[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.1] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than two million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries and part of the self-help for smart people podcast network.
In this episode, we break down the complex and confusing world of body language and non-verbal communication. We discover the easiest starting point for learning the basics you need to know to get started with reading and understanding body language. We did into specific tools and strategies you can start using right away, to not only decode the body language of others, but also change your own body language to communicate what you want. We explore all of this and much more with our guest, Joe Navarro.
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In our previous episode, we discussed how a few crazy ideas from quantum physics might just change your life. We looked at how some of the core principles from the hard sciences have huge implications for the way we live, love and deal with the world of danger and uncertainty. Is it possible that the laws of physics hold lessons that could help us redefine our relationship with anxiety and suffering and open the door to possibility? We discussed this and much more with our guest Mel Schwartz. If you want to learn how a few key principles from the hard sciences could radically transform your worldview, listen to that episode.
Now for our interview with Joe.
[0:03:06.5] MB: Today, we have another awesome guest on the show; Joe Navarro. Joe was approached to join the FBI while working as a police officer at the age of 23. He spent the next 25 years at the FBI working as both an agent and a supervisor in the areas of counterintelligence and counterterrorism.
Since retiring in 2003, Joe has written several bestselling books on human behavior. Most recently, The Dictionary of Body Language; a field guide to what every body is saying. His work is frequently featured on programs such as The Today Show, Fox News, Good Morning America and much more. Joe, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:42.7] JN: Matt, it's a pleasure finally to be here.
[0:03:45.5] MB: Well, we're super excited to have you on the show. As I was telling you in the pre-show, I've been a fan of your work for a long time and have a copy of Read ‘Em and Reap, which is one of your poker books sitting on my bookshelf, and so it's great to finally get you on here.
[0:03:58.0] JN: Well, it's my pleasure. I've been looking forward to this.
[0:04:01.0] MB: I'd love to obviously the field of non-verbal communication, which you're one of the world's top experts. It’s so vast and immense. For somebody who wants to approach that from a layman's perspective and maybe pick up a few strategies, or tools to make themselves more effective at understanding people and ultimately influencing them, where would you recommend starting and breaking down this confusing maze of information?
[0:04:30.1] JN: Well, that's a great question. What I usually try to tell folks is this non-verbals is everything that communicates, it's not a word. I mean, everything from the shoes you wear, to the color of your clothing, to how well you're groomed, to the other stuff, the body language is all communicating. I think the first takeaway is we are always transmitting information about ourselves. We transmit information about ourselves by the cars we drive, or how we keep our house, but also by our body language. That's really what I'd to talk about today is how we use that body language, both to interpret what people are thinking, desiring, fearing and how we also use it to be more empathetic and establish better communications.
[0:05:25.5] MB: I think that's a great definition, and it's really interesting that it expands beyond, I think when you think about non-verbal communication, you just think of body language, right? Maybe a few related components. It's really interesting that you include all of these other things, whether it's car, your clothes, what pen that you use, all these different elements and they all really are communicating a tremendous amount of information if you're willing to attune yourself to be able to absorb it.
[0:05:52.5] JN: Oh, I mean, and the research now is so ample. From my books when I started this in 1970s, there was so little research. I'll give you an example of some recent research in the non-verbal arena of influence where they took an individual and they asked him to go out and ask people for favors, but he was just supposed to wear a sweater, a green sweater.
They tallied how many people would help him and then they took that same sweater and I won't say which logo, but they just put a little half inch logo of a famous clothier and the difference was without the logo, only about 13% of the people would help him. With the logo, about 52% of the people would help him. It's just fascinating the research that's being done now as to how sensitive we are to the smallest of things that says this person can be trusted, or as of higher status and so forth.
[0:06:53.4] MB: How do we start to peel back the layers of that onion? Because I mean, and as somebody who's been doing this show for years and I've read several of your works and many other books about body language and facial expressions and all this stuff, I still feel like a total novice when I get into this stuff. I feel like I have a little bit of an ability to read behavior, especially coming from the poker world, but it's such a confusing and immense topic. How do we start to really approach it in a way that we can really internalize some of those lessons?
