It was his eyes that told me something was wrong. He was staring across the dancefloor, while everyone else had their eyes glued to the dancers on stage. The music was loud and his friends were shouting in his ear to make themselves heard but his eyes never left whatever he was staring at. His feet were spread apart and his chest was puffed out as he balled and unballed his fists. His nostrils flared and he looked like he was breathing deeply. The crowd around him were happy and relaxed, dancing, shouting and enjoying themselves. He looked totally out of place, tense, aggressive and waiting for something. I called the rest of the team on the radio and made them aware. Seconds later, he grabbed something and charged. We got in front of him just as he went to swing the glass bottle in his hand. His intended victim had a lucky escape, he hadn’t noticed him staring and with his back to his attacker, would have been taken totally unawares. I later found out that what could have been a vicious assault had started over a spilled beer. It wasn’t the first or last time as a bouncer being able to read someone’s body language saved myself or others from serious harm.
I hadn’t any formal training in reading body language. Very few people do. There were simply times that something looked or felt wrong. Through instinct or experience, I was able to read someone’s intentions from their body language. Joe Navarro, the author of What Every BODY is Saying, relates a similar experience as a child. Walking into a room, he was able to tell who was really welcoming from those who weren’t from the way they moved their eyebrows. This was born out of necessity, being an immigrant child in a new area. Most of our abilities in interpreting body language arise like this. From necessity, we develop survival instincts. These instincts are often difficult to explain or verbalise. Can you remember a time you just knew something about someone but couldn’t explain it? You got a bad feeling about someone you met or had an instinct that someone was about to do something? That’s your mind interpreting the non-verbal communication given off by someone else.
What What Every BODY is Saying teaches you how this works and how to develop your ability in reading body language. The advantage this gives you in all areas of your life is not to be underestimated. It is a very simple thing for a person to verbally deceive you, but near impossible for them to fake their body language. Being able to read body language will allow you to really understand a situation, whether you’re in a bar or a boardroom.
As a 25 year veteran of the FBI and having used these techniques against all manner of criminals, Joe Navarro knows what he is talking about. Throughout the book he gives examples of cases where he has employed his techniques to great effect. He recounts cracking a serious assault case because of the way a suspect moved his hand as he went through his story. The suspect was very confident verbally and gave the interrogators a convincing story. While he could lie verbally quite easily, his body could not. At a vital point in the story, he tells the agents he turned right, taking him away from where the crime took place, but his hand pointed left. His body couldn’t lie.
Navarro guides you through universal siganls and then ones specific to each person. What he teaches you is often surprising and sometimes counter intuitive. For example, the first thing you should look at when trying to read someone’s body language? Most would say the eyes or face. Very few would pick the legs but that is what Navarro proves to be the most important body part.
There is an excellent explanation of the limbic system, the body’s fight or flight response.
Navarro doesn’t try to sell this as a system that will turn you into a body language expert overnight nor does he say that his techniques are infallible. This is a well researched, realistic system to develop your skills over time. It is based on modern scientific research which Navarro references frequently. Navarro emphasises looking for clusters of tells rather than trying to interpret a single movement or gesture. Even then he says that you cannot discern if someone is lying, only that something is making them uncomfortable.
What Every BODY is Saying is one of only two books I have come across that deal with body language in a realistic, useful way. The other is Left of Bang, which approaches it as part of Combat Profiling. I found if I put in enough practice, the techniques became second nature to me. You do need to start observing people and analysing what you see. I began to notice how colleagues acted in meetings and when you look carefully, you begin to see the signs Navarro describes. A particularly dominant colleague would stand with his legs apart and his arms akimbo when trying to get his way. Another quieter colleague would always sit with his legs crossed, pointing towards the door, showing he was nervous and didn’t want to be there.
This book is everything you will need when it comes to learning body language if you are prepared to apply it to real life. Navarro’s valuable insights and tips on how to develop your skills make it an invaluable resource for anyone interested in developing their non verbal communication.