Tag Archive for Stress

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.

Nose Language


When people are stressed, blood flushes into the skin.  Our hands are then drawn to the areas most affected due to increased sensitivity and heat so we tend to point out our stress.  Enlarged capillaries in the nose can induce our hands in it’s direction to sooth it.  As blood flows to the nose, it enlarges, giving credence to the ‘Pinocchio effect.’

Nose touching might also stem from lying. It can happen as a quick but purposeful touch, the finger might graze the side of the nose, or it can be a persistent rubbing. Sometimes the touch is quick and dirty in an up and down motion, other times it is a brief almost unnoticeable touch to the base of the nose or its side. Face touching can come in two forms, one that serves a real function to alleviate an itch, and one that is the result of negative feelings such as being uncomfortable and stressed. Face touching that is due to an emotion is meant as a fix behind the sensation, the emotion, and not due to any physical need.

In order to appear more honest in front of others, either reduce or eliminate all face touching, make them appear more natural, or make them consistent in affect across all situations. Itching is usually a repetitive isolated gesture, which happens regardless of what is said, and happens at times when it would be impossible to assume a connection to what is being said. For example, saying something of questionable truthfulness, then brushing the side of the nose with an index finger is likely to raise suspicion, whereas bumping the nose when not speaking or when describing insignificant details would go unnoticed. Always try to make gestures appear natural and functional instead and also be particularly conscious of nose and face touching when you think someone is trying to peg you a liar. Over time it is your baseline that will give you away, so if you remain consistent across all situations, you’re less likely to give up tells. Most will find that their minds are more active and busy during lying, so it’s easier to avoid gestures altogether instead of adding honest gestures. This makes eliminating face touching one of the easiest ways to appear honest with minimal effort.

Neck Scratch And Collar Pull

Does this gesture means something or is her neck itchy?

Does this gesture means something or is her neck itchy?

When someone utters words such as “I completely agree with you, that sentiment is bang-on” but then punctuates the sentence with a neck scratch, it might mean that they in fact believe the opposite. Scratching the neck when no itch is present is a way to displace some of the nervous energy created by the lie and so distracts them from the pain of their dishonesty. Usually, the neck is scratched about five times, usually exactly. It seldom happens more than this, and rarely less. The collar pull is another form of self touching that is related to the neck. In this case, the idea is to reduce friction causes by an increase in blood flow to the neck. When stress increases, our face and necks flush with blood and we pull our collar away as an unconscious indication of this process. As blood flow increases to our neck, it stimulates nerves which in turn cause irritation and discomfort. Other times, the collar pull is a way to release heat created by our bodies while under pressure and discomfort from a neck that has become moist due to sweating.

Smiling And Gazing Advice For Men

A worried facial expression wont lead to positive outcomes!  Try a relaxed, confident smile instead.

A worried facial expression wont lead to positive outcomes! Try a relaxed, confident smile instead.

Smiles mean a lot more than just happiness, such as fear and stress. However, smiles due tend to appear most from happiness, and as a result of genuine feelings of optimism. They also indicate confidence and hopefulness. We know that smiles are infectious, yet men hardly ever sport them. I suppose men’s lack of smiles has to do with the vast amount of testosterone that courses through their bodies, coupled with the fear of appearing subordinate to others, but men should not let that be a deterrent. If men walk through life with a big grin, people will notice and stop them, wondering what good news they hold, or what successes they have achieved.

Laughter and smiles, when done by men, show women that they have interesting and successful lives. Men can easily try a smile experiment to measure the exact value it has, and they’ll know they’re onto something when they receive smiles in return. While it is true that some smiles won’t be well received, be they ignored or returned with a grimace, it shouldn’t deter the smile experiment from continuing. The object isn’t to impress everyone, rather it is to plan seeds in the minds of others that you are friendly, open to conversation, and that good things happen to you, and that if they associate with you, these good things might benefit them too.

Even stone faced women can be broken by persistent smiling so long as it is done properly. When smiling, men should never face women straight on, rather they should smile at an angle. The straight on look can be construed as aggressive and confrontational. Men should always break smiles by looking down, not away, up or to the side. A downward look shows that you are prepared to submit and that you are not a threat. If eye contact is made, keep it brief, lasting less than three seconds and always add a small genuine smile with head cocked at forty-five degrees. Avoid head on stares, prolonged looks, or abnormal or persistent eye widening, as these will surely send the wrong message.