[0:07:23.8] JN: Really good question. The easiest way is the same way that as babies learn to do this and parents learn to do this, and that we are basically communicating at all times. We're either comfortable, or uncomfortable. This dynamic can change in a second; as a baby, all of a sudden the baby starts squirming, starts crying. Obviously, there's an issue there. Maybe the baby is wet, or needs to be patted, or fed.
We're no different. We can be sitting – you're a young executive, you're sitting in a meeting and all of a sudden somebody says something and didn't go over too well and you start seeing these displays of discomfort, things shifting in the chair, lip-biting, looking away, putting the chin down, things that communicate, “Hey, you know what? You should have said that didn't go over too well.”
We're very good as a species at communicating both comfort and discomfort readily, and in real time. That's the beauty of non-verbal. May I say this Matt, that non-verbals is the only means of communication that takes place at the speed of light; the minute somebody displays it, you are picking up those photons and you are immediately interpreting in how they feel about you, or how they're reacting to something.
[0:08:54.1] MB: I feel like we hear the statistic thrown out all the time, but when you look at what – and I know it's a confusing topic. When you look at what percentage of “communication is non-verbal,” how do you think about that question?
[0:09:07.4] JN: Yeah. Throw the numbers out the window, because nobody really knows, because non-verbal communications take place in the moment. That moment is in context is affected by many things. I mean, you can have a terrible day and you walk through the front door and you may be reflecting a day's worth of things that have adversely affected you.
We know that in courtship behavior and dating, it can be as high as a 100%. We know it can – in a meeting, it could be less. What I try to teach is don't worry about what percentage it is. It's usually very high. Even if you're sitting in a chair doing nothing, you're still transmitting information. You can still transmit whether you're interested, or you're just laying the totally disinterested.
What I try to teach is forget the numbers. Just be aware that it's a high percentage. That we're always transmitting, that we're always being examined. The people are assessing us the minute that we come into view. The question is what are they assessing? Are they assessing someone that is confident, somebody that's friendly, someone that appears to let's just say have their act together, or someone who is shy and maybe is insecure?
What's interesting is when I do seminars Matt, and I say to people, “I want you to stand up and I want you to look tough.” Everybody acts this out like they've seen on television. Okay and then you say, “All right. I want you to look you're studious, like you're a professor,” and they act these things out. After we do about seven or eight of these, we say, “Now what do you think people think of you when they see you day in and day out? Who do they see?”
What's interesting is a lot of them haven't decided how do they want to be portrayed; as a leader, as a follower, as someone that's confident, or just someone that's happy following along?
[0:11:19.5] MB: Can we fake our body language and our external cues to other people, or will people be able to see through that?
[0:11:27.7] JN: Well, I wouldn't say fake. I hear that term a lot and I hate it, because I remember when I first came into law enforcement, I'll tell you I was scared. There were a lot of nights when I had to roll up on a scene and I was there by myself, no backup for 15, 20 minutes and I was scared. You have to present yourself as cool, calm and collected.
I go back to what Shakespeare said that life is theater. What I tell people is it's not about faking, it's about what role do you want to portray. That we can portray those role. Talk to anybody that's gone into the Marine Corps, become an officer and they'll tell you they send them out into the classroom, outside the classroom and they say, “Go find your voice. Go find your posture. Go find your presence, so that you look like an officer, so that people are willing to follow you.”
What else do we call that? We call that acting. We have roles to portray. The question of course is how well do we do that? Exceptional people rise to the occasion and they do the kinds of things that are endearing of a leader. I'll give you an example of something that we were talking earlier, you and I before the show about validation.
