What Every Body is Saying


Joe Navarro worked as a counterintelligence officer for the FBI and has become a renowned body language expert and explains how to decode people's true intentions and feelings.

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Key Takeaways


  1. No nonverbals exist which will definitively spot deception, but they can show if someone is stressed or uncomfortable
  2. Change in behavior is what is most important to notice
  3. Look for clusters of behaviors
  4. Gravity defying behavior always positive (hands up, head up, eyebrows up, feet pointed up, etc.)
  5. More emphatic and confident in our gestures when comfortable/telling the truth
  6. If interviewing someone, make sure to stay cool and neutral or else you will affect how they react to your questions
  7. Liars will rarely make physical contact
  8. The negative sentiment is often the most honest
  9. Feet/legs most honest part of body - pointing towards you good, away is bad
  10. Torso - leaning away bad, towards good
  11. Arms - gravity defying a good sign, can be used to build rapport and for territorial displays
  12. Hands/finger - keep hands visible during face to face communication, handshake extremely important, hand steepling very confident
  13. Liars gesture less, touch less, and move arms/legs less than honest people
What I got out of it:
  1. An interesting read that can definitely be applied regardless of your profession. Interesting to note and although very few of us will be using it for interrogation purposes, this knowledge can be helpful in personal and professional relationships.
  • Joe Navarro immigrated from Cuba and not being able to speak English, was forced to learn to read body language and nonverbal cues. He became an extremely successful FBI agent that has helped put away scores of fugitives
  • Just because anyone can read nonverbals does NOT mean you can detect deception. Can simply detect if something bothers someone or makes them uncomfortable
  • Nonverbals include - facial expressions, gestures, touching, physical movements, posture, body adorment, tone/timbre/volume of voice. Makes up 60-65% of all interpersonal communication
  • When people like you they raise their eyebrows as you enter, when people don't they squint slightly
  • “Eye-blocking” is a nonverbal behavior that can occur when we feel threatened and/or don’t like what we see. Squinting and closing or shielding our eyes are actions that have evolved to protect the brain from “seeing” undesirable images and to communicate our disdain toward others
  • Nonverbals are universal and it becomes quite difficult to try to interact without them
  • 10 Commandments for Observing and Decoding Nonverbal Communication
    1. Be a competent observer of your environment - careful observation is vital
    2. Observing in context is key to understanding nonverbal behavior
    3. Learn to recognize and decode nonverbal behaviors that are universal
    4. Pressing lips together as if to make them disappear - person is troubled and something is wrong
    5. Learn to recognize and decode idiosyncratic nonverbal behaviors - look for behavioral patterns for people you are around a lot
    6. When you interact with others, try to establish their baseline behaviors - how people typically look, sit, where they place their hands/feet, posture
    7. Always try to watch people for multiple tells - behaviors that occur in clusters or in succession
    8. Important to look for changes in a person's behavior which indicate changes in thoughts, emotions, interest or intent
    9. Learning to detect false or misleading nonverbals
    10. Know how to distinguish between comfort and discomfort will help you focus on the most important behaviors - ask yourself if their expression/behavior looks like a comfort/discomfort behavior. When observing others, be subtle about it
  • Terry v. Ohio - Supreme court case that allowed officers to pat down people if that person's behavior seemed suspicious
  • Brain split up into 3 parts - reptilian, mammalian, and human. Mammamlian controls our nonverbal cues because it reacts instantly to our external environment without thought. This is considered the "honest" or "genuine" brain since it reacts reflexively
  • Brain has 3 responses to stress - freeze, flight or fight (in that order)
    • Freeze:
      • In today's environment, people freeze when they are caught lying, stealing, or when being chastised or talking about something they can get in trouble for, can become short of breath
      • People fix their feet in a position of security (interlocked behind the chair legs) when they become uncomfortable
      • Shoplifters try to make themselves invisible by hunching over or restricting movements (arms/raising shoulders and lowering head)- actually bringing them more attention!
    • Flight
      • Not as much running in modern world, but turning towards exit, leaning away, putting something in lap or away from someone they don't like
      • Closing eyes, rubbing eyes, placing hands in front of face
    • Fight
      • Puffing out chest, arguing, invading personal space, posture, eyes
      • When put into this mode the limbic system hijacks our brain and is why we cannot think clearly
  • After experiencing negative feelings of discomfort, we often follow with pacifying behaviors to try to get ourselves back to normal
  • Look for pacifying behaviors in people to tell when people are not at ease or when they are reacting negatively to something that was said or done
  • Touching neck or face, licking lips, pacifying hands, women touch space between sternum and neck when uncomfortable/distressed/afraid, whistle, talk to yourself, rubbing thighs, fixing tie, "ventilating" shirt from neck, play with hair, puff out cheeks, anything that feels good to release endorphins
  • Does not help solve problems but helps us remain calm
  • Men prefer to touch face whereas women prefer to touch neck, jewelry, clothes, arms and hair
  • Steps to recognize pacifiers
    • Recognize pacifying behaviors when they occur
    • Establish a pacifying baseline for an individual
    • When you see a person make a pacifying gesture, stop and ask yourself, “What caused him to do that?” You know the individual feels uneasy about something. Your job, as a collector of nonverbal intelligence, is to find out what that something is
    • Understand that pacifying behaviors almost always are used to calm a person after a stressful event occurs
    • The ability to link a pacifying behavior with the specific stressor that caused it can help you better understand the person with whom you are interacting
