Body Language

Body language can profoundly, but generally unconsciously, affect people

"...In expressing our internal emotional state to others, and in reading their internal states, body language is very important..."

Robert Winston, 2003

. Everyone can control their body language to an extent to hide their true feelings. But generally the body language will demonstrate true feelings and will contradict verbal lies.

If non‐verbals contradict the verbals, people believe and trust the non‐verbals

First impressions are very important. It is thought that the initial 5 seconds of any first meeting are more important than the next 5 minutes. So attention to details like grooming and appropriate clothing are important if you want to create the right impression


" a business environment......we found that the balder the man, the more power and success he was perceived to have, and the less resistance people would put up when he enforced his authority. The hairy‐headed men, on the other hand, were thought to be less powerful and less well‐paid..."

Alan Pease et al, 2002

. Body language experts have long suggested that a significant part of the message an audience receives is determined before the speaker opens his/her mouth

"...yet most organisations......act as if bodies ‐ stature, size, posture, voice ‐ do not matter.....stature, gestures and voice are all critical to the construction of authority..."

Amanda Sinclair in AFRBoss, July 2001

. Organisations place a premium on performance and the illusion of competence, which even manifests itself in terms of height, ie

"...58 percent of American chief executive officers are more than six feet tall (183 cm), compared with just 14 percent of the total population..."

Malcolm Gladwell as quoted by Luke Collins, 2005

We assume that people's behaviour and demeanour displayed on the outside is an authentic and reliable window into the way they feel on the inside; this is called transparency, ie
" believe that the way a stranger looks and acts is a reliable clue to the way they feel..."
Malcolm Gladwell 2019

We try to make sense of people through their behaviour and demeanour.

How universal are our body signals? Eg
"...Children everywhere smile when they are happy, frown when they are sad, and giggle when they are excited..."
Malcolm Gladwell 2019

As stated below, the universality of body signals is being challenged, ie there are cultural differences, eg Europeans and Islanders in the Pacific were compared and they had different perceptions onf what facial expressions meant around emotions such as happiness, anger, fear, disgust, sadness, etc.

Facial Action Coding System (FACS)

Basis for understanding and cataloguing how human emotion is displayed on the face, ie emotions we feel are often, involuntarily, displayed on our faces in some distinctive configuration of facial muscles. The facial response always occurs and may linger on the face for a fraction of a second or be detectable only if electrical sensors are attached to the face.
"...if you feel it, you'll show it......these kinds of emotional expressions are universal - that everyone, everywhere, uses their face to display their feelings in the same way..."
Malcolm Gladwell 2019

This is sometimes called matching, ie when your feelings, words and body language are aligned and express the same. A mismatch occurs when one of the 3 are not aligned.

The diagram below shows the difference between fake and real smiles for Westerners. The real smile is on the left (Duchenne smile) ; the fake on the right (Pan-Am smile)


FACS involves every one of the 43 distinct muscle movements in the face being assigned a number. Then each muscular movement is given an intensity measure from A (mildest) to E (strongest).

The concept that the emotional expressions are universal has been challenged by researchers who claim that there are cultural differences, ie
"...Each of us, over the course of our lives, builds our own set of operating instructions for our face, based on the culture and environment we inhabit. The face is a symbol of how different human beings are, not how similar we are..."
Malcolm Gladwell 2019

Some misconceptions about facial expressions (based on the "Essentails of the Reid Techniques" used by law enforcement in America)

- people who are lying look away (conversely people who are telling the truth don't look away. In some cultures, maintaining eye contact, or staring, is regarded as impolite)
- people who tell the truth maintain eye contact (conversely people who are lying do not maintain eye contact)

NB the above 2 misconceptions come under gaze aversion

- a variation of expressions may be suggestive of lying (conversely a lack of variation may be suggestive of truthfulness)
- smile a lot (regarded as a sign that something is awry)
- speech disturbances (like faltering speech, eg 'humming and aring' nervously, is regarded as suspicious behaviour, eg evasion or deception)

In the USA it has been found that white suspects are less likely to look away and more likely to maintain eye contact than African-Americans. African-Americans also  smile more than other groups. Thus African-Americans are more likely to be thought of as guilty.

As a generalisation, Hispanics are less likely to smile and are more likely to have faltering speech than other ethnic groups in the USA.

Other misconceptions on body language

- hand movements

Hands can do 1 of 3 things

i) remain uninvolved and unmoving (can indicate lack of confidence in verbal responses or that the issue is not very important)
ii) hands move away from the body and gesture
, ie illustrating
iii) hands come in contact with other part of the body, ie adaptor behaviour

NB assumes that there is a pattern to hand movement

- foot movement (sudden stopping or starting of foot bouncing can indicate perception
- 'shift in the chair' postures (gross shift in the chair posture are good indications of deception when they occur in conjunction with verbal responses)
- a firm handshake (especially from a confident, well-spoken person who is friendly and engaging is more believable than a nervous, shifty, stammering, uncomfortable person who gives a windy, convoluted explanation and/or soft handshake)
- activities like blushing (the face turned a bright red when answering a question, ie 'caught red-handed'); touching and/or whirling of the hair; halting, overly defensive, repetitive explanations; fidgeting and low-level agitation, etc are all used to describe lying. However, they are not necessarily indicators of lying.

NB There is no solid empirical basis to support the above misconceptions as being true. Yet they are regarded otherwise, ie as truths.

We like to stereotype and this results in
"...our stubborn belief in some set of non-verbal behaviours associated with deception..."

Tim Levine as quoted by Malcolm Gladwell 2019

. There are gender differences. For example, women use body language (including tone of voice) more effectively than men, ie

"...body language reveals a woman's emotional condition and accounts for 60% ‐ 80% of the impact of most females......tone of voice conveys what she means and women communicate with a range of five tones ‐ men can only identify three. Words account for a mere 7% to 10% of the impact of the message. Consequently, the words are not critical to their conversation because most of their messages are non‐verbal..."

Alan Pease et al, 2002

Furthermore, a woman displays more of the white of her eyes than a man because the female brain is organized as a close range communication tool

"...the white of an eye is an aid to face‐to‐face communications as it lets someone monitor the direction of another person's gaze, which gives clues to their attitude..."

Alan Pease et al, 2002

To demonstrate that you are interested when talking to someone you need to

‐ maintain eye contact with the other person

‐ listen to what the other person is saying, ie 2 ears and 1 mouth and use them in that ratio!!

‐ mirror body language, ie break down barriers by adopting the other person's pose and actions

‐ face the person you are talking to and listening to, which demonstrates that you are interested. Even more powerful is to stand/sit side‐by side rather than face‐to‐face; this indicates that you are on their side!!!!!!!

‐ tilt your head slightly to show you are interested

NB If there is a conflict between messages being received visually and auditory, the visual will dominate (SBS, 2020).

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