Notice how the more senior you are in an organization, the broader your gestures are, but they should be smoother. The minute we run into somebody who has very jittery gestures and they're not very smooth and they're very narrow, we tend not to respect that person as much as someone who has those broad smooth gestures, which by the way, from talking to military officers, this is what keeps the troops calm, because they get a sense of everything is okay from the non-verbals, not the verbals.
[0:13:43.3] MB: I like that perspective and I think it's a much less intimidating way to think about it is it's more like acting or imagining the role that you want to fulfill, or portray, and then living that out. It's almost a mental shortcut, or hack to be able to change the way that you're thinking about your body language, the way you're presenting yourself to other people.
[0:14:04.3] JN: Exactly. I'm what you call a high-end introvert. I'm a very private, I don't like big get-togethers, but I have to tell myself, “All right, I'm going to do an event. There's going to be 300 people there.” I need to break out of that and it's in a way, for some people this comes very naturally. For me, it's a performance that is part of me. This is part of me. It's not like it's fake, because it comes from me, but I have to tell myself this is a role I must fulfill now because these folks have come to see me and I can't just go to the green room again. I need to be out there.
It is in a way a hack of how do we overcome ourselves and yet reveal a part of ourselves, because I do want to be a part of the group. I wish I was, like some of the people that I know that just love to be in large groups, but that's just not going to happen, so I have to perform it.
[0:15:10.2] MB: I want to come back to this distinction that you made earlier, which I think is really, really important, these two different buckets of lumping, or grouping behaviors into the broad categories of comfort, versus discomfort. I really like that as a heuristic for thinking about it, because there's so many ways you could interpret body language. I feel that's a great starting point to say, “Okay, are the behaviors that I'm seeing falling more to the categories of comfort, or are they falling into the category of discomfort?”
[0:15:39.4] JN: Matt, that's a great way to put it. Not just one behavior, but these three or four behaviors, where are they falling? I'll give you an example. One of the things that we put under the comfort displays are when you see someone and they look very comfortable with themselves; they look confident. When we see them standing with shoulders broad, when we see them stepping away from the podium, when we see them with the open gestures, palms up, when we see them making direct eye contact, not just with one person, but with many people in the audience, we say, “Okay, these are consistent with all the behaviors that one would expect to see with confidence and this fits under comfort displays.”
Versus you're in sales, let's say and you're talking to someone, they're asking you questions, but every time they ask you a question, what if they see you tucking your chin down, biting your lip, or compressing your lip, doing something that we often hear and see where you all of a sudden have to inhale really quickly, and then you shift your lips to the side, you go – and then the lips shift, or there's touching of the neck, or ventilating where you're pulling on your jacket, or your shirt.
Well, they asked you a question. It was a simple question, why are we seeing these displays of discomfort? Is it because you don't know the answer? Is it because this is a difficult area for you to answer? Or is it because there's some hidden issues there?
Well, these may look like small little things, but to the average person they may not be able to put a name on it, but they're sensing there's something odd here. That's not the way we want to come across if we are in sales, or in leadership.
[0:17:41.8] MB: You've given a couple anecdotal examples of these, but I'd love to get into maybe some of the most obvious, or the most predictive behaviors for somebody who's listening who wants to practice these in real-time. What are some of the biggest, for lack of a better term, tells to look for around both comfort and discomfort?
[0:18:02.0] JN: Yeah. You and I were talking earlier Matt about validation. Go out and validate this notice that when the stock market drops, how often the photographs they take are of individuals pressing their fingers into their eyes, covering their eyes and so forth? Eye-blocking behaviors are extremely accurate. You're familiar with my work and in the poker world, this is one of those areas where the flop comes out, and as the community cards are unveiled, you see more and more of eye touching, eye covering.
The person is weak, because here's something that I found fascinating in 1974 when I was studying these kids that were born blind. When they hear things they don't like, they cover their eyes, they don't cover their ears and they've never seen. Eye-blocking is something that is part of our paleo circuits. It's very ancient with us as a species and we see it universally.