    • In certain circumstances you can actually say or do something to see if it stresses an individual (as reflected in an increase in pacifying behaviors) to better understand his thoughts and intentions.
    • Note what part of the body a person pacifies. This is significant, because the higher the stress, the greater the amount of facial or neck stroking is involved
    • Remember, the greater the stress or discomfort, the greater the likelihood of pacifying behaviors to follow
  • Feet and legs are the most honest part of the body
    • Start analyzing body language at feet and work way up
    • Happy feet - feet bouncing up and down, high confidence tell, look for shoulders/shirt moving up and down (can also be a sign of anxiety/nervousness)
    • Feet turned toward/away from you means someone likes or wants to talk to you or not
    • Sitting with both hands on knees is a clear sign someone wants to leave
    • Walking with a bounce in our step, going up on our toes (defying gravity) is a sign of happiness
    • Leg splay - territorial leg position (power position) that takes up as much territory as possible
    • People higher up socioeconomically or hierarchically take up more territory
    • Personal space is a combination of personality and culture
    • Leg crossing - only used if feel comfortable and in the direction of the person we like
    • Mirroring somebody else's behavior shows comfort
    • Women will dangle shoes from toes if very comfortable
    • First impression - after a good handshake, take a step back and one of 3 things happen - they stay and are comfortable at that distance, they take a step back/turn and want to leave/are uncomfortable, take a step forward and like you
    • Many different walks and if know baseline, change to walk can reveal how person is feeling
    • Sitting down and going from foot jiggling to foot kicking is a sign of discomfort (as bad is the foot freeze - going from jiggling to no movement)
  • Torso/hip/chest/shoulders nonverbals
    • Lean away/rotate = bad
    • Couples moving apart emotionally also move apart physically and touch less
    • Ventral denial/fronting - turning our front (chest, genitals, etc.) away/towards things
    • Crossing of arms, playing with sleeves/cufflinks, fixing tie or buttoning of jacket could indicate discomfort
    • Torso bow is a universal sign of respect
    • Clothing is very descriptive and can have a big influence on others
    • Splaying on a chair or couch (often by teenagers) is a territorial display and shows lack of respect
    • Puffing out of chest is often a precursor to a fight
    • Taking of an item of clothing or rapid breathing also could indicate a stressful situation
    • Full (high) shoulder shrugs reveal they confidently support what they are saying. slow raising of shoulders as if to hide the head shows lack of confidence
  • Arms
    • How much arms move a good indicator of how we're feeling
    • Again, happiness and comfort --> gravity defying movements (arms above head...)
    • Withdrawn arms, arms across chest or kept at side, show discomfort
    • Arm freeze is often indicative of being scared. Especially in children, this can set off alarms about the parents
    • Can be used for territorial display (armrest on airplane)
    • Hands interlaced behind the head - show of dominance and power (hooding)
    • Tattoos have been around for a very long time but the majority of people still look down upon them
    • When meeting someone for the first time, arms out in front and palms up is a very welcoming/open/trusting gesture
    • Can build rapport by touching someone on the arm (between elbow and shoulder)
  • Hands/fingers
    • Source of communication and can influence how others perceive us
    • Communicate more effectively when we use our hands
    • Keep hands visible during face to face communication
    • Handshake extremely important and strength/length differs depending on one's culture
    • Finger pointing is very offensive
    • Level of grooming between partner a good indication of closeness
    • Shaking of hands indicates nervousness or being uncomfortable
    • Hand steepling (some form of all fingers touching but not interlocking) is a very confident gesture but with fingers interlaced as if praying is low confidence
    • Thumbs up a confident sign (in coat pockets, hands interlaced but thumbs up...)
    • Thumb in pocket with fingers hanging out is low confidence
    • Thumbs in front wasteband a sign of high confidence (genital framing)
    • Interlacing fingers and palm rubbing signs of discomfort
    • Touching of neck a pacifier and shows low confidence
    • Microgestures often very truthful and revealing
    • Watch for if hands go dormant
  • Face
    • The most versatile way humans can express themselves
    • Often deceptive since we are taught at an early age how to lie with our face
    • Tightening of jaw, flaring of nostrils, squinting eyes, lip occlusion all point to signs of distress
    • Many facial gestures universal
    • Tilting of head to reveal neck a sign of great comfort
    • Find comfort in dilated eyes
    • Squinting a negative reaction to something/someone
    • Raising/high eyebrows show comfort/confidence and low eyebrows the opposite
    • Eye blocking - one way of dealing with bad news
    • The bigger the eyes get, the better
    • Direct gaze often indicates love, hate or or interest
    • Looking away not a sign of disinterest necessarily, can help clarify thoughts and shows you feel no threat
    • Blink more when aroused, troubled, nervous or concerned
    • Everyone has a fake and a real smile
    • Lip compression/lip hiding a universal symbol of discomfort
    • Lip licking/biting a sign of discomfort
    • Nasal flaring a sign of comfort/affection
  • 12 Steps to Read Pacifying Behaviors in interpersonal Interactions
    1. Get a clear view of the person you are talking to
    2. Expect some pacifying behaviors
    3. Expect initial nervousness
    4. Get the interviewee relaxed first
    5. Establish a baseline of behavior
    6. Look for increased use of pacifiers
    7. Ask specific questions, pause, observe
    8. Keep the interviewee focused
    9. Chatter is not truth - often lies are very detailed in order to obfuscate the truth
    10. People who are under stress will often first have some subconscious reaction and then a pacifying behavior
    11. Isolate the cause of the stress
    12. Pacifiers say so much
  • Synchrony is important - if saying something in the affirmative, head shakes same way at the same time
  • Liars do not emphasize (especially hand behavior) and often appear frozen. Palms up while making a declarative statement should be viewed suspiciously

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