An Introduction to Body Language
Have you ever wished that you could read someone’s mind? Maybe you were people watching and wondering what someone across a crowded room was thinking. Perhaps you were trying to figure out what a friend was going through when they told you everything was fine but something still seemed off. We all have moments where we wish we could understand people more deeply. More instinctual.
While it may be impossible to read minds, the study of body language is the next best thing. You can learn a lot about how a person thinks or feels by studying the way they move, look, and act. Everything can be a clue, from the shyest of smiles to the most hostile of stare downs. Everything a person does is a snapshot of how they are feeling at any given moment. Every action and gesture is a reflection of what the person feels on the inside. When you understand what to look for it can unlock a whole new way of interacting with others as well as give you a deeper understanding of who they are as a person.
In the following chapters we will cover everything from how to tell when someone is lying to the secrets of sexual attraction and desire. We will look at stress and anxiety as well as anger and aggressiveness. Everything will help you interpret people as well as teach you how to alter your own actions so you can communicate more clearly using this unspoken method to its full potential.
Chapter One: The Art of Lying
One of the top things that people use reading body language for is to see if they can tell when people are lying or telling the truth. This is commonly played out on TV shows, especially crime dramas where the detectives can tell whether someone is lying or not by “reading them.” Of course that is just for TV, but there is some truth to this tactic and if you know what you are looking for you can certainly tap into this type of talent.
There are a lot of examples of this is everyday life like when a friend says nothing is wrong but you know something is off or when a person talks their way out of a ticket or calls in sick to work when really they are going to the golf course for the afternoon. Another example of this would be poker players and how someone can have a “tell” that gives them away when they are bluffing. Of course who is better than this than a mom who can tell when her kids are lying?
Let’s go into some of the most common ways that you can spot when someone is lying. Of course studying this guide is not going to make you a top ranked detective, a master poker player, or a super mom but it can certainly help you hone your skills when looking to sniff out the truth in a world full of little white lies.
One of the most obvious, easy to recognize signs is when people break eye contact, especially to look downward. This is sometimes referred to as having “shifty eyes” or just being a “shifty” person. It can easily tip people off that what is being said is not entirely truthful. I think the reason for this is that when people make direct eye contact it is usually a sign of confidence and assurance, which is impossible when they are trying to hide something or flat out lying about something. Another reason this can be a red flag is because usually when people lie they are inventing a story and trying to think of what to say and when thinking and processing it is common not to make eye contact.
I think a very interesting extension of this is that when someone is lying they will often look upward and to the left. This is an indication that they are using the imaginative or creative side of the brain which can mean they are busy making up a story. So if someone is not making eye contact and looking up to the left this is a very strong sign they are not being truthful. It is fascinating that we can tell what part of the brain is being used and can pin that to a certain behavior, like lying.
Another sign to take note of is if someone is touching or tugging their ear as this can be a gesture of indecision but it can also be linked to lying. I think part of this is because when someone is lying they can be nervous or anxious, especially if the lie is a big one. They are not sure what to do with their hands so it can be a nervous habit to touch or play with their ears. This can also extend to an increase in general facial touching. In contrast, gesturing with open palms and touching your chest (especially near the heart) is a sign of sincerity and honesty.
A signal that involves the whole face is a smile. There are two types of smiles, a false smile and a genuine smile. The way to tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one is that a real smile involves the whole face, including the eyes, and can be more exaggerated on the right side. A false smile does not reach the eyes and can be symmetrical or be more to the left side of the face. Try doing this in the mirror to see if you can spot the difference. Or by looking at pictures, you can always tell when people look posed or staged. This is why people are usually more attracted to candid photos, because the emotions (particularly the smiles) are more genuine and authentic. This is not to say that people in more traditional photographs are necessarily lying, but it is forcing an emotion rather than allowing it to happen naturally (like when someone is telling you to say cheese) and freely.
Another fairly obvious sign of dishonesty is when someone crosses their arms in front of them or puts an actual object in front of them. This can sometimes be viewed as defensive but can also be an action used for blocking or shielding when it is used to hide behind. Especially if this is a sudden change in posture, for instance, if someone shifts to cross their arms or puts more space or even a physical object between themselves and the person they view as their accuser, or the one they are trying to hide from in some way, this can be an indication the person is not being truthful. Or this can be assumed when someone turns away altogether. This can be somewhat of a defense mechanism to guard the truth or guard themselves in order to avoid being discovered in a lie.
Sometimes people will haunch their shoulders and bring their arms in close to their sides. I think this is an effort to make themselves seems smaller or less obvious, particularly when hiding something or trying to avoid attracting unnecessary attention. This is especially true when the lie is bigger or something the person is really guarding closely. This could also involve facial and body stiffness or a sense of overall awkwardness. Some people are naturally this way but for those people who are not normally awkward or stiff and this body language suddenly becomes apparent it is a good indication they are hiding something or lying.
A more extreme example of how lying can manifest in physical signs is audible breathing, pale face or hands, and/or nostril flaring. These outward signs can be a troubling indication that there is something pretty major going on under the surface. This is something that usually occurs over a longstanding lie or secret that is actually eating the person up psychologically.
While body language is mostly about physical postures and behavior I believe that it can also extend to speech and other vocalizations. Some examples of this include shorter responses or awkward stuttering. Overuse of “filler” words such as like or umm. I think this is because they are nervous and stumbling over their words which are usually when people use these filler type of words to speak and the same thing with using shorter responses.
The flip side of this is when people use more words than necessary to explain things. This depends a lot on the type of person. Some people are always very detail oriented and provide a lot of descriptions when speaking or telling a story. This does not mean they are lying. But other times it can be something to pay attention to when someone who does not normally go into great detail suddenly starts using a lot of words. Anytime a person suddenly shifts personality in any way it should always be considered a red flag and worth taking note.
Lying is a highly complicated act that can have many layers and depths. Everything from the little white lie (dog ate my homework kind of stuff) to the more destructive lies (cheating in a relationship) but no matter what the motive or reason, people want to guard their secrets and make sure they are not exposed. And most of the time people will go to great lengths to protect themselves. While not everything can be rooted out through a study of body language you can learn a great deal or at least be more in tuned with what is going on around you and with the people you interact with in daily life.
Obviously there are a lot of ways this could play out in your everyday life. Perhaps you are an employer with a continually late employee who always has a down pat excuse or rationalization. You’re starting to wonder if their kid is really sick (for the third time this month) or if the car really had a flat tire on the highway. If they have to tell you about the road conditions, the side of the car that had the flat, as well as every detail about the process to change the tire you might be tipped off they aren’t being 100% truthful with you. It’s easy just to say “I had a flat tire” but if you are working overtime to sell the story you will throw in all kinds of unnecessary details to make it seem plausible.
Any of these behaviors can be a sign that someone is not being entirely truthful with you. How you react to this situation will obviously depend on you, as well as what you think that person may or may not be lying about. If nothing else, this new knowledge will help you watch others more closely and pick up on the more subtle cues that are being put out in different situations.