Review “What every BODY is saying” by Joe Navarro

October 29, 2013

I’d never heard of “What every BODY is saying,” but I had heard the name Joe Navarro. When I came across this Ragan article, I knew I had to choose it for my assignment. It was a fantastic choice.

Former FBI agent and author Joe Navarro has a skill that communications professionals from journalists to social media marketers covet. Joe Navarro can read body language. In a world where information can be anywhere in seconds via text or video, it’s a necessity to master nonverbal communication, knowing how to read people and how people will read you.

Public relations professionals place a lot of emphasis on writing and monitoring the corporate online presence but not nearly enough on observation and communication within the physical world.  Joe Navarro teaches us how to do this, over and over again- nearly bashing our skulls in with how many times he emphasizes certain points. So while it is important to observe the world around you from head to toe (legs and feet are the most truth-telling parts of the body), you don’t actually have to read this book from start to finish.

Here is where you can buy the book. Oh, and you might want to download the image found on this guy’s blog post. It’s very handy.

Chapter 1: Mastering the Secrets of Nonverbal Communication

  • This chapter basically gave an outline for all nonverbal communication. But mostly, it places high emphasis on explaining the importance of observation. One of the many points he said 1,000 times in the book is that observation is key and must be practiced vigilantly. We speak without speaking by using nonverbal communication. In order to communicate nonverbally, we need to learn how to observe. This is not something we’d learn in graduate school, or anywhere really.  But, “Observation is like a muscle. It grows stronger with use and atrophies without use.”

  • The first point important to PR is made almost immediately in the book. We should always be aware of eye blocking in our clients, coworkers and in ourselves.  “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 evolved to protect the brain from “seeing” undesirable images and to communicate our disdain toward others.”

  • Learn to recognize and decode nonverbal behaviors that are universal and idiosyncratic.

  • Perhaps the most important bullet point in the entire review is this. When interacting with others, try to establish their baseline behaviors. Again, Mr. Navarro says it best, “By examining what’s normal, we begin to recognize and identify what’s abnormal.”

  • That way, you can pay better attention to change in their behaviors- which can usually be grouped into one of two almost oversimplifications, comfort and discomfort. “Learning to read comfort and discomfort cues (behaviors) in others accurately will help you to decipher what their bodies and minds are truly saying.” If you’re having trouble reading someone, try to break it down into one of these two categories- especially before you’re caught observing them.

  • Look out for clusters or multiple tells- behaviors that can occur together-or in succession. Similarly, stay alert for any intention cues.

Chapter 2: Living Our Limbic Legacy

  • The Limbic, mammalian or honest part of the brain is a physical region of the brain where our nonverbal action comes from. One reason it is called the mammalian part of the brain is because it’s our animal instincts and survival responses which are nearly impossible to fake. The part of the brain that makes us human is the neocortex. It also happens to make us liars because it is where we deal with pesky logic and reasoning.

  • The limbic responses include these three forms: freeze, flight and flight.  Here is an example of freezing from Mr. Navarro, “…people being questioned about a crime will often fix their feet in a position of security (interlocked behind the chair legs) and hold that position for an inordinate amount of time.” Here is an example of (subtle) flight, and something more relevant in public relations to figure out who is uncomfortable around one another, “People lean away from each other subconsciously when they disagree or feel uncomfortable around each other.” Fighting is the last stage of the limbic survival responses and should be used as a last resort. This is important to realize even in nonverbal communications, which he notes.

  • Whenever our body engages in a limbic response, there are accompanying physical behaviors called pacifying behaviors that help calm is done from the threatening experience. Since they are “outward signals that can be read in real time,” we can observe them in context and respond to them immediately. Navarro goes on to explain their importance when he states, “To be successful at reading nonverbal behavior, learning to recognize and decode human pacifiers is absolutely critical. Why? Because pacifying behaviors reveal so much about a person’s current state of mind, and they do so with uncanny accuracy.”

  •  “Neck touching and/or stroking is one of the most significant and frequent pacifying behaviors we use in responding to stress,” and I do them a lot when I write my blog posts. In fact, they’re so universally used, you can always empathize with someone touching their neck at work or in school. You’ll also see people under stress touching their face a lot because “The plentiful supply of nerve endings in the face make it an ideal area of the body for the limbic brain to recruit to comfort itself.” He also states that “any touching of the face, head, neck, shoulder, arm, hand, or leg in response to a negative stimulus (e.g., a difficult question, an embarrassing situation, or stress as a result of something heard, seen, or thought) is a pacifying behavior.”