The other one that I would tell you is lip compression is a very good indicator that something is wrong, that the person is either struggling with something, or they're worried about something. As is jaw shifting, one that you often see in the board room, but you also see it in poker, where the person is confronted with something and all of a sudden they begin to shift their jaw left and right. Jaw shifting basically says, “I'm struggling here. I'm having difficulties,” and it's also very accurate.
As is the former I talked about, which is the neck touching. Now men and women do it slightly different. Women tend to touch the base of the neck. It's called the super sternal notch; there's a little dent there and they tend to touch that and cover it with their fingertips. Men tend to do it more robustly by grabbing their necks, massaging their necks. Invariably, it means the same thing. I don't feel confident. I feel something is wrong. I'm concerned. I'm worried and so forth.
Ventilating behaviors; you ask somebody, “Hey, is that going to be done by Wednesday?” They start to pull on their shirt, or they lift up their hair. Ventilating behaviors are saying, “I'm having difficulty. There's something wrong here,” and they're very authentic. Then when we come down to the hands, notice how expressive we are. When we're confident about something, our fingers tend to be spread very wide and our thumbs tend to pop up. The minute we lack confidence, boy those thumbs just come crashing down, our fingers tend to stand together and there's less hand dramatic movement.
These things which I point out in my latest book are very small by themselves, but when you add them up and you begin to see four, five, six, seven behaviors all at once, now you're building that confidence that something is seriously wrong here.
[0:21:20.8] MB: Great examples. I think there's a number of those that are really, really relevant. It's funny, in poker obviously, you can see a lot of those. It's a great learning laboratory. What about the other side of the coin, looking at confident behaviors? What are some of those, or what are some of the most lowest hanging fruit in terms of learning, or developing the ability to spot them?
[0:21:43.6] JN: Yeah. I'll tell you, there is no such thing as low-hanging fruit when it comes to positive, because our brain unfortunately retains all negative things far longer than positive things. There's a biological imperative for that. If we didn't retain negative things longer, we would probably have to learn not to touch the hot stove every day. Positive things don't stay with us for very long, so it's imperative that we do things right; everything from doing the right handshake, where our fingers are pointed down, they're not touching the inside of the wrist of another person, they're not crushing the hand.
To when we stand in front of other people; if you ask how many of you have had somebody stand too close to you when they're talking to you? Everybody raises their hand, in the same way they tell you that they've had bad handshakes. You figure out, “Well, how do you screw that up?” One of the things that you immediately need to need to assess for is how much space does each person need. What I say is you lean in, you lean forward to shake hands, but then you take a small step back. That creates about two and a half to three and a half feet of space, and that's a good way to create that space that most people are actually more comfortable in.
Then the other thing is don't stand directly in front of another person. If you want to increase the amount of time that people will listen to you, stand at an angle. It's actually easier to – it minimizes the amount of face time if you're directly in front of somebody, versus if you're at a slight angle. For everybody that's listening, that we're all in the people business. What are the things that we look for that are appealing?
People that are just – they appear friendly, they smile, they take the time to talk to you. Here's what's interesting; it doesn't matter what they say. It's a fact. It's the non-verbal of taking 15 seconds to stop and just chat with someone. That is transmitting that I'm interested in you as a human being.
One of the more powerful things that we can do when we talk to people is be attentive to them, but how do we do that without coming across as we have an agenda? One of the ways we can do that is just by tilting our head slightly to the side, by canting our head to the side, we are exposing our neck, the most vulnerable part of our body and what we're doing by doing that is saying, “I'm here listening to you. I may have an agenda, but right now I'm listening to you. You've got the floor. I'm attentive.” These are the things that are very powerful.
Obviously, when things are very stressful, the best leaders slow everything down. They command the space. They command time. They command their own behaviors, so that that has a pacifying effect on everybody else. Great leaders do that. The military is known to do that.