Even if women don’t respond immediately, it doesn’t mean that a future encounter won’t lead to positive things. In public we are habitually in displacement mode so most women initially see people as objects rather than people worthy of interaction. Men should understand that women find others, especially strange men, as potential threats to their safety. If, or rather when, because after all this is a numbers game, a man finds a willing participant, the sensation will be immediately exhilarating for both parties. However, smiling isn’t the end of the story, it’s the start. Smiling endlessly can become creepy so if invitations to conversation seems welcome, graduate to verbal dialogue and take things to the next level. If your experiment fails miserably, try adding a sharp nod or even a joyous “hi”, “hey”, or “hello.” A verbal connection or a more obvious nonverbal signal can serve to snap people more forcefully out of their public displacement.

Smiles are inexpensive so don’t be afraid to use them, but do keep in mind that the vast majority of people, especially in crowded urban areas, might ignore them totally. Remember though, that just because the cues are ignored does not mean that it is a personal rejection, since logically, these people have no sense whatever about the smiler, they don’t even know them! Remember too, like a lot of things in life, smiling-success is a numbers game.

Emotional Downtime

We all check out and spend some time inside our own heads - even while out in public.

We all check out and spend some time inside our own heads – even while out in public.

It might not surprise you to know that everyone needs time alone every once in a while, or even once a day, but what might surprise you is that we actually need time to ourselves minute by minute. All day long we are bombarded with a multitude of people, from our coworkers, to our spouses, friends, to cashiers at stores and those who share our commute with us in the streets. Even with almost seemingly endless social interaction the research shows that every three seconds, on average, we ‘slip away’ to be with our own thoughts and to internalize what is happening around us. This ‘downtime’ allows our brains the time it needs to process, the information that is happening all around us.

We know someone is in downtime by their body language which includes having the head titled away or to the side, shifting the shoulders at an angle, or looking to the right or left for a fraction of a second. The eye patterns in downtime are what psychologists call ‘conjugate lateral eye movements.’ All these cues are tells that the mind has moved into processing mode and is no longer accepting new information. Other cues indicating emotional downtime include pauses in breathing, subtle chewing of the lips, or very brief eye freezes or glazing over.

Knowing about downtime can be used to our advantage so as to give people enough time to take in the new information presented rather than overwhelming them, confusing them and possibly putting them off for good. The simplest way to do this is to watch for downtime cues and then pause or slow speech accordingly. This will give the listener enough time to look away momentarily and process the information. Once we learn about someone, and their character, it will be easy to find their cues to downtime and therefore proceed at a reasonable pace for them specifically.

A second type of downtime is more extended, and happens in the absence of other people. The purpose of this downtime is to escape daily stress and pressure, and to help us recover. The need for downtime is obvious. We become stressed or over-stimulated, our thought process becomes hazy and we can’t think straight. Our faces will also become blank and expressionless, and our eyes will glaze over and be unmoving. Other times we feel under-stimulated and detached from what is going on around us, and feel that we need to get away to re-connect. During this period we begin to withdraw by avoiding eye contact, dropping our heads and shoulders, and switching off our ears. We may zone out in such a significant way that we have trouble even feeling someone if they happen to brush up against us. When downtime like this happens around other people we’re asked to ‘snap out of it’ only to reply with “Sorry, I was zoned out” or “I must have spaced out.” The most respectful thing to do when you notice someone in this state, is to leave them be, instead of interrupting them. Remember that they slipped into downtime for good reason, it’s not just to ignore you! In fact, as we saw, it has much less to do with negative reasons, than personal constructive ones. Downtime serves to relax the minds and set it back onto the right course before getting back to business.

Interlacing Fingers and Palm Finger Stroking

Interlaced fingers is a low confidence hand display.

Interlaced fingers is a low confidence hand display.

When the fingers massage the palm or the fingers are interlaced together then gently rub up and down as the fingers stroke the inside of the other indicate a person who is in doubt, has low confidence, or is experiencing stress. As tension escalates the gesture will move from palm stroking into more rigorous interlaced finger stroking making the two a progression of intensity. Thus while palm stroking is due to mild doubt or slight confidence issues, interlaced fingers that rub up and down is to do a higher level of anxiety.

Both gestures are excellent examples of pacifying behaviours meant to sooth underlying emotional discomfort. As conversations intensify watch for increases in soothing body language revealing the underlying anxiety.

The Ankle Or Scissor Cross

A negative thought is present, but she's not going anywhere.

A negative thought is present, but she’s not going anywhere.

