Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reading Body Language with Joe Navarro

by Andrea Campbell

I am happy to share my new friend, Joe Navarro, with my readers. I think you'll enjoy my interview with Joe and take him into your thoughts.

Q.: Joe, for Women in Crime Ink readers, please describe your background.

 A.: I was born in Cuba, but as with so many, we fled communism and the cult of Fidel Castro and found refuge in America. I grew up in Miami and went to school at Brigham Young University to play football. Upon graduation, I was hired by the FBI, where I served for twenty-five years in counter-intelligence. In essence, I was a spy-catcher.

 Q.: What are non-verbal communications?

 A.: Non-verbal communications encompass anything we do as humans that share thoughts, feelings, or intentions, or that appeal to our aesthetic as well as comfort needs. Everything from art, to soothing colors, to good behavior, comes under that broad umbrella, including body language, which is exactly that: what we communicate with our bodies. 

 Q.: Your book, "What Every Body is Saying," is the result of what type of experience?

A.: What Every Body is Saying is based on thirty-plus years of study, training, and teaching, along with hands-on experience. I wrote it to share with others what I learned the hard way by studying non-verbals for many years and by using  that knowledge in a forensic and intelligence setting, where few mistakes are allowed.
(At right above: A man with compressed lips. Compressed lips are always associated with negative emotions or with something we dislike.)

Q.: In "Every Body," you mention that your family and childhood are partly responsible for your instinct for this discipline. How so? 

A.: As with most children, I learned to read those around me. In doing so, I learned to look for their most-useful behaviors, and I learned to look for the things I saw them look for. My mother always insisted on making others comfortable; in doing so she garnered friends from many walks of life and faith. I learned the power of making others comfortable to achieve better interpersonal relationships. Coming to a country where I did not speak the language meant I had to rely heavily on learning to read others. So I became very sensitive to body language.

 Q.: What are some key principles readers should keep in mind about speed-reading others?

 A.: 1. Our bodies are constantly transmitting information about our thoughts, feelings, and intentions. There is no such thing as a body that says nothing. The body is always “on.” Even when someone is deep in REM sleep, their body tells us when they're having a nightmare.
 2. Everyone has different but consistent ways of displaying comfort and discomfort in real time. You may bite your lip when you are stressed, while I press my lips together. Each action and expression serves the same purpose: to pacify us.
 3. We can improve our interactions with others, from children and spouses to workmates and friends, by reading their body language accurately.
 4. Being able to read and interpret body language is key to success in any venture and what Daniel Goleman talked about when he wrote Emotional Intelligence.
 5. Body language alerts us to dangers or potential dangers. When Gavin de Becker wrote The Gift of Fear, he was talking about body language that warns us of danger. It's something we should teach our children and loved ones. For example: Teach children to summon an elevator themselves and to stand far back from the doors while waiting. Only once they've read and quickly summed up the body language of those inside as safe should they enter. Children who wait too close to the doors may feel compelled to step inside as soon as the car stops, without taking a moment to assess others around them.
 6. We can use body language to enhance leadership qualities as well as communicate more effectively. The best leaders have great body-language skills.
 7. Body language is a world-wide lingua franca. When all else fails, our body language will save us.
 8. Non-verbals are all around us, from the curbside appeal of your local bank to your own, personal appeal.
 9. Body language can assist us in detecting deception, but that's very tricky.
 10. Learning to read others accurately enhances our lives and those of the people we care for.

Q.: How were you able to use these skills with the FBI?

A.: In the FBI, body language is the one element you use every day, whether for surveillance or for interviewing.  We watch as a criminal leaves his house. How do we, as observers, know he is up to no good? We look at how often he looks at his watch, how often he peers inside the store he is considering robbing, how many cigarettes he smokes every thirty minutes as his stress level builds, how often he touches the belt on his strong-arm side, where he's hidden his weapon. All these non-verbals tell the trained eye that he's “casing” a place to rob, and that he is armed. 
(At right: Here a woman is touching the neck dimple, or suprasternal notch, which we do when we are insecure, concerned, anxious, afraid, or emotionally troubled.)

Q.: What exactly is counter-intelligence? How many people are in this profession?

