Have you ever had a feeling that someone is uncomfortable in a conversation? Were you able to point out the nonverbal cues that gave you that feeling?
Nonverbal communication or “body language” is anything that allows us to communicate with someone without using words – facial expressions, shifting, stances, touches, etc… We see them every time we see another person, but we don’t always realize their importance.
Joe Navarro wrote What Every BODY Is Saying to help us understand and notice these nonverbal cues. He was an FBI counterintelligence special agent for 25 years and conducted a lot of interrogations. He studied body language throughout his life and in his book shares stories from his career to help us understand the nuances and importance of nonverbal communication.
Nonverbals and Our Limbic Brain
The brain controls everything we do, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. From folding your hands to painting a masterpiece, everything is controlled by the brain.
The limbic brain is the part of our brain that reacts instinctively to our circumstances. It is the limbic brain that causes us to jerk our hand away from a hot burner on the stove after we’ve touched it. The interesting part is that our limbic brain is also in charge of our emotions. Navarro puts it this way:
The limbic brain is also our emotional center. It is from there that signals go out to various other parts of the brain, which in turn orchestrate our behaviors as they relate to emotions or our survival. These behaviors can be observed and decoded as they manifest physically in our feet, torso, arms, hands, and faces. Since these reactions occur without thought, unlike words, they are genuine. Thus, the limbic brain is considered the “honest brain” when we think of nonverbals.
Navarro walks through each of the body parts and shows how to understand their movements (or lack of movement). He also helps us see that noticing nonverbal cues is not intended to help us manipulate people but understand them. Seeing that someone is uncomfortable in a conversation allows us to realize the need to change the topic or try to understand what’s going on.
Seeing excitement, concern, comfort, and stress in another person when communicating with them is invaluable. We can see when to back off in a conversation, when to ask more questions, or when to be quiet. Learning when to do each of these can deepen the connections between people.
One thing that stands out in this book is the caution that comes along with seeing nonverbal cues. There are no definite “reads.” You always have to take body language in context with the conversation and other behaviors. A stress indicator can show itself when a lie is told, but also when the person is in a tough job interview. It’s an indicator of discomfort.
Even Navarro, as a veteran FBI interrogator, tells us there are no definite “tells” that someone is lying. There’s a lot of wrong information out there about various behaviors that are bulletproof lie detectors. But the truth is there are no concrete gestures or actions that indicate deceit. You need to verify what you’re seeing multiple times and in different ways before you question the honesty of the words you’re hearing.
How It’s Affected Me
Using Navarro’s easy methods, I’ve started noticing how people around me feel and what kind of mood they might be in. It’s a learning process, but in a short amount of time I’ve begun building more meaningful relationships with friends and family. I’ve even noticed a lot of my own behaviors and gained an insight into how I’m feeling in different situations. I highly recommend the book and look forward to rereading it in the future.