What Body Language REALLY Says

Body language can provide us with valuable information about what a person is really thinking or feeling. But have you in the past looked at how someone was expressing themselves physically only to get a gut feeling that something just wasn’t adding up? Now new research challenges some commonly held perceptions about body language and backs up those intuitive flashes we may have had about someone even when their body language seemed to be conveying something else entirely!

It’s true our bodies can convey our innermost thoughts, feelings and insecurities often without our realising it and we can learn to interpret these signals from others to gain clues as to their emotional states and often how they ‘feel’ about us. However, those commonly held beliefs that if someone touches their face or looks to the left they are lying or if they are crossing their arms over their chest they are on the defensive aren’t necessarily the case.

Joe Navarro spent over 25 years as a counterintelligence agent for the FBI. His job required him to become an expert on body language and he’s the author of What Every Body is Saying – a key book on reading body language. He says in order to interpret body signals correctly we must first look at the context of the situation. The biggest mistake we often make is in not following up the body language clues with a question such as ‘You appear distracted – is anything wrong?’ He gives an example from his own life of a time he went on a date and the woman seated opposite him just didn’t seem to be having a good time from her body language. Finally he asked her if anything was wrong and it turned out she didn’t know if she had remembered to lock her car – so her focus was not on the date but on her car security. If he hadn’t asked he could have left the date thinking she wasn’t interested.

Body language signals are universal and mean the same no matter what culture we come from or language we speak. Another myth however is that it can be used to tell when someone is lying. Sometimes it can but if someone is an accomplished liar – as in they are habitual liars i.e. – engage in criminal activity where lying becomes a survival tool, or are mentally unbalanced, they can fool even the professionals. Here is an example where we need to rely on our intuition. If it’s telling us something is ‘off’ despite what a person is saying or how they are acting, then we must listen.

One of the most common romantic problems we get asked about here at MK is what to do when we develop romantic feelings for a friend who doesn’t return them. This is not only hurtful but often baffling as usually the friend has been sending us signals (or so we thought!) that they wanted the relationship to evolve into something else. Joe Navarro has some interesting insights into this which may help you if you find yourself in this situation. Joe says: ‘Sometimes we just have to ask because you can get it all wrong. At the same time, some people give a lot of courtship cues accidentally and so we see the repeated smile, eye gaze, or touch as being flirtatious when, in fact, they haven’t mastered just being friendly, so it comes off as courtship displays.’

In these situations it’s too easy to end up feeling we made the whole thing up in our own heads so if you find yourself experiencing this take a step back and ask yourself if in fact your ‘friend’ has yet to learn the appropriate body language signals!

There’s no doubt that body language provides us with a host of valuable information – consider for a moment that 80% of all our communication with others is non-verbal. But of that 80% we’re not sure what percentage our intuition accounts for. What we do know however it that it is invaluable in feeding us the non-verbal information about someone that their body language fails to convey. When it comes to reading other people – intuition may still be way ahead of the curve.