A.: Counter-intelligence is that part of the intelligence community that looks for spies and terrorists. It attempts to identify, recruit, penetrate or neutralize them through legal means. The number of people who work counter-intelligence is always classified, but I can tell you we never had enough help. At any one time, we have 20 or more countries spying aggressively against the United States; counter-intelligence agents try to block such spying. 

Q.: What are the benefits of knowing body language and its signs?

A.:  The benefits are that you can read people’s feelings, thoughts, intentions. For instance, while you are talking to someone, you notice their right foot is pointed toward the exit. You know they would like to talk more, but the foot is very accurately saying "I have to leave -- now, in this direction." It allows you to say, “I know you have to get going; we'll talk later.” Or, you see that someone immersed in a cell-phone conversation is holding his heel to the ground and toes in the air. When he's through, you ask: “Good news?” The question is safe because the posture of his foot already answered you. Reading body language makes you look smart, sensitive and caring, at times almost clairvoyant.

Q.: How could we, as ordinary people, interpret and use these signals? How do we learn to do that? How long does it take to become proficient? 

A.: The beauty of body language is that we come elegantly equipped to study it and put it to use immediately. It's not like trigonometry. If I tell you, accurately, that we only touch or massage our necks when something is troubling us, you can put that knowledge to use immediately. And the beauty of it is that you can learn to read and empirically validate more unconscious cues every day. It's a skill that can be learned but is perishable if not practiced. Every study I've read says we can always hone these skills, and that women are usually slightly better than men at reading non-verbals. How long it takes to become proficient depends on how much effort you put into learning and practicing. I've had people take my online course and become highly proficient and professional within four months.

An interesting phenomenon is today's high incidence of autism in children. Autistic children are innately unable to read body language, including basic facial expressions. They must be taught to recognize non-verbal cues and to understand what they mean. That training may help them work with other people and even develop empathy, breaking through their internal isolation.

Q.: Would you relate a particularly interesting criminal case to illustrate this discipline?

A.: I interviewed one spy for over a year. During that time, he confessed, but we didn't arrest him because we wanted him to lead us to others. As in most spy or terror cells, each member knows as little as possible. This spy didn't have the particular information we were looking for, but he likely knew someone who did. He refused to identify anyone involved with him. So we assembled a stack of index cards with the names of each person who might have access to that information.

Twice he reacted to a name; his pupils constricted and the orbits of his eyes narrowed. Out of 32 names, his unconscious eye behavior accurately revealed the two who later confessed. Our pupils constrict and our eye orbits narrow in response to things that can hurt us or make us uncomfortable. (At right, above: This man is rubbing his hands with his fingers intertwined. That reveals a high degree of concern or worry. It usually shows up when someone is trying to explain something very complicated or dense, or when someone is receiving bad news.)

Q.: How have you used these skills outside of criminal applications?

A.: In business, knowing body language is imperative. At one meeting where two sides were negotiating and a contract was being read aloud, I noticed opposing counsel purse his lips when he got to one particular paragraph. Because I caught the signal in time, our lead negotiator used the information then and there, saving us almost $13 million. Pursed lips mean "I disagree" or "I'd rather we do something else."

Q.: What is “concerted observation”? How do we learn to use it, and how hard is it to learn? Is it beyond the reach of some people no matter how hard they try? 

A.: Concerted observation means that we see, observe, interpret, and then use the knowledge body language gives us. It's the opposite of passive observation, where we see cues but don't interpret them or use them. 

Some people can't read others, so they behave in ways that drive others away. They stand too close, don’t know when to stop talking, touch too much instead of observing the other person's unspoken reactions. When someone violates those rules, they make us uncomfortable. In turn, making others uncomfortable burdens the violator with a lifelong handicap that keeps desires and ambitions out of reach.

Q.: What are “multiple tells”?

A.: Multiple tells are clusters of behavior. I see or hear something I don’t like; I tense my jaw, compress my lips and squint my eyes. I don’t have to say a word. That cluster of behaviors, or multiple tells, reveal  attest to something negative no matter what my mouth says.
Q.: Do people have micro-expressions that are so natural, they don’t even realize they are doing them? Feel free to share a case.

A.: Think of micro-expressions as tiny leakage. We all leak something. Maybe it’s a fleeting smirk or a quick squint. The fact that it is small suggests that I am trying to suppress it. Ironically, trying to suppress it is what reveals it. Micro-expressions are very accurate. I interviewed a man who pushed his glasses up his nose with the middle finger of his right hand every time he was asked a question about his travel to China. This let me know he really didn't like those questions; otherwise, he'd have pushed his glasses up with his index finger. 

