If you read this book, you will begin to see every human interaction from a different point of view. Below I tried to condense the most essential ideas without Navarro’s entertaining stories from the book.
The notes taken below are in the format like you would take them in a university setting without much unnecessary prose of my own. Ideally you should have read the book yourself first and then use the notes from below to recall the most essential points in less than 10 minutes.
Mastering the Secrets of non-verbal communication
- Person likes you: raising eyebrows or arching them when they first see you
- Person dislikes you: squinting with eyes slightly when they first see you.
- Prevent seeing undesirable images
- Communicate disdain towards others
- Nonverbal behaviors are referred to as “tells”
Be a competent observer of your environment
- “You see, but you do not observe.” Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes. It’s important to actively listen and observe the body language at the same time.
- Be aware of subtle moves in hands or feet that might betray his thoughts or intentions.
- Most people are observation-impoverished or pilots called it a lack of situational awareness. Going into a new room, turning around 360 degrees, closing ones eyes and not being able to tell the most obvious features in the room.
- Concerted observation should be exercised consistently and can be practiced like a muscle.
- Use all senses for observing.
Observing in context is key to understanding non-verbal behavior
- After a car accident, staying in the car is safest because of the stress caused by the accident on oneself. Leaving the car is dangerous because people are unable to pay attention to the traffic.
- During a job interview stress is initially high and sinks gradually but as soon as it rises again, there is something fishy.
Learn to recognize and decode nonverbal behaviors that are universal
- Pressing lips together such that they disappear indicates displeasure or that they are troubled.
Learn to recognize and decode idiosyncratic nonverbal behaviors
- Used among friends, family, co-works and individuals you interact with regularly
- Behaviors which are specific to a person in certain contexts like biting one’s lips during stress or before a test where the person didn’t prepare enough.
- Remember repertoire of person specific behaviors to draw upon in the future.
- Best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
When you interact with others, try to establish their baseline behaviors
- Try to know what a person usually does: where they place their phone, wallet etc. How do they tilt their heads, common facial expressions, position of their feet and their general posture.
- Any deviations of the usual behavior tells if something is off.
Always try to watch people for multiple tells - behaviors that occur in clusters or in succession
- accuracy of in reading people increases with recognizing multiple tells.
- you can be more confident in your observations
It’s important to look for changes in a person’s behavior that can signal changes in thoughts, emotions, interest, or intent.
- sudden changes in behavior are very important
- they can tell wether something is amiss or even danger lies ahead
- can reveal interest or intentions in certain circumstances
- widening nostrils are a tell of an upcoming action
Learning to detect false or misleading nonverbal signals is also important
- takes practice and exercise
Knowing how to distinguish between comfort and discomfort will help you to focus on the most important behaviors for decoding nonverbal communications
- when in doubt about the current situation, ask yourself whether the person looks in comfort or in discomfort in the current situation
When observing others, be subtle about it
- Being to attentive can give away one’s intentions of observing a person. Takes practice to hide the effort. Practice and persistence.
Living our limbic legacy
The very elegant limbic brain
- Limbic brain is always on, responsible for survival and is the emotional center
- From the limbic brain everything else is orchestrated.
- Limbic brain is “honest” brain, neocortex is the “lying” brain.
Our limbic responses - the three f’s of nonverbals
- Brains response to distress or threats: freeze, flight and fight
The freeze response
- Originates from the past against powerful predators which are attracted by movements “chase, trip, and bite”.
- Sitting the in circus in the first row while a tiger enters the stage will freeze almost anyone.
- Occurs when caught bluffing, stealing or lying
- People around tend to freeze too which is called isopraxism
- Freeze is sometimes called “deer-in-the-headlights” effect
- Being questioned in a seat about a topic that could get you into trouble will freeze you as well
- During freeze people hold their breath or their breathing becomes very shallow
- Locking feet behind chair legs is indicator of seeking security
- Shoplifters typically try to hide their presence by restricting their motions or hunching over which ironically makes them stand out.
- Turtle effect: raising shoulders and lowering the head to hide presence
The flight response
- Today hard to run away in the crowded society
- Closing eyes, rubbing the eyes or placing the hands in front of the face
- Leaning away or placing objects on the lap or turning feet toward the nearest exit are also indicators of discomfort and wanting to flight.
The fight response
- turning fear into rage in order to fight of attackers
- overheating discussion is essentially fighting in todays age
- insults, ad hominem phrases, counterallegations, denigration of professional stature, goading, sarcasm, violating another’s personal space, puffing your chest
- emotional turmoil makes it difficult to concentrate and think clearly because the limbic brain takes full control of all available resources
Comfort/discomfort and pacifiers
- when limbic brain is in comfort, people radiate confidence
- when limbic brain is in discomfort, people seem to have low confidence
The importance of pacifying behaviors
- these are actions to calm us down
- behaviors include: biting pencils, chewing gum
Types of pacifying behaviors
- covering the neck dimple
- rubbing the forehead
- neck touching (emotional discomfort, doubt insecurity)
- cheek touching (nervous, irritated or concerned)
- puffy cheeks (after a near mishap)
- adjusting a tie
- talking, whistling
- excessive yawning
- massaging upper legs
- ventilating a dress shirt at the neck
Getting a leg up on body language; nonverbals of the feet and legs
- Happy feet:
- bouncing feet indicate happiness most of the time
- may also be an indicator of impatience, depends on cirumstances
- watch shirt and clothes above the table to tell if feet are moving or not
- welcome to see person if full torso and feet turn towards you while initiating a conversation, if feet stay and only the torso moves, person doesn’t want to interact with you
- watch out for feet turning to the nearest exit
L shaped feet indicate that a person wants to leave
- hands on knee claps and body moving to the edge of the chair indicate that the person wants to leave
- feet that point up while standing with the heels on the ground or feet that eleavate the body to make it taller indicate a happy mindset - depends on the circumstances
splaying your legs during confrontations are an aggressive sign and can be countered by closing one’s own. Legs can be splayed intentially for authoritarian purposes.
