High Five – Getting the Business from Body Language

From Bob GilesHigh Five from Handshake 2.0:

In What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People, Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins say that there is a science of non-verbal communications -  facial expressions, gestures, physical movement, body distance, touching, posture, and dress – 60% of interpersonal communication.

The authors claim that knowledge of the science is good for business. Some of the observations are said to be verified by brain scans and centered in the limbic system.

Science or not, the authors present a fascinating array of observations (with pictures) that, when grouped, seem very consistent with everyday events. They note that business people travel rather than just use electronic communication because they want to see and hear the silent language of the people with which they must deal and take risks. Body language may be more truthful than the spoken word.

Here are a few pairs of their abstracted and re-phrased Conditions + Probable Message:

  • Troubled and something is wrong; pressing lips together
  • Nervousness, person unprepared; idiosyncratic behavior
  • Threatened, not liking what is being said; eyes squinted or shielded 
  • Stressed; face tense or contorted, eyebrows knitted, forehead furrowed
  • Nervousness; excessive sweating for the situation;
  • Fear; locked ankles behind front chair-legs
  • Fear, threat; avoiding eye contact (“hiding”)
  • Fear, threat, hostility, high anxiety; avoiding contact or conversation, closing eyes, rubbing eyes, placing hands in front of face, turning feet to nearest exit
  • Strongly disagree; lean away from person
  • Pacifying, lack of knowledge is threatening; touch or stroke lower front of neck or mouth, play with hair, stroke face
  • Relieving stress; neck touching
  • Slight or severe discomfort or doubt; stroke side of neck
  • Pacify; scratch forearm
  • Calming nervousness; self preening
  • Discomfort or insecurity; males- hand covers neck, females – manipulating necklace
  • High tension; seated and massaging top of leg under the table
  • Stress; male – shirt neck pull (to ventilate), female – hairtoss, adjusting blouse neck
  • Impatience; moving feet
  • Concluding a meeting; clasping both knees
  • Establishing control; splaying legs
  • Disagreement; legs never crossed, unstable
  • Submissive; standing feet-together
  • Arrival of un-liked person; uncrossing legs while standing
  • Friendly conversation; standing legs-crossed
  • Negative comment; seated, crossed leg and foot jiggling to kicking
  • Threatened; interlocking feet while seated
  • High comfort and agreement; leaning toward each other
  • Nervousness; female – carrying chest-shielding book(s)
  • Upset or fearful; withdraw arm
  • Comfort and dominance; hands locked behind the head
  • Confident and comfortable; arms spread over adjacent chair
  • Confident; finger tips to tips of both hands
  • Low confidence or status; thumbs in pockets
  • Suspicious; does not show hands
  • Lying; few gestures made
  • Pacifying concerns and anxiety; rubbing hands with interlocked fingers
  • Negative reaction; brief finger touch to eye
  • Distrust or unconvinced; eye roll, look askance
  • Anxiety; lips compressed and disappear
  • Disagreement; lips pursed
  • Big mix-up or failure; tongue seen between teeth and upper-lip.


Robert H. Giles, Jr. writes High Five for Handshake 2.0, a technology business news and Web 2.0 services enterprise of Handshake Media, Incorporated, a member company of business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks.  The opinions Robert Giles expresses are solely his own and are not necessarily shared by Handshake 2.0 or its clients, sponsors or advertisers. 

You can follow Robert H. Giles, Jr. on Twitter @Bob_Giles

Robert H. Giles, Jr. is a Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus with a vision for a rural land management system.  He writes two blogs, The Survivalists and Faunal Force. 

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