The ankle or scissor cross is where the ankles cross each other and is a posture that can happen while seated or standing. While seated this posture is a hidden form of leg crossing because it occurs discretely at the bottom of the legs and can be out of sight due to a desk or table. While standing, it is the only way legs can cross so has a similar meant to a regular full blown seated leg cross. At times the leg might be raised up the backside of the calve producing the appearance of a flamingo but this posture is mainly reserved for women. While seated, the legs can also be locked behind the legs of a chair with essentially the same message being delivered except in this case it is a restraining-freeze-behaviour. When the legs are wrapped around the chair they can’t move, hence they are locked, and are also there precisely so they don’t move, and are hence frozen. Women are also seen using the sitting position more often them men especially if they are wearing skirts, however, it is not a confident posture so should be avoided. When it does happen in men though, it should be noted since it is an unnatural position in general for them.

The ankle cross indicates that the person is holding a negative emotion, uncertainty, fear, feels discomfort or threatened, stress, anxiousness, insecurity or timidity. The ankle or scissor cross also shows reservation and self-restraint,

Lots of cues in concert.  Arms in a partial-cross coupled with crossed ankles - and he's not doing much better as he 'holds himself back!'

Lots of cues in concert. Arms in a partial-cross coupled with crossed ankles – and he’s not doing much better as he ‘holds himself back!’


due to withholding of a thought or emotion. When being pitched, it shows resistance to the sale and when being questioned might indicate that lying is taking place. Couple interlocked legs, which is a freeze response meant to reduce foot movement, with pacifying behaviours such as rubbing the thighs palm down, as if to dry them, and you’ve got a cluster signaling that a secret is being covered. If the feet are pulled under the chair, the message is even more exaggerated. The feet are saying exactly what the person is thinking, that he or she is closed and withdrawn from the conversation. We should be watchful of this posture when presenting a controversial opinion to see what degree of disagreement is present and especially if the posture is held for a significant length of time, particularly by men. When the ankles cross it is due to a subconscious freeze response due to a threat and the legs are entwined so as to restrict and restraint movement.

As we saw previously, closing a sale or changing opinions necessitates open minds and since our bodies and minds are linked should try to open those with the scissor posture when possible. You could try to have them change positions, as above, by having them stand or relocate to a more comfortable seating location, or you could take the time to identify and address whatever issue is of concern. This is important especially if the posture preludes a more intense selling session to follow, since negative postures early on are a good predictor of the future.

Mixed message - head cocked to the side shows interest coupled with arm and ankle crossing - she's uncertain.

Mixed message – head cocked to the side shows interest coupled with arm and ankle crossing – she’s uncertain.

In a free-flowing interview or discussion noting the timing of ankle cross’ can prove valuable. With some research or prodding it might be possible to reveal the true reason for the action. Simply asking the reason for the reservation can help eliminate this posture as well because it will make the person feel listened. This is risky, though, because the primary reason for the gesture is to conceal an emotion. Conversely, giving someone the opportunity to express their thoughts makes people feel heard and sometimes that is all that is needed to open someone up. The posture after all, is a posture of hidden disagreement, so it would be hard to hold the posture as one is given the chance to open up. If the posture returns after some time, it might indicate that the person hasn’t fully disclosed their true opinion on the matter or that a new issue of contention has been uncovered. Therefore, once again, time should be taken to address any concerns that might have arisen before moving forward.

The Meaning Behind Arm Crossing

Depending on the context, arm crossing might mean someone is physically cold - or emotionally cold.

Depending on the context, arm crossing might mean someone is physically cold – or emotionally cold.

Arms in the non-verbal world are shields. Folding the arms across the body is like cutting off access to our core that houses our vital organs, our heart and lungs. Just like putting up a shield, the arms protect us, not only from physical attack which can elicit closed body language, but it also protects us from unwanted outside views which we do not agree with. Therefore, having the arms across the chest can mean that either a physical threat or emotional threat is present. Arms crossed, in meeting or conversation means that the person is defensive, negative, uncertain and insecure and naturally, what is being asked of them will be met with disagreement.

An abbreviated arm cross where the hand seems to perform a necessary task.  In reality, this person feels uncomfortable and is shielding themselves.

An abbreviated arm cross where the hand seems to perform a necessary task. In reality, this person feels uncomfortable and is shielding themselves.