  • Navarro’s next point is extremely important working in public relations, and he even makes points relating to job interviews or sitting in front of media. This point is on “leg cleansing.”

  • Pacifiers don’t need to be tactile. Whistling and yawning are also pacifying behaviors.

  • When you see a pacifying gesture ask yourself what caused it. Pacifying behaviors are almost always used to calm a person after a stressful event. Linking a pacifying behavior with a specific stressor can help you better understand the person of observation. When prepping your employee for their next interview with a journalist, watch for pacifying behaviors in high stress environments. The greater the stress or discomfort the more likely a pacifying behavior will follow.

  • “In certain circumstances you can actually say or do something to see if it stresses an individual to better understand his thoughts and intentions.”

Chapter 3: Getting a leg up on body language

  • The legs and feet are the most honest part of our body. All of our emotions can manifest themselves through the feet. “Nervousness, stress, fear, anxiety, caution, boredom, restlessness, happiness … lethargy, playfulness, sensuality, and anger can all manifest through the feet and legs.” Since the dawn of time, our feet were the first things to freeze, flight, or fight when presented with dangerous situations. “When it comes to honesty, truthfulness decreases as we move from the feet to the head.” The problem is that people rarely understand or are able to decode what the actions of our feet mean.

  • Besides that astonishing fact, the most important thing I learned in his chapter is “happy feet.” Happy feet can be seen in those quote, “We tend to turn toward things we like or are agreeable to us, and that includes individuals with whom we are interacting. We tend to turn away from things that we don’t like or that are disagreeable to us.”

  • Our feet also shift away from something or a situation that makes us uncomfortable or angry or as an indication that we need to leave.

  • The dominance stance of leg splays communicates something is wrong. “If we catch ourselves in a leg-splay posture during a heated exchange and immediately bring our legs together, it often lessens the confrontation level and reduces the tension.”

  • “Seated leg crosses are also revealing. When people sit side by side, the direction of their leg crosses become significant. If they are on good terms, the top leg crossed over will point toward the other person.”

  • “Conversely, when we don’t like someone or don’t feel close to them, we move our feet away immediately if they accidentally touch beneath the table. As a relationship wanes, a very clear sign couples often miss is that there will be progressively less foot touching of any kind.”

  • But most importantly to PR, “If you are dealing with a person who is socializing or cooperative with you, his or her feet should mirror your own.”

Chapter 4: Torso Tips

  • The Torso Lean (see bullet point on flight in chapter two)

  • Ventral denial is any shift of the front of our bodies away from something we don’t like. Ventral fronting is displaying our ventral sides to those we like.

  • He also describes the Torso Shield for “when it’s impractical or socially unacceptable to lean away from someone or something we dislike, we often subconsciously use our arms or objects as barriers.”

  • A single shoulder shrug shows lack of confidence, evasion, or deception.

Chapter 5: Knowledge Within Reach

  • “When we’re upset or fearful, we withdraw our arms,” Navarro wrote. An insecure person will subconsciously restrain their arms.

  • Honestly, this chapter seemed a little pointless and common sense.

Chapter 6: Getting a Grip

  • Be alert for micro expressions. These are quick changes in hand movements that can reveal infinitely more than intended.

  • “Hiding your hands creates a negative impression: keep them visible.”

  • “Putting people at ease when they are stressed is one of the best ways to ensure more honest, effective, and successful interactions.”

  • “Research tells us liars tend to gesture less, touch less, and move their arms and legs less than honest people.”

  • “The hands are powerful transmitters of our emotional state. Use them in your own nonverbal communications and count on them to provide valuable nonverbal intelligence about others.”

  • Honestly, this chapter seemed a little pointless and common sense.

Chapter 7: The Mind’s Canvas

  • This was all about nonverbals of the face. I think everyone has a pretty good grasp on how the face, mouth and eyes work with each other to express intended and unintended messages and emotions.

  • Honestly, this chapter also seemed a little pointless and common sense.

Chapter 8: Detecting Deception

  • First, it is important to remember that one of these behaviors alone does not prove deception. It is important to look for these behaviors in clusters. What makes deception so difficult to detect is the fact that since we were young we have been liars and we as a species have become very good at doing it.

  • When judging honesty, it is important to look for the spectrum of comfort and discomfort. When listening to people talk, look for emphasis.

  • Synchrony is mirroring of the two people’s behavior that are talking to each other.

  • Be aware how head movement matches the message.

  • Everything in this chapter was in every other chapter.

For further review and quotes from the book, read this blog post and this blog post.