What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro

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Joe Navarro is an ex FBI agent who was a founding member of the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Program. He was a body language expert who he used his ability to successfully identify suspects who were lying or attempting to conceal their involvement in any wrongdoing.

In this book he draws from his years of experience to list the various ‘tells’ that different part of the human body exhibit and why they do so. I enjoyed the ‘why’ much more than the ‘what’ and therefore my summary is all about the ‘why’ but I think it’s worth a quick read if you are interested in understanding non verbal behaviour.

Why ‘Tells’ Exist: When our ancestors encountered danger they were typically a few standard responses. Most of us are familiar with the first two – flight or fight. The third response – freeze is unfamiliar but actually the most common response to perceived danger. The modern incarnations of these responses and ‘pacifying’ behaviours that accompany them are the reason that these tells exist.

Freezing is a mechanism that our ancestors deployed to make themselves less visible to perceived predators. Today we use it when we make ourselves small or perhaps unnoticed when we feel uncomfortable or threatened. The reverse is true, we make ourselves large to show dominance.

Flight is another way to escape danger. While today, we cannot run away when uncomfortable, we try to cope by blocking behaviours such as looking away, closing our eyes, placing barriers between ourselves or leaning away from people. The feet are excellent indicators here – feet pointed towards exits or preparing to leave are clear signs that the person wants to end a conversation.

Fight is the final option when facing a threat. Thankfully, it’s becoming quite rare and people tend to restrain or limit themselves.

Pacifying behaviours are those that people deploy to calm themselves when they are agitated. Common pacifying behaviours include massaging the neck or touching their face. Since these behaviours are employed when a person is agitated, they provide valuable clues about their state of mind.

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