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[0:27:17.2] MB: I think it's fascinating that a negative impression that you might make with somebody will last much, much longer than a positive one. It's really important to manage and make sure that you're not creating a negative impression with simple things like a handshake, or personal space, or your appearance, etc., when you're meeting people and trying to build relationships with them.
[0:27:37.2] JN: Yeah, exactly. If you know that imperative that we have to strive to put more points up on that board of positive things, but remember, well what are those positive things? That kind comment, that smile, something that you can do, even if you were on the phone and you don't have time to say hello to somebody, you flash your eyebrows when they come in, as though you were saying, “Hey, how are you?” You use your eyebrows to flash, even though you're tied up talking to somebody, that communicates to the other person, “Oh, that's – he or she is recognizing me.”
Remember, at about three weeks of age, babies respond to eyebrow flash. You can test this. Ask somebody if you can just look at their baby for a second as you smile at the baby, flash your eyes and notice how they light up. Well, as it turns out, I'm 65 and I still light up when somebody greets me that way. I think it's in our DNA to respond to that and it's something that we can do every day that says to others, “You're important to me.”
I don't know. Nobody knows. Is it because we're willing to burn blood sugars and do something that defies gravity by arching our eyebrows? Nobody's sure of this, but we know it works and we know that it's very positive.
[0:29:06.2] MB: It's funny. I like the phrase you said that it's in our DNA, because even in psychology research shows that people will respond to flattery, even when they know that it's insincere and obvious. The same idea, right? Even if you're aware of a lot of these non-verbal communication strategies, or tools, they still work even despite the fact that people might be consciously aware that, “Oh, they're doing these various things.”
[0:29:32.2] JN: Yeah. That's one way to look at it, Matt. The way I look at it is it's part of that [inaudible 0:29:38.8] where we do things repeatedly, we do very short things repeatedly and we build that into our DNA. Our neuro circuits actually become robust. I don't know if it was because my grandmother did it and my mother did it and they made me do it, but it's something that if we don't do these things, we can teach ourselves to do it, so that we become that person that greets others, that shows interest and so forth. I think the more that we do it, the more genuine it becomes.
I will caution you that most of us pick up when there's a fake smile. I mean, we run into the social smile all the time. On the street somebody gives us that social smile, but we pick up. We're very sensitive to when people give us a false smile and there's false pretenses. I think it's important to differentiate that it's not about harboring bad feelings and then trying to fake it. It's really about can we bring ourselves to like each other and then – just be, have that pleasantness for each other and just make it part of your life and be genuine about it.
Otherwise, we all know somebody that they're just odd. I remember working with a guy that never said good morning to anybody. I have never seen anybody so miserable in my life, and I think if he ever turned around and say good morning to me, I would have had to call the weather channel to see if hell had frozen over, because this guy was just – I mean, his whole life, he just look like he was constipated. I have to think he was just miserable. What's interesting about people like that that think it's okay to be that way is that they create a field of toxicity around them and it affects a lot of people in their midst.
[0:31:50.6] MB: Even taking some of these non-verbal cues too far, I know in the past you've used the example of the politician’s handshake and how that can be taking it too far.
[0:32:01.8] JN: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of research that's been done and what handshakes do we like, we don't like. The politician’s handshake where two hands cup you at the same time; the weak handshake, the jujitsu one where they try to be on top and all sorts of things. I think when we have social intelligence, when we have that emotional intelligence that Daniel Goleman was talking about is we're very sensitive to others. What are their needs, wants and desires and fears?
Obviously, if you're shaking hands with a locker room full of athletes, you're going to have a stronger handshake. The fact is that most people are not that way, and you're going to have to respect what that handshake is. Handshakes is the first time humans usually touch. All these chemicals are released, which can be either very positive, or they can be very negative.
[0:32:59.3] MB: Changing directions slightly, but coming back to some of these cues that we can observe in other people, I know you've famously said that the feet are the most honest part of the body. I'd love to hear a little bit about that.
