You've likely heard that body language accounts for up to 55% of how we communicate, but reading non-verbal cues isn't just about broad strokes. The same gesture can indicate a number of different things depending on context. In this post, we're going to take a look at three common situations in which non-verbal cues are especially important—detecting lies, going on a date, and interviewing for a job—then explain how to interpret body language more accurately so that you can read between the lines when a person's words aren't necessarily conveying the way that they honestly feel.
Body Language Basics
When you're reading body language, your primary goal is to determine whether or not a person is comfortable in their current situation. Once you do this, it's a process of using context and other cues—which we'll get into later—to figure out the specifics. There are plenty of ways a person may indicate their comfort level, but here are a few of the most common.
Positive body language :
- Moving or leaning closer to you Relaxed, uncrossed limbs Long periods of eye contact Looking down and away out of shyness Genuine smiles
Negative body language :
- Moving or leaning away from you Crossed arms or legs Looking away to the side Feet pointed away from you, or towards and exit Rubbing/scratching their nose, eyes, or the back of their neck
A single cue can mean a myriad of things. For example, crossed arms falls under the category of negative body language and can suggest that a person is physically cold, closed off, or frustrated. It can even indicate that they've simply had too much
to eat. It's necessary to pay attention to multiple behavioral cues as a single one can be misleading. While it will help to indicate comfort level, to really understand why you need to look deeper. This means paying attention to other cues as well as their context. As we get into the specific situations, we'll look at how these cues work together to help uncover the truth in a given moment.
Photo by StockLite (Shutterstock)
Spot a Liar
One of the biggest advantages of learning to read body language well is being able to judge when someone is lying with a fair amount of accuracy. Your intuition is never going to be 100% accurate, but with a little practice you can become more aware of when you're being fed a load of crap. It's very important to recognize what kind of lies you are actually detecting. The techniques we're going to discuss in this section correspond to big lies—the lies people tell when they are uncomfortable or afraid of the truth. These skills will get you almost nowhere in detecting white lies, small lies of omission, and what people do most often: exaggerate. Those types of deception are very hard to detect, and it's important to remember that, regardless of the type of untruth, you'll never know for certain. You can, however, pick up on common cues so you know when to hold a healthy suspicion about what a person is saying.
Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting . conducted significant research on the ways we lie to figure out the common patterns in our body language. She found that liars often exhibit much of the behavior you'd find in any other uncomfortable person, but with a few very specific additional traits.