You’re Telling a Story Without Words. Make Sure It’s the Right One.
By Moriah Kofsky
I am a connection junkie who indulges in connecting with and understanding people. So, over the course of two summers, I worked in a psychology lab coding 300 videos of people’s micro and macro expressions for a study on emotional contagion. This included identifying the seven universal micro expressions* on subjects’ faces and examining larger body language cues, such as crossing one’s arms.
While doing this body language work, I began exploring the subject outside the lab. I read The Origin of Species to better understand the relationship between primates and body language as well as contemporary body language books. I also completed online body language training and binged watched all of Lie to Me– a show that uses the research of the biggest contributor in the body language field, Paul Ekman.
I became obsessed with the niche field of body language, specifically its relation to deception. And it may or may not have helped me catch some deceivers in the act.
If you, like me, are interested in examining body language, it’s important to note that body language must be perceived as a gestalt. For example, a shoulder shrug can mean, “I genuinely don’t know” but can also signify uncertainty the person is trying to conceal. To decode if someone is lying, ask yourself, is he or she making a committed statement but shrugging their shoulder at the same time? If so, they’re probably lying.
There are abundant intricacies to detecting lies from the rhythm we wag our pointer finger while making a false statement (e.g. Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”) to shaking your head no when you’re verbalizing yes. Yet you don’t necessarily need to work in a lab to recognize body language. Fortunately, we mostly internalize others’ expressions subconsciously – not deliberately.
Body language accounts for 55% of our overall communication. If you’re surprised, think about how difficult it can be to convey and discern emotion an email or text message.
Check out this clip of Mitt Romney discussing Obamacare. Now play it from 5:55 – 6:07. Did you see it?
In between 6:04 and 6:05, Romney displays anger in a micro expression while he’s discussing how implementing Obamacare will cause up to 20 million Americans “to lose the insurance they like and want to keep.” It’s so fast that the man analyzing his body language even misses it. But it’s there — and as long as you didn’t blink, your mind subconsciously absorbs it. While Romney says this, he also shifts his weight and looks down. And, after Romney says, “that they like and they want to keep,” he glances up with his eyes before putting his head up to almost say “did anyone see that?” Did you notice that he looks down when he discusses insurance in other parts of his speech as well?
In combination, this body language does not necessarily mean Romney is lying, but it does mean something. Potentially, Romney is not as comfortable and confident talking about Obamacare as other subjects.
Woden helps businesses develop and tell their compelling story. Now, you can use these body language tips to bolster the genuineness when communicating it:
- Put your hands on your hips before meeting with a client. Placing your hands on the hips is a power pose. Holding this pose for two minutes will stimulate testosterone, a hormone linked to power and dominance, and lower cortisol.
- Focus your body toward the person you want to show attention to. For example, make sure your feet are pointing toward them while sitting down.
- Be honest. It is nearly impossible to disguise inconsistencies in what you say and how it’s said.
- Cross your arms. Even if you’re cold, this can make you seem defensive!
- Put your hands on your hips. This is often perceived as defensive.
- Touch your face, especially your nose. This is a classic indicator that you’re lying.
- Fake a smile. The muscles in your face you use to force a smile are not the same you use with a genuine smile.
- Point with your pointer finger. This appears aggressive.
- Rest your head on your hand. Even if you’re using it for support, it will make you seem tired and disinterested.
*The seven universal micro-expressions include happiness, sadness, contempt, fear, surprise, anger, and disgust. These emotions manifest in the same facial expressions in all humans.
Moriah Kofsky is an Associate at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, let Woden help. Read our free Storytelling Blueprint, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help tell your story.