[0:33:09.9] JN: Well, I'll tell you what, I came out with that in 2004. People were just really resistant with that. They had never heard of this before. Of course, at that point, I had sat through probably 13,000 interviews in my law enforcement career, somewhere around that. I had made these observations. If you think about it and it's something that you can immediately go out and test. Nobody runs to the edge of a tall building. We inch over if it's very high. We don't run towards anybody that is a potential threat to us. If we see a dog that's snarling at us, we may look at it and keep our eye on it, but our feet immediately turn away.
You can go to a party, a reunion and you see somebody that bullied you 30 years ago and you might not in recognition, but you'll find your feet turning away. Because your feet in conjunction obviously with your brain are responsible for your survival, they tend to be very, very accurate. When there's something we don't like, we immediately turn away.
Ride an elevator by yourself and you may find yourself leaning against the back of the elevator with your legs crossed. Boy I tell you what, you get a bunch of guys that have been drinking and they get on the elevator and that you will stop doing that, your both feet will be planted on the ground. Because in our brains, we have this exquisite system called the limbic system and it is responsible for our survival. It doesn't care about social niceties. It just says, “I will not allow you to be off-balance when there are people around you that may be a threat to you,” and so you immediately put both feet down.
In the same way that the pupils of the eyes when we see something that could potentially hurt us, the pupils tend to constrict, so that we can see it with greater precision. These are things we don't have really a lot of control over. Yeah, the feet I mean, tell any child they're going to Disney tomorrow and watch their feet and they get happy feet. Yeah, that was one that really shook things up, but I think even poker players now have validated this many, many times over, where someone had the winning hand the nuts and they saw their legs jumping up and down and you often see the shirt vibrating. Yeah, definitely.
[0:35:57.9] MB: The thing that, and you pointed this out and you've given a number examples of this actually, but I think the thing that really makes this come alive is when you start to try and just use some of these ideas at a cocktail party, or at a meeting, or whatever and just spend a little bit of your conscious energy and effort to watch people and just see, “Okay, can I read something about their behavior and take something away from it?”
At least for me, approaching it like that, approaching it almost like a game, you start to build these muscles subconsciously. Then eventually, and I know you're probably well beyond this point, you can just see someone immediately know, “Okay. Oh, wow.” Their feet, their lips, you aggregate all these factors together and start to get a real read on their comfort level, or their discomfort level, etc.
[0:36:42.1] MB: Well, you have a very good point. When I started out, I didn't know everything that I do now. I've slowly validated over time and that's what I encourage people to do. Go through the book, The Dictionary of Body Language, pick a behavior and see how often you see it and validate what it really means. The more you validate it, the less you have to think of it. I get this question all the time, do you really think about this? I say no. I mean, it runs like software. It just runs in the background. I don't have to break it down. If I'm asked to, obviously I can.
When you have about 400 behaviors that I highlight, you're not going to look at all of them, but let's start with the eyes. How often does someone who's stressed about something cover their eyes? How often is it that when we've already made up our mind, or we don't like something, we purse our lips? You begin to validate these things and pretty soon, you say, “Wow, these are 12, 15 behaviors that I feel really confident about. Now let's see if I can go further and further and further.”
We all have beginning points, but I think this is something that we can always grow. Obviously, you as an interviewer, a podcaster, you're listening to the voice, you're listening for stress, you're listening for comfort, you're listening to see if somebody is stuttering, or their mouth is getting dry. You develop this ear for it. You don't think about it, but you know what's going on. In the same way with body language, we can begin to validate a lot of these things and depending on our occupation.
At the same time, we need to stand in front of a mirror and be honest with ourselves and say, “Do I look my best? Do I present my best? Do I look genuine? Do I look confident? What can I improve? What's my curbside appeal today and can I change my curbside appeal to increase my likability?” I've done that. I think we can all do that.
[0:39:04.4] MB: I want to look at another piece of this and maybe a little bit of a caveat for listeners, you tell a great story around a parking ticket and how negative cues can sometimes be misleading. It pokers another great example, but I think the parking ticket story is a perfect illustration of how it's not always a perfect tell, just because you see somebody being uncomfortable.