crossing legs while standing indicates high level of comfort, direction of leaning releavs one’s preferences, limbic brain allows person only to cross legs and loose stability when no threat is in proximity, mirroring of the other persons feet and leg stance is called isopraxis and indicates mutual trust
crossed legs while seating indicate whether the person is on good terms with the other person if the top legs points toward the other person, if the leg points somewhere else, it behaves like a barrier between the two.
after greeting people with a hearthy handshake and good eyecontact, take notice of their feet to tell wether they are at ease or net by getting closer, staying or moving away from you.
change of walking style indicates a change of mood depending on the circumstances. There are according to Morris 40 different walking styles.
sudden foot kicking while having legs crossed can indicate a negative turn of the person’s mood upon the previous statement
foot freeze indicate a negative change of mood too
interlocking ankles may indicate discomfort and is not natural especially by males
locking ankles behind legs of a chair also indicate discomfort, anxiety or concern
- hiding the feet under the chair can also be indicative of stress
Torso tips: nonverbals of the torso, hips, chest, and shoulders
leaning away from danger unconciously by the torso often happens unnoticed
ventrally fronting someone indicates agreement
crossing arms in front of the abdomen or chest serves as a shield, the tighter the arms are crossed the more discomfort is felt
bad stomach indicator of stress and want to leave as blood is diverted to muscles for flight or fight
you are what you wear and send other people a clear message typically with existing associated meanings, eg suit vs tshirt
territorial behaviors: puffing up the chest, splaying out on a chair, increased breathing in anticipation of fight/flight
when asked and in doubt and the person shrugs only half-heartedly with one shoulder or just very slimmly, chances are they are not really interested or even evasive or deceptive
slowing disappering neck indicates discomfort (like a turtle)
Knowledge within reach: Nonverbals of the arms
lifting hand in the air is a positive gesture associated with happiness
arms towards/closer to body indicate discomfort
arms behind back mean that the person doesn’t want to be approached or touched. It also displays authority over others
spreading out of arms and occuping room on a table (with personal objects) are signs of dominance and can be perceived negatively in some situations like on an airplane with the armrests
- arms akimbo: resting arms/hands on the hip is very authoritarian, to reduce effect have the thumbs on the front
- similarly hands behind head
when approaching a stranger leave your palms open to see for the person you are approaching to tell them you mean no harm
- best to initiate slight touch between elbow and shoulder to indicate “We are Ok and on good terms”.
Getting a grip: Nonverbals of the hands and fingers
keep hands always visible because the minds of other people need to see them to determine if you intend well with them
various hand gestures exist in different cultures which you should know about
never point with your finger towards someone
avoid preening in front of others
avoid shaking hands with sweaty hands as nobody likes that. if the counter party has sweaty hands, try to soothe the situation by decreasing their nervousness.
shaking of hands (quivering) indicates emotional stess - positvely and negatively depending on circumstances
hand steepling is a sign of confidence and is a good way to show others how self assured we are
thumbs sticking out into the air is sign of confidence
hiding the thumbs is a sign of low confidence especially when that person is in the spotlight
restrained arm movements indicate a lack of confidence. They can even indicate the presence of a lie if they suddenly occure during a conversation.
hand wringing sign of stress
neck touching with hands indicates stress especially of the suprasternal notch; likewise the pacifying of hands
watch out for sudden microexpressions of the hands
The mind’s canvas: nonverbals of the face
facial expressions have to be evaluated in conjuction with other body signs to make a good judgement of the other persons feelings
tension and sterness indicates negative thoughts
relaxation of muscles in the face and exposure of the neck by tilting it portrait comfort
constriction of pupils if something unpleasent happens and otherwise the reverse
arched eyebrows indicate high confidence and lowered eyebrows can mean insecurity or displeasure with something (same with squinting eyes)
eye blocking means that the person hears negative information and is unpleased with what he sees, few people are aware of this fact
looking away from friends means we trust them while we think about something
no eye gazing during an interview as it is too authoritarian and portrais disintrest by examing the surroundings
real smiles cause the corners of the lips to move upwards, fake smiles only move the corners to the sides
compressed lips indicate stress
lip pursing means disagreement
sneering is a sign of disrespect
tongue jutting means the other person got away with something (tongue between teeth without touching the lips)
blushing/blanching is a limbic response and therefore hard to fake
go with a negative interpretation if several signals are in disagreement or stick with the first if it is negative because people tend to correct it only in hindsight
Detecting deception: proceed with caution
- better to be standing to during conversation so you can see the person in full
- signs of discomfort or negativity from above
- discrepancies between positive and negative statements and the corresponding head movements
- give the person enough time to express themselves to not unwantingly increase stress by staccato-like questioning
- person with guilty knowledge typically withdraws themselves by moving away and retreating their feet followed by pacifying themselves