Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Body Language and Non-Verbal Cues

It’s summertime in St Lou. That means it’s too hot to (at least for me) go outside and do anything for long, so I find myself working in the house where it is cool. Part of that includes finding ways to avoid work that really needs to be done. This is my explanation for the topic of this particular blog entry. One of the ways that I avoid doing what I need to do, is sitting in front of the television and getting sucked in to things I wouldn’t normally watch.

Today I caught part of the Dr. Oz Show. The topic was “How to Spot a Cheater.” It was pretty interesting and made me think of the many times that we talk about body language and non-verbal communication in various classes. You can definitely recognize non-verbal cues that can help clarify (or sometimes even horrify) a message that is being conveyed in person. Dr. Oz’s guest was former federal law enforcement officer, Janine Driver. Here are some flags that she suggested keeping an eye out for:

  • Liars watch their buts – “I know you think I’m lying, but…”
  • Character testimony – “ask my friends…they’ll tell you I didn’t/wouldn’t”
  • Deception statements – “what kind of person do you think I am?”
  • No vs Never – the use of “never” is an extreme attempt to convince
  • Pronoun No No’s – using “we” and “us” might indicate more of a relationship than meets the eye
  • Naval Intelligence – sitting in a position with your belly button not facing the person you are speaking to might indicate an comfortableness and wanting to leave
  • Fidgeting – could indicate anxiety that the speaker is trying to hide

I think there is merit in some of these, but communication is not like a mathematical formula. I don’t think you can apply a formula and conclude that this, this, and this means a person is lying, hiding something, or intentionally being deceptive. Just like grammar, there isn’t an English version of 2+2=4 for every situation. For instance, in the video below from this episode of Dr. Oz, they talk about the meaning of hooking your foot behind the rung of a chair while speaking to someone. For me, this feels like a bit of a stretch. What do you think?


There is, however, a science to understanding cues that someone might not be completely honest. There is a show on FOX called “Lie to Me” that is based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist who has been a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. The character of Dr. Cal Lightman is based on Dr. Ekman. It is pretty fascinating to think that you can map out the human face and analyze microexpressions that might indicate deception.

Interestingly, the next show that nearly sucked me in was The Real Housewives of NYC Reunion. Luckily, I dodged that bullet. The non-verbal, facial, and microexpression cues were just too much…overload!

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