Chapter Fourteen

During our working lives we become consummate body language liars. Even if we enjoy our jobs it's highly unlikely that the workplace is where we would like to be each and every moment of each and every day. Some people hate their jobs so much they'd rather be anywhere else. Some just dislike the people they work with or try to appear more efficient and knowledgeable than they really are.

In body language terms, then, business is all about bluff and double-bluff. Which makes reading and analyzing nonverbal signals from your colleagues and clients a bit of a complex issue. Keep in mind the point I made at the start of this book: body language is not a precise science. I'd love to give you direct access to other people's thoughts, but it really doesn't work like that. The most fruitful work you can do is on your own body language signals to get your ideal messages across as clearly as possible. The second most fruitful thing you can do is to be more aware of the signals of the people you work with. Assess them and use them to read between the lines and gain much better insights into their true thoughts and meanings. But always keep an open mind to other possibilities. Remember what I said about there being no real "tells" or absolutes. Never learn your body language lessons like you learned math at school. Body language is about algebra, but it's called cognitive algebra. There is no formula that says arms folded = aggressive. Or scratched nose = lying. I'd be selling you snake oil if I pretended there was.

Two rules, then:

I Look. Easy? Not really. From about the age of two you've been told it's rude to stare, so you'll need to slowly advance your perceptual skills and learn to start looking again (only without staring).

I Evaluate. Start with your gut reaction—how did you feel about what they said or did? What did they seem to be signaling to you? Gut reactions are really part of a very complex perceptual process and you shouldn't underestimate strong feelings like this.

Then think of body language clusters—take any one gesture and put it into the context of the whole body language "sentence," by which I mean all their other gestures or movements. Attach the gesture to their words, too. Were they congruent, incongruent, or overcongruent? Did they agree with their words or heckle them?

Always remember the Othello Error. However well you assess someone's body language signals, you could always be wrong about what prompted them. Othello is warned via a whispering campaign that his wife Desdemona is being unfaithful to him. He questions her, studies her anxious response, judges this to be a sign of guilt, and kills her. In fact, she was innocent and her signals were prompted by shock at being accused. Right symptoms, wrong cause.

By developing your basic skills of perception—and as long as you're not guilty of that form of assumption known as the Othello Error—you could quadruple your ability to understand your colleagues and clients by doing what's called reading between the lines.

To help your evaluations I'm going to give you a list of feelings and symptoms. Like a doctor, you need to read through the symptoms to gain clues to the actual problem, but always keeping an open mind as you do.

Continue reading here: How to look for signs of lying

Was this article helpful?

0 0