Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Body Speaks. And You Can Learn Its Language!

Every writer has heard the adage “Show don’t tell.” But how do you do that? Ever wonder how to describe a villain’s glower? The heroine’s anguish?

Some helpful tips come in “What Every Body Is Saying,” written by: Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI agent who specialized in non-verbal intelligence. Joe offers some answers for your next writing projects.

His book will have you “speed-reading” people with just a bit of practice. Sentences in your manuscript such as, “He was angry,” will be transformed to “He squinted. His forehead furrowed, his jaw tightened and lips drew together, almost vanishing.”

Joe tells writers what to look for when studying the person’s feet, legs, torso, arms, hands and face. He offers insights into what that behavior means and shares anecdotes of how he has used non-verbal clues to negotiate situations in his personal and professional life.

OK, to whet your appetite, here are 13 tips on non-verbal communication from this intriguing book.

1. You’ve heard about the “flight or fight” response when people are confronted with danger, but did you know that before they make their choice, they freeze?

2. The freeze reaction, the author says, helps people to “hide” from predators and take a moment to process the situation and its options.

3. They sometimes signal discomfort by rubbing their foreheads.

4. When people are nervous, they often engage in pacifying or comforting behaviors. Such as hair twirling, face touching or even gum chewing and cigarette smoking.

5. A person rubbing his or her neck may be saying that you or the topic you’re discussing are a pain in the neck.

6. In a tense business meeting, a man may pause to adjust his tie.

7. After a near accident, a man may exhale with puffed-out cheeks.

8. Want to know if a couple is getting along? Look at their legs and feet. Are their bodies turned toward each other? Are their feet close to each other? Generally, people position their body to lean TOWARD someone they like.

9. We lean AWAY from people we disagree with.

10. When we can move away from unpleasant situations or people, we often use our arms as barriers. We cross them over our chests.

11. We also can use our clothes as barriers. In an uncomfortable situation, we may pull a sweater closed or button a jacket.

12. Ever seen someone “steeple” their hands, placing fingertips to fingertips. That signals confidence.

13. Lowering your chin and tucking your hand between raised shoulders signals the opposite -- a lack of confidence.

To sum up, “What Every Body is Saying” is packed full of nonverbal behaviors you can interpret and use to add richness to your writing. If you want to dramatically SHOW your characters’ emotions – not just put a one-word label on them -- I highly recommend this book. You can bet it’ll be on my holiday list.


  1. I freeze when it's cold, like today, lol ! but there is a lot of truth in body language !

  2. Sounds like a really interesting book!

  3. That's an incredibly interesting list! I'll have to check out the book.

    Question for you. I'm looking for "stops" on my virtual book tour. I'm looking for blogs where I can "visit" and either be interviewed about the new book, or just chat, or host a virtual tea, or really any interesting idea. Would you guys be willing to be a stop? Your blog seems perfect for it (minus the paranormal part. ha!)

  4. Hmm... can't say I agree with these at all. It seems to be looking at a small sampling of data. Reflex can make all the difference... and not everyone responds to certain stimuli the same way.

    For example, the "freeze" can be time when the neuron pathways disseminate data too slowly due to overload... case in point is the many military generals who "freeze up" in battles... most notably, General Stonewall Jackson did this at the first battle of Bull Run initially. Our brains can literally overload as shown on multiple MRI experiments... and go into a suspended state. "Zoning out" even at times of non-stress is a similar experience.

    When aggressively disagreeing with someone, humans (and all animals) will move towards a their "rival" to show a bigger "size"... an attempt to "tower over" or "force" issues... not everyone does this, but again, enough do to make it noteworthy.

    People will "point" themselves at any area of interest... such as at a party, a loving couple might be standing together, but facing towards what concerns/attracts them... this is preparation to "move towards" whatever it is... and if they're not looking at each other, this does not necessarily mean they're not in love... just distracted at the time.

    I tend to only "steeple" my hands when in deep thought or contemplation... as do many others. Also, culturally, because of prayer stances and meditation, it can be a taught reflex to bring hands together in a similar pattern to show worry or concern.

    Adjusting a tie in a tense moment is to allow more oxygen to get through the wind pipe/arteries... and to allow ventilation of the neck... but that's not only in tension, it also can be during (obviously) physical exertion... or even gastric distress.

    Lowering of a chin may also be a sign of subjugation... like a dog lowering it's face and tail... not making direct eye contact.

    Still, it is a data sampling... and has value... but it still doesn't hurt to understand yourself and others more thoroughly...

  5. Body language sure does tell a lot about a person. Thanks for all these great facts. Happy TT and thanks for stopping by my place.

  6. I need to get my hands on this book! I need to have my son read this book too. He has Nonverbal Learning Disorder which means that all this nonverbal language is totally lost on him. It could be a useful read for him!

  7. I always learn something interesting when I visit you and your TTs. Thanks!

    Body language really fascinates me.

  8. Profiling is such an interesting topic! Great TT!

  9. DoubleDeckerBusGuy,
    Perhaps I've oversimplified the points Joe Navarro makes in his book. Mr. Navarro stresses that a good observer should take the gestures and body movements as part of a whole picture, as a piece of the puzzle. He’d agree with you that there isn't one simple explanation for each behavior exhibited.

    The book" What Every Body is Saying" is much better than my description of it and worth the read. And as always, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Thanks.

  10. I might add this book to my wishlist too, it really sounds intriguing!
    Thanks for visiting my TT.

  11. Interesting stuff. Especially #9. I will have to remember to be aware of that. Very cool. Happy TT and thanks for stopping by:)

  12. I enjoyed the list you shared from the book. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  13. I agree with #11 - makes one feel safe to be bundled up. Thanks for visiting my T13 (book sources).

  14. Fabulous!! I need this book! Thanks for sharing

  15. That was very interesting!

  16. I didn't play along this week, but did want to stop by and say thank you for your kind words :) Hope you are having a goodly weekend!

  17. Yet another book I need to get a hold of. Thanks!

  18. And both cops and criminals use body language to their advantage.