Tag Archive for Body Language

Setting Someone Up To Be Read

The following is a sequence by which lying can be more effectively read as outlined by Joe Navarro in his book What everybody is saying. Navarro follows a more interrogative style which will work in some circumstances, but it limited in others.

When trying to read someone for truth-telling, have an open view of their body to be able to see any signs of comfort and discomfort as they may arise.

When trying to read someone for truth-telling, have an open view of their body to be able to see any signs of comfort and discomfort as they may arise.

1. Get a clear unobstructed view of the person you wish to read so you don’t miss any pacifying behaviours. If possible put people in an open space.
2. Expect some nervous and stressful body language especially pacifying behaviours. People are expected to calm themselves at all times even when no lying is being done.
3. Expect initial nervousness. When someone is questioned they will feel tension regardless of their level of guilt.
4. If possible have the person you wish to read to first relax. With time everyone relaxes, even guilty people so if you can put off asking important questions or build rapport, do so.
5. Look to establish a baseline. This is especially important if you don’t know the person you are questioning all that well. Look for cues they use normally especially mannerisms and pacifiers.
6. As you begin questioning, watch for an increased use of pacifiers. This will be especially telling when they seem to increase dramatically during specific questions or when certain topics arise. When they arise, it will provide clues as to which information requires further investigation.
7. Pause frequently after asking questions. It is important to avoid putting out too many questions all at once because it will only serve to create stress. Give the person you are trying to read enough time to think and answer questions so as to avoid false positives.
8. Stay on task and maintain focus. When people feel stress they often want to change the subject matter or avoid questions. If a person gets the opportunity to change the subject their will emit fewer nonverbal tells of deception because when people speak they get to choose and control the topic.
9. Chatter is not truth. Listening to one side of the story often produces a bias and on the surface, the more we listen to people, the more we tend to trust and believe what they tell us. Advertising campaigns work through a similar mechanism as the more we hear the message, the more we think it to be true. Eventually, if we hear messages enough time, they work into our subconsciousness to become “ours”, they re-write our reality. When people present a huge amount of information about a topic, they appear to be telling the truth, however this is not always the case as even creative liars can go at lengths to produce elaborate and believable lies. It is not the amount of information provided that matters, but rather the accuracy of the information which can only come through verification of the facts.
10. Stress in and stress out. There are two times when stressful nonverbals are emitted, once when the question is asked which can appear like distancing behaviours such as arms and foot withdrawl and then again when pacifying is needed to calm. These come out as neck touching, stroking the hair and so forth.
11. Isolate the cause of stress. Is stress due to being asked stressful questions, or because someone is being interrogated. Not all stressful nonverbal language is due to lying and often people that are honest, show nervous language.
12. Pacifiers tell us a lot. Pacifying body language tells us when someone is stressed which tells us which scenarios, questions or information has created it. It therefore follows that pacifying cues tell us which areas require more thorough investigation.

Comfort and Discomfort Body Language

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

We have covered many signals of comfort and discomfort throughout the book and have even eluded to their use in lie detection. To simplify things, I wanted to take the time to cover the cues we can use to detect lying as it relates to comfort and discomfort. We have seen how open and closed language can signal a desire to allow access to the body. Ventral displays shows that a person is open and trusting of someone and this sort of response is difficult when we feel we are hiding emotions. Comfort is displayed through proximity and people do this by moving their torsos closer or leaning inward rather than away and will remove objects that impede their view so as to establish more intimacy.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable people will hold their bodies loose rather than rigid, and their body will move with fluidity. They will gesture with their speech instead of freezing instantly or awkwardly, called “flash frozen.” Sometimes people will slow to catch their thoughts, but this will be obvious to the body language reader and will come at appropriate times and in context when thought is actually required to produce accurate answers. Comfortable people mirror others around them instead of avoiding synchrony. Their breath rate will be similar and they will adopt like postures instead of showing differences.

Bodies show discomfort by increased heart rate, breath rate, sweating, a change in normal colour in the face or neck, trembling or shaking in the hands lips, or elsewhere, compressing the lips, fidgeting, drumming the fingers and other repetitive behaviours. Voices often crack when under stress, mouths might dry up producing noticeable swallowing, “hard swallows”, or frequent throat clearing. Liars might use objects as barriers. They might hold drinking glasses to hide parts of their face or use walls and chairs while standing to lean against to gain support. Liars might engage in eye blocking behaviours by covering their eyes with their hands or seem to talk through them or even squint so as to impede what is being said from entering their minds. The eyes might also begin to flutter or increase in overall blink rate showing an internal struggle.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy - discomfort.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy – discomfort.