[0:39:26.0] JN: Yeah. I think we have to be very careful with what we observe. People ask all the time about deception. Forget deception and body language, because it's very difficult to detect. The best example I can give was here I was, the FBI's expert on body language. I was asked to help out with an interview. This poor woman, she gets called into our office and it has to do with financial fraud. Usually, the first 20 minutes or so, we don't ask any hard questions. It's just a get-to-know-you thing.
About 20 minutes into this conversation, I noticed that she's becoming more and more stressed. She's pulling on her hair a little bit, ventilating the back of her. Hair her lips have gone from being full to now they're just very thin and she's compressing her lips a lot. When she swallows, it's these really hard swallows. Her chin is down and she's rubbing her hands together a lot. I'm thinking, “Oh, my goodness. Here all the traditional tells that so many people have told over the years are indicative of deception.”
I said, “She's ready to confess.” I said to her, “Ma'am, you look like you need to get something off your chest.” I'll never forget this because it's so humbling. She said, “Mr. Navarro, thank God, because when I parked downstairs, I only had two quarters and the meters running out.” It was one of these things where it was a humble check. I realize, “Wow, I saw the right behaviors,” but what I didn't know was what was the cause. This was a big eye-opener to me that far too often, we see behaviors, but we don't know what the cause is. It's our job, your job, my job to when we see discomfort displays is to when it is appropriate to ask is everything all right? Is something wrong, and so forth?
Had I done that early on, everything would have been fine. As it turns out as you know from the story, she wasn't even involved in this crime. Somebody had stolen her identity and used it to bill some insurance company.
We have a responsibility when we have this greater knowledge is what are we doing with it? Yeah, I see the behaviors. Now what am I going to do with that? My job is not to accuse, but to ask. I have to tell you when my daughter was growing up, I had to restrain myself, because often time she would come home from school and I could just tell that there was something wrong, that something had happened.
I think this is good for all of us. You have to restrain yourself and say, “Now is not the time. Give her time and eventually, she will bring it up.” Usually she did. She would say, “Oh, you're not going to believe what happened and so forth.” Otherwise, we become that person that people may even want to avoid us, because they see us as too intrusive in our observations.
[0:42:53.7] MB: We've talked at length about the observation, understanding side of the equation, talked a little bit about influencing other people. I'd love to dig a little bit more into the influencing side and how we can use non-verbals to influence others.
[0:43:09.6] JN: Good question. I hinted at it earlier when I talked about our curbside appeal. Certainly, with our interest where we actually take the time to spend even a few seconds with someone, I'm always amazed that I'll go to this place, or that place and they say, “Yeah, the boss he stopped by the other day and he asked me how my family was.” They remember that six months later, these little things that we do.
I think in a world that's become very much more relaxed, I think we still have to remember that we're very sensitive to hierarchy. I always tell the story when the conquistadores arrived in the new world, they saw the same behaviors here that they had seen in Queen Isabella's Court. I think good manners, which manners in general are non-verbals, but particularly good manners are important. I think grooming is important. I think how we present, also how we move for instance. We can all recount a time, or a place where someone just – they just walked so slowly, or they walk like they just didn't care, that we weren't important, that our movements are communicating something about how much we care.
That when we are approached, that we create an environment that says, “Even though I'm busy, I'm willing to pay attention to you,” in a friendly way. Or at least I'm willing to say, “Look, I'm tied up right now, but I'll give you my full attention in about five minutes.” Don't become that person that when you need an answer, you fear going to see that person, just because of their non-verbals. People can tell, he or she's in a bad mood.
Listen, every day we have periods of time when maybe we're not in the best moods, but we have a responsibility when we see somebody that's coming towards us to say, “Okay, I need to put on that costume and I need to become that actor that receives people well.” That is all about non-verbals.