Q.: What are the most important features to fix on? And how do you observe someone without letting them know they're being watched?

A.: You have to relax your own eyes so people don’t feel you're stalking them. When your eyes relax, they take in more information. Learn to observe the whole body. Most people focus on the face, yet the feet are more accurate in revealing true feelings. For instance, if you walk next to someone you don't like, your feet will not step anywhere close to them.

Q.: Are all of us hard-wired to do one obvious thing?

A.: We're all hard-wired for emotional behavior and anything limbic in nature, such as the sense of smell. The limbic system, also known as the Paleomammalian brain or primitive brain, controls emotions such as anger, fear, and pleasure, along with motivations including those related to basic survival. So if you walk near the edge of a cliff, your limbic system makes you move carefully, protecting you from falling off.  This is hard-wired in. So is covering or closing our eyes when we hear something we don't like. Even children who are born blind cover their eyes.  

Q.: Asked a list of questions, such as “Did you do A? Did you do B?", do people always give themselves away with their body language?

A.: General questions don't usually elicit reactions that reveal the truth. Specific questions often do. For example, asked "did you kill her with a gun?" and "did you kill her with an ice pick?", the murderer knows he used an ice pick, so he'll show signs of discomfort only in reaction to the ice-pick question.

 Q.: Do you analyze people you meet, as a matter of habit?

 A.: It never stops. And it shouldn't for you. Always look for signs of comfort and discomfort. Like software, the search for signs runs in the background and alerts you when necessary. No, I never shut it down.

 Q.: Can parents use body-language knowledge to know their children better?

 A.: Absolutely. The ability to note and interpret body-language cues will help you see when a child is struggling with something, for example. You can use it to defuse tension between you and your child just by standing to the side when you ask questions rather than directly in front of him. When you stand directly in front of someone, they stop wanting to talk to you. People talk more honestly when sitting or walking side-by-side than when directly in front of each other. You can teach your children body language, as already described, to avoid dangers by reading others. There's much more, similarly useful, information in my book. 

Q.: So you blog? Where and why?

Yes. On Psychology Today.  It broadens my exposure to people interested in the subjects I write about; some 10,000 people read the blog articles.  

Q.: What are some of your other books about?

A.: Advanced Interviewing Techniques is about how to best shape questions, your own body language, and other factors to elicit the most information. 
Hunting Terrorists explains the terrorist mind and gives clue to identifying terrorists. 
Read ‘em and Reap is about the "tells" of poker players.
Louder than Words is about the non-verbals of business. 

I also have short, to-the-point books on Kindle. They deal with a variety of subjects including spotting psychopaths, body language of dating, and the psychology of body language. They can be found at:  http://tinyurl.com/y8nsmhv

Q.: What do you think of the popular television show "Lie to Me"? How about The Mentalist?

A.: The science behind Lie to Me is excellent, but I can assure you it's never as easy as they make it seem. Never. Many of the behaviors associated with deception are also associated with discomfort or stress. That’s why so many people who've since been exonerated by DNA had earlier confessed. They suffered so much stress under police questioning that they looked guilty; they signed confessions to relieve the stress. Best example of this: the New York Jogger case, in which five innocent teens were convicted of the rape and nearly fatal beating of a 28-year-old woman based on their videotaped confessions. They confessed after long hours of stressful police interrogation; they withdrew the confessions and pled not guilty at trial. The boys spent years in prison, and were only exonerated 13 years later when the real attacker confessed. Using the only DNA found at the scene, police verified his confession; the DNA matched him. Oops, people do become stressed when not properly interviewed.
As for the Mentalist, good TV I suppose, but not very accurate when it comes to the reality of it all. The shows are interesting but not realistic. 

Q.: What's on your agenda for the future?

A.:  I have eight books in my head waiting to be written. I'm scheduled for some 45 speeches a year, all over the world, for the next three years. I'm also hoping to make a new video with the BBC.  

If you have any questions about body language, write me at www.jnforensics.com. I try to answer all my e-mails.
Photos courtesy of Harper Collins

1 comment:

Frederico said...

I follow Joe Navarro on Twitter and have always enjoyed his insights and commentary. Watching Lie to Me really brings it home as well.