Arm crossing happens much more frequently in public than anywhere else. We especially see it in elevators, when exposed to a large group that makes us uncomfortable or when pitched a bad deal from a door-to-door salesman. When in public, arm crossing is due to the stress of being in a novel environment rather than due to holding negative thoughts per se. Women who are unreceptive to a pick-up at a bar or club will also be found holding this posture so as to maintain their personal space and thwart sexual advances.

As you read body language, you will eventually come across someone that tries to convince you that their closed language is a function of comfort, as in it just feels right, rather than as a tell to some underlying stress. However, arm crossing is one of the gestures that proves the body language rule rather than disproves it. The research makes it clear though, that we adopt positions because there is an underlying emotion attached to it and that this is the reason which makes the position comfortable and rather than the other way around. Body language feels right when we express underlying feelings because it provides us with a release. Conversely, if we wish to avoid closed body postures, or any bad postures for that matter, we must first attack and cure the root source of the emotion and then open posture will come naturally.

Arm crossing takes up various forms too besides the recognizable full arm cross. The more evident and strong the arm crossing, the more seeded the action is in the mind of the person executing it. As body language senders we should always try to hold opened and honest body language as a default condition as it will yield the best results under most circumstances.

Here are some examples:


BodyLanguageProjectCom - Body Raising Or Elevation 3

A hidden arm cross showing disagreement and withdrawal.

A masked arm cross.

A masked arm cross.

[ONE] Resting one arm straight out onto the table to the front and placing the opposite hand on the wrist or forearm of the other [images show other variations of this posture].


The coffee cup barrier - even drinks can fudge as a shield.  To look open with a drink, simply drop the drink to your side or set it down to leave your body open.

The coffee cup barrier – even drinks can fudge as a shield. To appear open, simply drop the drink to your side or set it down.

[TWO] Holding a drink in one hand with the arm perpendicular to the body (parallel to the table) with or without applying weight to the arm [image shows other variation of this posture].


The 'figure four leg' lock - note the leg forms the 4 shape with hands locking it in.

The ‘figure four leg’ lock – note the leg forms the 4 shape with hands locking it in.

Figure four leg lock.

Figure four leg lock.

[THREE] Crossing one leg over the knee of the other and holding the ankle to lock it in.


A childhood throwback - making us feel held and protected.

A childhood throwback – making us feel held and protected.

It looks like the conversation is going well, but the arms are being gripped showing negative thoughts.

It looks like the conversation is going well, but the arms are being gripped showing negative thoughts.

[FOUR] Full self embrace where the arms are unlocked.


A partial arm cross.

A partial arm cross.

BodyLanguageProjectCom - Incomplete Arm Crossing Or Incomplete Crossed Arms 3

Replicating Mom holding our arm and protecting us.

BodyLanguageProjectCom - Incomplete Arm Crossing Or Incomplete Crossed Arms 1

Another version of an arm cross for defense.

BodyLanguageProjectCom - Crossing 3

Cutting off ventral access is a closed body position.








[FIVE] The opposite hand reaches over the body to grab the elbow or shoulder of the opposite arm.


Covert insecurity.

Covert insecurity.

BodyLanguageProjectCom - Incomplete Arm Crossing Or Incomplete Crossed Arms 4

It reminds us of Mom keeping us safe.

[SIX] Subtle arm crossing where the hand grabs the wrist of the opposite side.


The arm crosses and seems to serve a supportive role.

The arm crosses and seems to serve a supportive role.

[SEVEN] The arm crosses and seems to serve a supportive role.





Hand seems to alleviate an itch.

Hand seems to alleviate an itch.

[EIGHT] Hand seems to alleviate an itch.





Good things are not on the horizon.

Good things are not on the horizon.

While most closed body language means that a negative attitude is present, context permitting, there exist varying degrees. For example, full arm crossing accompanied by expressionless faces, a tense, rigid, or hostile posture with limbs that appear frozen runs the gambit of rejection. Tentative closed body language where only some blocking is happening will show a semi-relaxed body language, possible boredom, a neutral face and moderate movement of the arms and hands. In the first case, where closed language is extreme, getting any kind of agreement is unlikely. The second set of postures says that there’s a possibility of forming an agreement. So rather than depicting “no”, some closed body language says “Maybe” or “I’ll think about it.”

The head titled at 45 degrees says that there's a chance to close this deal.

The head titled at 45 degrees says that there’s a chance to close this deal.