We’ve hit on the fact that stress creates nonverbal language such as preening to show detachment from a conversation (picking lint), energy displacement gestures such as scratching the body or rubbing the neck or wiping the side of the nose. Palm up displays show that a person has some doubt, and indicates a desire for other to believe them while palm down displays show confidence and authority. Microexpressions can also be particularly revealing since they happen instantaneously and subconsciously. Watch for movements that happen first especially if they are negative in nature as these are more honest than positive body language. Positive language is used by people to appear more in control and polite instead of appearing vulnerable. Fake smiles are an excellent example of an expression that can sometimes be put on to appear to disguise stress. We know smiles are faked when they seem to last for much longer than what would be considered natural.

Lack of touching, or touch reduction also signals discomfort and a divergence of ideas. When people’s ideas differ they find it hard to come close to others as part of the natural fear response. Head movements that are inconsistent with speech such as slightly nodding affirmatively though making a denial or vice versa, or delaying head nodding until after speech is made such that speech and gestures lack synchrony can give liars away. When gestures are done out of sync they tell us that a person is adding the gesture on as support for their statement. The entire affair appears to be out of the normal order of flow in communication which liars can often do. When affirmative nodding happens during denial statements such as nodding “yes” while saying “I did not do it” usually happens very subtly, but is obvious to the conscious observer. Keep in mind while reading these cues that they do not indicate lying per se, but rather indicate discomfort and stress. The job of the body language reader is to decide why a person is stressed. Are they stressed because they are being put on the spot, because they fear being mislabeled, or because they are actually telling lies?

Comfort and Discomfort In Detecting Deception

By keeping a "subject" relaxed, we can measure lying more accurately.  Instead of creating lying-language through suspicion, we can uncover lying.

By keeping a “subject” relaxed, we can measure lying more accurately. Instead of creating lying-language through suspicion, we can find out which facts create discomfort – it is discomfort body language that helps uncover the truth.

Ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro explain in his book What everybody is saying that nonverbal cues put out by the limbic mind are paramount to detecting deception. He says that it is the displays of comfort versus discomfort that tells body language readers when someone is telling the truth or lying. When people lie they experience discomfort and “guilt knowledge” which leaks through the body through a person’s fear response, but when they tell the truth they “have no worries.” This approach says that a person uses more emphatic gestures with their hands and arms when they tell the truth, but when they lie they tend to freeze up and lock themselves down. If you see half-hazard attempts to describe events using lack of emphasis and gesturing, or in other words, remain uncommitted, than you can be pretty sure their story is fabricated. Truth tellers try their best to set facts straight and will go on at lengths to accomplish this.

The theory says that someone that is guilty carries negative thoughts with them because by nature, people are honest and think that they are good people. When they harbour bad thoughts though, they find it difficult to achieve comfort. The technique to reading lying as outlined states that a person must be read in low stress environments so that it is possible to measure changes from their baseline to catch stress related discomfort. Grilling someone for the truth has been show to produce “false positives”, meaning people who are actually innocent will actually plead guilty. Innocent suspects have been shown to confess to very serious crimes such as murder simply because they were put under very intense pressure. This is why it is important to establish comfort during all interactions, yet use appropriate questions to uncover the truth.

Overlooking someone suspiciously or presenting leading or accusatory questions will create discomfort, however it won’t show you which information presented leads to changes in nonverbal body language. It is by using relaxed and rapport building body language that allows someone to relax leaving only the information or question to be the variable by which all body language is measured. When scientists conduct research they do their best to keep all factors the same except for one. They call this the dependent variable, and it is by definition what is measured, or in other words what is affected during the experiment. The independent variable is what is manipulated in an experiment. When conducting a “lying experiment”, like all experiments, you want to keep all other variables constant so you can measure one variable against another variable.