One of the things that we can do, and I often have people in my class do this and say, “All right, you're going to meet me at the door, you're going to ask me to sit down and you're going to sell me this pencil. I want you to do all of that without saying a word.” It's interesting to see how people sometimes fumble, even the initial greeting and how to walk over, right? Maybe they point to the chair with their index finger, which I don't recommend. You should always point with a full hand, with a palm open. They tend to be very erratic and not smooth it out.
This whole process, this theater is about making people comfortable, about showing that you're interested in them, and then about how you feel about this object. You're not selling the object. You're selling how you feel about the object. It's always amazing to me how people get that wrong. They said, “Well, how do I do that?” I say, “How do you feel about this object?” That's when they have to think how do I act about that? What if it was a puppy? Would you transact that differently? That's when they begin to get it. That's when they say, “Oh, look. Take a look at my puppy. Isn't he cute, right? The smile,” but without the words. That's something that we can practice. If I may, I've known a lot of actors over the years through my work. They all rehearse. They all rehearse this.
[0:47:27.0] MB: Yeah. I think that's a great exercise and it's funny, just even visualizing myself doing it, I'm already picking up on the different ways that I would use a number of non-verbal strategies to try and influence somebody. It gives you a little bit of insight into your own behaviors and the different inflection points within that interaction, where you can potentially change your behavior, or modify it to try and be more engaging and friendly, etc.
[0:47:53.9] JN: Well, I mean, something so simple Matt, as let's say, you're selling me an eraser. Would you grab it from above, so that your fingers are blocking it as you hand it to me, or would you grab it from the side so that you can see it, so you're cupping it with both hands? Would you move it towards me softly, so that as you're moving it my eyes are naturally drawn to it, because your orientation reflex kicks in, there's movement, and so now I'm tracking this thing? Would you hold it on your hands like it's something treasured, or would you just dump it there in front of me?
When we begin to break these little things down, you realize all these things affect us. We can do very simple experiments, where the people were experimenting on really don't know what's going on. Where we take one group and we say, “Here, take a look at this and let me know what you think.” Then we take another group and we hand it to them in a very special way. Then we ask them, rate it. Invariably, how we handled that object, when we handle it properly, it's always rated higher.
[0:49:04.9] MB: Bringing this back to concrete strategies that listeners can implement in their lives, what would be one piece of homework, or an action item that you would give to somebody listening who wanted to start testing out these ideas, or start building that as you call it that software in your mind, that muscle of recognizing and understanding non-verbal cues?
[0:49:25.9] JN: Yeah, absolutely. An easy one. Watch as people are reporting on the stock market, on a good and a bad day and watch their non-verbals. Turn the sound off on your television, watch a show and see if you can pick out what's going on just from the non-verbals. These are things that we do routinely, but focus on two or three behaviors.
If you had to start today with three behaviors, I would say look for the eyes, look for eye-blocking, eye-closure, look for lip compression, look for jaw shifting, neck touching and notice when it happens, how it happens, what questions were asked, how they answer. Once you build that into your repertoire, use the dictionary of non-verbals to go through it and say, “Well, what other behaviors are there?” Things like a hard swallow, things such as somebody's asked a question and you find that they're all of a sudden their tongue is in their cheek. Why are they doing that? All these things are explained at length, but you have to start somewhere. It's always a good place to start in the face. It's probably the most interesting.
[0:50:48.8] MB: For listeners who want to dig in, learn more and find you and your work online, what's the best place for them to go?
[0:50:56.0] JN: They can go to www.jnforensics.com and that’s my website. They can look at all the 30 books that I’ve published, my articles in Psychology Today and elsewhere. They can e-mail me at jnforensics.com and I’m happy to send them a free bibliography with over 300 articles, or books on the subject.
[0:51:25.6] MB: Well Joe, this has been a fascinating conversation, a great exploration and a really awesome starting point into the vast field of body language and non-verbal communication. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all this wisdom.
[0:51:40.1] JN: Matt, thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
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