It sounds hard to believe, but it is said that the majority of our communication is portrayed through non-verbal communication. Initially, this may seem like an exaggerated statement, maybe even absurd, but it is a discovery backed by multiple scientific findings. We speak with our bodies a lot more than we think. Contrary to popular belief, body language is more than just a facial tick or an increased blink rate. Body language is our actions. It is the communication we relay without the use of words.
The reason this statistic is often considered exaggerated is because of the connotations which come with the words body language. The term implies that we are giving off involuntarily signals our conscious brain isn’t aware of. This isn’t true. We send intentional body language signals constantly. Jumping for joy, waving hello, arching an eyebrow; these are all examples of body language, albeit ones we’re fully aware of. All of these actions portray communication without the use of words.
In today’s society of excessive electronic communication and constant-connectivity, the emphasis we place on words has never been higher. Because of this, the amount of misinformation being spread across the world is at an all-time high due to the increasing reliance we place upon the transmitted word to deliver our thoughts. If the only element of transmitted information we have to rely on is the content itself, it makes it extremely difficult to ascertain its accuracy.
Body language, then, is one such tool which allows us a glimpse of the truth. While it is by no means a concrete certainty, body language serves as an additional layer of information we can use to gauge a person’s authenticity through our awareness of their subconscious actions.
The question often arises as to why humans struggle to conceal their deceit through body language. The answer, which could have a whole book dedicated to itself alone, comes down to a conflict between two separate parts of the brain. When a person is aware they’re lying, a cognitive contradiction arises which manifests itself as discrepancy between verbal and kinaesthetic actions. A suspect in an investigation may claim to have turned left after fleeing a crime scene, but their hands may signal to the right. The same suspect might cover their mouth during pivotal pieces of information, whilst not when revealing more minor details.
It is these unconscious signals given off which we should concern ourselves with when attempting to uncover deceit.
The “tells” to look for may depend on person to person. Each person has their own specific traits, both consciously and unconsciously. However, there are many “universal” signs to look out for.
The Safety Zone
Body language is very Freudian in its concept, meaning that figurative desires often manifest physically. When a person feels as though they’re being interrogated, it is subconscious nature to attempt to magnify the space around them. If they feel cornered in their mind, they will attempt to find open space physically.
People will subconsciously move farther away if they have something to hide. This can be something as minor as leaning more to one direction in order to expand the space between the person and interrogator. They may lean back on their chair or move it farther away from the table than necessary.
Folding one’s arms is a similar indicator of a desire for personal space as it acts as a makeshift barrier around the person. It’s also one of the biggest signs that person is maintain a defensive standpoint; something which heavily indicates dishonesty. This mental barrier is also apparent when a person purposely places an object on the table between themselves and their accuser; maybe a coffee cup or a laptop. It is a psychological barrier manifested as a physical one.
Legs and Feet
It is a common myth that the most telling part of a person’s body is their face. This is entirely incorrect. Most body language experts agree that the most revealing sign of a person’s anatomy is their feet.
For millions of years, the feet have been our primary method of transportation. When a dangerous situation presents itself, we either run, attack or freeze – all of which are initiated by our feet. This primitive instinct remains in us today and is an incredibly effective method of determining a person’s true intentions.
If a person’s feet are pointed in a direction other than directly at you, this indicates a desire to exit the situation. If they are pointed specifically towards the door in the room, there is a good chance they’re concealing the truth from you.
We’ve all seen a person who continually taps their foot against the floor or jitters their legs while they’re sitting. This is usually a sign of nervousness and the desire for the legs to engage in motion (i.e. escape), however it should be mentioned that it is not always indicative of dishonesty.
Crossing one’s legs is very telling of a person’s disposition. For example, if they’re sitting opposite you and their legs are crossed, this is a further example of the literal barrier between you and them, therefore suggesting they have something to hide. However, if they’re sitting at an angle to you, and their legs are crossed but their body still remains ‘open’, this is a sign of positivity.
Arms and Hands
As mentioned above, crossed arms are the biggest indicator of a defensive disposition, and the act itself violates an important body language principle. That is, that a lack of a body language should be treated as suspicious. For example, when we speak, we naturally gesture with our hands when we mention things such as directions, locations, “over there”, up or down, etc. When this lack of gesturing is obvious, it means the bearer is consciously trying to control his body language, indicating some type of guilt.
The natural position for a person’s hands to be in are resting on the table with their palms either facing downwards or together. Sometimes people may place their palms upwards although it is an unnatural position, but still indicates positivity. When a person is lying, their hands may clench together as though they are keeping something concealed in their fists. If not a clenched hand, their palms may also “fold” (into a type of lightly-held fist).
As with the arms and hands, our mid sections (particularly our waist) are fluid during natural conversation. We often turn to face the people we’re talking to and our whole mid-section tends to move along with us. Therefore, it is the absence of this motion which indicates dishonesty.
If the person you’re speaking to is unnaturally “stiff”, it is a form of defence against their body language tells being noticed. You may be familiar with the age-old notion of ‘fight or flight’. In a scenario such as simply talking one on one with a person, neither fight nor flight is really option as both lean themselves quite heavily towards guilt. Instead, a third option makes itself known: freeze.
Everyone is familiar with the universal shrug of the shoulders which basically says “I don’t know”. When someone is presented with a question they genuinely don’t know the answer to, their shrug will be “fully-formed”; it will be done with gusto. They will actively raise their shoulders from the ground in unison and have complete control of them until they’re lowered again. It is this defying-of-gravity actions with the shoulders which shows that a person is confident and committed to what the claims they’re making.
In contrast, a person who is lying will give a kind of half-shrug. It will be uncontrolled, sloppy, shoulders may be unequal (one may rise higher than the other), the shoulders won’t lift very high and the shrug will last barely a second.
In short, strong shoulders are honest, weak shoulders are liars.
Any facial expression which lingers for longer than is necessary is a sign the person is hiding something. Think of a child being told off while he maintains a smug grin – an unnatural reaction to mask his true feelings.
A person’s rate of blinking may increase during times of distress. We blink between 10-20 times per minute, and this will increase to around 40-45 times if a person is hiding something. Unconscious head movements which contradict verbal statements are particularly revealing. For example, a person may say “I wasn’t involved” while their head slightly moves forward, mimicking a nod.
Any kind of trembling in the face will also indicate nervousness, particular after a period of time when the nervousness should have subsided. This is particularly noticeable in a person’s lips. If their mouth quivers, they are likely not telling the truth. If at any point they also “hide” their lips, i.e. by squeezing them together until their lips retract from view, this is a sign of extreme discomfort and likely deceit.