Opened and closed body language as we have seen is a matter of degree. Language that has no closed body positions says “yes” some closed means “maybe” and a lot means “no.” This is highly useful especially if you wish to sway a target. Men who wish to proposition women can read between the lines. If they see a half arm cross where one arm holds the elbow of the other, then he may still have a shot as she could just be timid. In this case, she is telling you that she is uneasy with your approach but might accept your proposal if you can present a better pitch. Because her mind isn’t completely made up it would be worthwhile to continue. But if she has a hostile expression, with arms tightly folded across her chest, with her head cocked to the side she probably isn’t willing to hear your pitch, so it would be a waste of time to continue. Reading negative body language can help us read employers as we look for pay raise, better deals on a watch or jewelry, getting permission from those in authority and generally gaining access to resources we ordinarily wouldn’t.

Be careful with the pressure you apply. You may be able to get a better deal from a used car salesmen, but when dealing with employees, an employer or a client, it’s probably best to keep body language open and inviting.

Shifty Eyes

Eyes that dart are associated with lying.  In reality, eyes that shift are a sign of emotional discomfort, which may be due to any stress, not just the stress of lying.

Eyes that dart are associated with lying. In reality, eyes that shift are a sign of emotional discomfort, which may be due to any stress, not just the stress of lying.

Paul Ekman’s research into lying says that people often attribute shifty or darting eyes to liars, however, as a predictor of a lie it actually falls short. Looking away from complicated human faces helps us concentrate and so it doesn’t really tell us much more than that thought is taking place. Human lie detectors may suppose that no thought needs to take place when truth telling, so they eyes need not be diverted. In reality however, the eyes can wander due to a variety of reasons not the least of which are connected to the thought of being mistrusted, labeled a liar, or being punished.

Therefore the stress and nervousness of being put on the spot is enough to cause the eyes to exhibit patterns that seem dishonest. Experienced poker players, wishing to disguise a strong hand, can careful craft misleading “eye tells” fooling other players. For example, wincing at a card that is actually a good card, or using darting eyes when telling the truth, or best yet, producing cues at random, can really confuse opponents. The research also notes that pathological liars are particularly adept at maintaining eye contact even more so then people who are honest. Researchers have theorized that liars want to track the success of their lies and so by watching the face of their victims, they can gauge their effectiveness accordingly and adjust if necessary. Therefore, the real give-away to lying might, in fact be an increase in eye contact rather than a decrease in eye contact. However, as it turns out, even this clue is sometimes misleading as it can be adjusted accordingly as we saw in the poker example above.

Another reason we might see poor eye contact is as an indication of the desire to exit an undesirable situations. At social events or parties, this is especially the case. We might catch eyes moving about the room as the minds of guests wander for more stimulating interactions. So to gauge interest you can note where their eyes wander and how much eye contact they use. Our eyes go to where our minds already are, and of which our bodies want to be. We of course think it to be rude to just up and leave whilst speaking to a fellow guest, however by casting our gaze randomly or specifically to our object of interest we send the same message. While too much eye contact can also be rude and unnatural, so too is extended periods spent looking away, or looking all about the room in a distracted fashion. Eye patterns, therefore, need to be carefully constructed to send the message we intend.

Eye Blink Rate

Eye Blink Rate, Extended Eye Blinking, Eye Blocking And The Double Wink

Eye Blink Rate

Studies have linked arousal with increased eye blink rate. When we blink we add moisture to the eye with the help of tears and oil secreted by small glands that line the inner edge of our eyelids. Researchers have theorized that an increased eye blink rate helps us moisten and clean our eyes in preparation for action so we won’t miss a thing.

Pronounced eye blinking can happen during sexual arousal and attraction, while under pressure, or any other time we feel particularly excited. A rapid series of eye blinks can also indicate an inner struggle or distress which may happen when we hear something we don’t particularly agree with, or when we can’t find the right words to express ourselves. Other times our eyes flutter when we’re troubled with our performance on an issue, befuddled, or simply struggling outright. Women that have thick, dark, long lashes can even use a high blink rate to seduce men. Applying mascara helps draw emphasis to a women’s eyes even further and when she “bat’s her eyes” can bring a grown man to his knees. We should also be careful not to jump to conclusions since a high blink rate can also be attributed to dry air, stress, having something trapped on the eye itself or any multitude of other reasons. Therefore, high eye blink rate is particularly context sensitive.

Higher blink rate is also subject to mimicry. For example, speaking excitedly about a topic and increasing eye blink rate will induce others to follow and blink at similar rates. This can come in handy, not only in a dating situation, but also while pitching ideas because if people mimic a high blink rate, they will subconsciously perceive that they are excited, which can move them to action.