I just finished an interesting book about reading body language written by Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI agent:
What Every Body Is Saying, 2008, Harper by Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins, PhD
What interested me the most was the author’s scientific comparisons and parallels to the limbic system as the primary generator of physical behaviors by our bodies that are largely unconscious.
This meshes perfectly with my understanding of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, and the idea that most of our behaviors are run by our subconscious mind. That is why hypnosis can be such an effective change model for desired behavioral or thought changes.
The author covers a number of “tells” (unconscious behaviors that reveal underlying emotions/feelings) in his work, which is comprised of over 25 years as a special agent and supervisor specializing in non-verbal communications.
He has sat across from a lot of criminals trying to suss out the truth.
A few examples of tells are pacifying behaviors designed to self-comfort when stressed such as [women] touching the suprasternal notch in the neck, playing with hair, touching our faces, rubbing our thighs, or subtle preening behaviors like brushing the front of a shirt or adjusting a tie. He says men would rather touch their faces while women prefer to touch their necks, clothing, jewelry, arms or hair. Touching the neck in some manner is a form of self comfort, as it is one of the most vulnerable places on our bodies.
Many more behaviors are discussed with the surprising revelation that feet are too often dismissed, but can reveal the the most significant intentional behaviors such as the desire to leave (flight) the room when pointed towards the door, or alternately, slanted towards you if the person trusts you. The intentional foot play between couples you might see under the table at a restaurant is a sure sign things are going well.
The book is useful in daily life as it helps you determine what is going on when someone is demonstrating anxious, or possibly, guilty, behaviors. Navarro details these various behaviors chapter by chapter starting from the feet and moving upwards, which is his recommendation, as he reports that determining truth by watching facial expressions is at best a 50-50 proposition, even with the experts.
Microexpressions are fleeting tells, and tough to catch. He advocates working via a matrix of comfort/discomfort in displayed behaviors, always considering context, and evaluating clusters of behaviors vs just one. Navarro says knowing the baseline behavior of an individual is most helpful in noticing change and determining whether or not something is “up.”
Communication is comprised of 60-65% nonverbal behaviors, so it will improve your ability to communicate if you can learn to read others’ tells successfully.
Resources: What Every Body Is Saying, Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins, PhD