself. :) All these things and much more can be found in the books of Joe Navarro and ex-FBI that writes about non-verbals. My favorite book of his is this one:

If you want to learn about non-verbals, Joe Navarro is a great non-theorethical hands-on author. I found him because I play poker and he had a online class about poker tells in the World Series of Poker Academy. Been reading his work since then and he is truly amazing. It has been working great for me not really because I can 'read' people like Lie to Me TV series but because understanding this aspect of communication can create much better relationships in home, work, social life, and so on.

Feel free to add questions. I love this subject! :)

naraa's picture
Training Badge

Rvladimiro, thanks for the response.

I am starting to like the subject too! It is fascinating.  Although something else that fascinates me is how we process information through our unconscious mind.  And this got me reading the book Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow.

In the book, there is a chapter on reading people and in the chapter the author tells about the story of a horse named Hans that his owner, in 1904 thought him to perform arithmetic and intellectual tasks on the level of those performed in one of today's third-grade classroom.  Hans learned to respond to his master's questions by stamping his right hoof.  A commission was set up and concluded that he could indeed perform the tasks.  But not everyone was convinced, some people believed the horse could read his owners mind.  More tests were done and it was found that the horse could get the answers right but only if the person asking the questions knew the answers! Copied from the book: "Eventually it was found out that the key to the horse's intellectual feats lay in involuntary and unconscious cues displayed by the questioner.  As soon as a problem was posed, Pfungst discovered, the questioner would involuntarily and almost imperceptibly bend forward, which prompted Hans to begin tapping. Then, as the correct answer was reached, another slight bit of body language would signal Hans to stop."

What is amazing is that it didn't have to be the owner to ask the questions, anyone, unknowingly, subliminally, would make the same gestures and the horse would get it right.

To finish with the introductory quote from the book chapter (chapter 5): "Your amicable words mean nothing if your body seems to be saying something different.", James Borg.

Happy New Year!