Body Language: You Say More Than You Think

My role as an Industrial Psychologist is to study people in organizations, understand Power and Authority, Leadership, Group Dynamics, etc. To be effective, I need to read people and understand do they mean what they say.

This article is meant to provide you with some key takeaways from the book I recently read “You Say More Than You Think” by Janine Driver as well as other resources I’ve found helpful in reading people’s body language.

The book provides meaning behind body language and starts off by focusing on sense of self. It’s important to understand how one comes across to others in order to obtain the outcome one seeks from an interaction.

Janine asks readers videotape themselves for a few days, which later becomes handy in analyzing how one reacts to different situations. I like this methodology but also recommend courses delivered by the NTL Institute. Their courses focus on understanding how you perceive yourself and how you truly are coming across to others.

Once you’re familiar with how you’re coming across, one must have a baseline to read someone’s body language. Someone’s “baseline” or “norm” is their behavior in his or her normal state. It’s important to establish a baseline because one can assign the wrong meaning.

For example, if someone has a natural tendency to touch his or her nose a lot (maybe because they went from glasses to contacts), one can’t assume the person is lying. No one individual gesture is directly linked to deceit. It’s only when you see a cluster of gestures that one can be certain of their meaning.

Janine talks about the following rules and how to use them in order to change your body language:

    • Belly Button Rule: Is meant to gage the person’s interest or intent by the position of the person’s belly button in relation to the other person. Knowing this bit of information will allow you to understand if the person is engaged or disengaged in your conversation.
    • Naughty Bits: Displaying level of confidence based on the degree of how one accentuates one’s naughty bits. For example, if you cover your privates with your hands like a fig leaf, it usually indicates a sense of unease and anxiety.
    • The Right Side Rule: Depending where you stand on the right or the left side of a person, that person’s body language can change from being open to you to completely closing off.
    • Power Gestures: One of the strongest gestures that can be used is the “Superman Pose”. It sends a message that a person is ready to move forward and is a classic sign of confidence.
    • Dangerous Four: Duper’s Delight, Fleeting Anger, Disguised Disgust, and Killer Contempt. These are emotional meanings assigned to muscular actions of the face. It’s derived from Dr. Paul Ekmen’s 7 Key universal human emotions (Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, and Contempt). These micro-expression become important when one is trying to understand consistency between displayed emotion and facial expression.
  • The QWQ Formula: Question-Wait-Question is the formula used to have others speak. It allows active listening to be your tool in ensuring the other person tells you as much information as needed. Powerful people recognize that sharing too much personal information can weaken them, so they encourage others to speak instead.

Overall, the book provides a foundation for individuals who are new to reading body language and I highly recommend it. If you’re interested in learning about other programs out there, I would also suggest the F.A.C.E. program by Dr. Paul Ekmen as well as the Group Relations Conference by the Tavistock Institute.

The F.A.C.E. program is an online tutorial on how to read micro-expressions and the Group Relations Conference is a 3-day conference that allows you to learn about group dynamics in real time.

I’ve found all these tools helpful as I’ve managed project teams from a psychological perspective. I hope you find them useful as you lead teams.