Therefore, when we want to uncover lies, we should keep our body language neutral and remain calm while working to present information, details, asking for clarification, and so forth to uncover discomfort. This is why torture techniques don’t work to uncover the truth, they just pull information that the suspect believes the interviewer desires so they will stop badgering them. Just by using suspicious body language or leading questions can put someone on edge and influence their nonverbal communication. Saying things like “I don’t believe you” or “I think you are lying” will create anxious body language which can be misconstrued to be the result of actually being dishonest, when in actual fact is likely due to stress from being mislabeled. To body language reader will gain no useful information from creating anxiety. The rule of thumb therefore is to create and maintain comfort at all times, remain neutral in expression and measure signals of discomfort to uncover information that creates stress.

How To Accurately Read Lies

By now we know that liars are practiced, we all do it, and we do it regularly. Sometimes we don’t even realize we do it and other times those around us don’t care to know. What we do know is that most liars feel only mild feelings of guilt and fear. Thus, we should only expect very subtle clues to deception and nothing more. It has been shown through the research that looking for full blown signals of lying is both misleading and even unhelpful. Liars as it were, are only slightly more apprehensive than truth tellers with both feeling nervous and anxious when faced with scrutiny.

My advice to read people is to watch for the little stuff, the microexpressions, the small gestures and the ones that happen instantly, and then hone in on it. Keep in mind too, that you won’t be able to detect lies much better than about seventy-five percent of the time anyway, which is on par with the CIA minus of course various lie detection machines which we discussed as being impractical and requiring cooperation that you are very unlikely to garner, even if provided with access.

The top lie detectors all seem to have one trait in common, and that is skepticism. They know or assume that someone is lying so they view them through that window being careful to watch and recall any cues that tip the scales toward deception. Looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses will lead to rose-coloured predictions about people and this is all just dandy, if you aren’t interesting in uncovering bad things around you. You also must be aware of a person, from their face to their toes and be willing to look them over and actively observe them. If you’re goal is to make friends, then by all means avoid filtering and analyzing the body language around you. In fact, I would advise body language readers to relax their skills when around family and friends, or at least keep it secret!

It is not safe to immediately peg someone a liar based on one or even a handful of cues just by the nature of the trade. Reading lying correctly is a long term comparison of the facts seeded with emotional, fearful and stressed body language from one moment to the next that can only happen over time. Success will come by looking at the full picture and comparing the parts to the whole and digging deeper when discrepancies happen between expressive behaviours and the words said. No doubt, lie detection is difficult, but the body language in this chapter coupled with how it is framed, that is the lie detection theory and it’s limitations, will help increase your odds significantly.

How We Really Detect Lies

It is traditionally assumed that deception detection occurs simultaneously to the telling of a lie. Meaning, as people speak, lie detectors were able to pick up on nonverbal and verbal cues to ‘read’ people. Most of the research to date suggests that we can’t use any body language cue, or collection of cues in a comprehensive manner to read liars, but this might just be a limitation or flaw in the design of the studies. In 2002 research by Hee Sun Park working out of the University of California in Santa Barbara it was found that success in real-world lie detection happens gradually, over time and not on one chance encounter. Her research found that the most often reported method of disseminating lies included third party information, confessions and physical evidence, none of which the studies thus far have provided. Therefore, with respect to how people really read lies, the scientific investigations to date, haven’t provided people with information necessary to accurately detect lies.

Reading lies in real life is an active comparison from information we know for certain, and information told to us. No doubt, nonverbal language can provide clues to us as a full package, but it doesn’t permit us to ascertain conclusive evidence. We should therefore use untrustworthy or nervous body language as motivation to spark further investigation.

Nervous Body Language – The ‘Other’ Cues

As we know nervousness plays a big part in lie detection so we habitually connect the two sentiments. Therefore, by this nature, we assume that any of the following could be associated with dishonesty. Here is a nearly comprehensive list of all cues that could be tied to lying or else associated with lying from the general public. While they don’t necessarily uncover a liar they will be tied to dishonesty and persons that perform these cues will be mistrusted. They include increased eye blink rate, stuttering, dilated pupils, fidgeting, appearing unfriendly or tense, facial fidgeting, shaking, postural shifts or unrelaxed/reserved postures, twitches, shrugs, head movements, playing with objects, sneering, scowling, frowning, smiling, biting the lower lip, pressing the lips together, wrinkling of the nose, increase in perspiration, blushing or turning pale and increased swallowing.

Verbal And Paraverbal Cues

At times verbal and paraverbal cues betray the liar and these are cues tied directly to the words in which they speak. Although they fall outside the realm of body language at large, they do complete this chapter with regards to cues associated with deception which is why they have been included. These cues are, as always, related to the stress of fibbing so can be confused with nervousness of any other source. Some however are the direct consequences of lying such as the telling of an implausible story or using more negative comments or statements, which has been shown to increase during lying.

Here are the cues to deception as they relate to our verbal dialogue: Vocal tension, hectic speech, faltering speech, improper structure or grammar, implausible story, inconsistent story, superfluous details, describing feelings rather than events such as “I felt this way when I did this” or “I must have felt this way because of this” etc, adding qualifying statement such as “This is what I am about to say” then saying it, word or phrase repetition, using less contractions saying “I did not” instead of “I didn’t”, using the persons name in sentences instead of saying “he” or “she”, for example “Bill went to the store” rather than “He went to the store”, the use of clichés, blocking access to information, evasive responses or desire to change the subject, speech is less compelling, less personal and with less or too much detail, expressing self doubt, negative complaints or statements, defensiveness or aggressiveness, changes in pitch (high low or monotone), shaky or soft voice, stuttering, false starts, silent pauses, filled pauses, delayed response, appearing to be thinking, admitted lack of memory, tentative construction of sentences, clearing the throat and spontaneous corrections.

Closed Body Postures

Closed body postures, like hands hiding in pockets, indicate insecurity which we subconsciously associate with lying.

Closed body postures, like hands hiding in pockets, indicate insecurity which we subconsciously associate with lying.

Closed body positions, as we know, give off bad signals in general. When in a high pressure situation, closing the body off in any way may lead people to think that you have something to hide. Tucking the chin in, pulling the arms closer to the body, crossing the legs, turning the body away, and taking on a less threatening profile are all attributed to lying. Another less obvious clue to being closed-off, is to subconsciously place an object between the liar and interrogator, such as a book, brief case, or any other “security-blanket.”

As we all know of course, closed body positions like the majority of the signals associated with liars is in fact due to the stress, fear and hence nervousness of the interrogation. When “under attack” we close up our bodies to make it appear smaller and less significant to draw less attention to it, which is a way to protect our bodies in case the interrogation escalates into a physical attack. While most cultures prohibit physical force during everyday encounters, we still have the mental hardwiring that programs us to foresee physical violence, never mind the fact that a verbal threat is just as embarrassing and visceral as any physical confrontation. Threatening language puts our minds at risk to long term emotional damage, no different than being threatened by physical conflict. In our daily lives accusatory situations, verbal threats, and scolding, ranks near the top as far as the sorts of harm we endure throughout our lives. This is why we see our bodies react through body language to emotional threats, as well as to the possibility of being uncovered as cheats and liars.

Ear Pull

Tugging at the ears helps distract the mind from emotional stress.

Tugging at the ears helps distract the mind from emotional stress.

The ear rub or pull is as gesture done as a response to greater blood flow to the ears and as a result of an increase in body temperature. Lying ear language can come in the form of a pull downward on the lobe, or as a scratch, or swipe behind the ear. When we get hot, we flush, and the neck and ears are particularly sensitive to flushing. Flushing is the body’s response to an overactive metabolism as it prepares to either fight, or take flight. When this cue is as a result of hearing a lie from someone else, or hearing something that is distasteful, it is done in an attempt to inhibit what a person is hearing by blocking the hears. Only it is not a complete blocking, but rather an abbreviated blocking so instead of covering them completely, the hand merely grazes the ears or pulls on them. Other times liars respond to the stress associated with lying themselves, so the ears are being touched to “block” the hears from hearing their own fib. When someone manages their body in this way, it tells us that they are having an inner battle with their self-image. In other words, this gesture is likely to appear only in those people that are traditionally honest. Pathological liars don’t hold a positive self image, at least not about their honesty and integrity, so feel no remorse from telling a lie and therefore go free of the stress response lying can sometimes produce.

The Most Common Gestures Associated With Liars

As we have seen liars are difficult to detect and sometimes body language is more of a distraction than a help, however, as mentioned throughout, most people still rely on visual cues and identify (at least in their mind) liars through their body language. While these cues are only sometimes useful in detecting lies, they are always valuable as cues to avoid if the desire is to appear honest and trustworthy in the eyes of others. In other words, here is a list of cues to avoid emitting yourself!

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