Former FBI Agent Explains How to Read Body Language

What does it mean when we fold our arms? Why do we interlace our fingers? Can a poker player actually hide their body language?

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Non verbals are anything that communicates

but is not a word.

The public knows them as body language.

How we dress, how we walk, have meaning,

and we use that to interpret

what's in the mind of the person.

[dramatic music]

My name is Joe Navarro, and for 25 years

I was a special agent with the FBI.

My job was to catch spies.

Most of my career I spent within

the national security division.

A lot of it had to do with looking at specific targets

and then it was about well how do we get in their heads

and how do we neutralize them?

Our security is based on non verbals.

We look at the person through the peep hole,

we look at who's behind us at the ATM machine.

We know from the research that most of us

select our mates based on non verbals.

So we may think we're very sophisticated,

but in fact we are never in a state

where we're not transmitting information.

There's a lot of myths out there.

The ones that stand out is if you cross your arms,

that it's a blocking behavior.

That's just nonsense.

Even when you don't like the person that is in front of you,

this isn't to block them out, it's actually to self soothe.

Because in essence it's a self hug.

When you're sitting at a movie and you're watching,

you're gonna cross your arms.

You're waiting for somebody, you tend to do this.

What's interesting is we do this behavior

more in public than in private.

The other one that really stands out is

as we think about something we may look in a certain way,

as we process the information we may look in another way.

It's certainly not indicative of deception

and it really shouldn't be used that way.

All we can say is the person is processing the information.

The other misconceptions are that

if the person clears their throat,

touches their nose or covers their mouth,

they're lying.

We do these behaviors as self soothers,

they're pacifying behaviors.

Scientifically and empirically,

there's just no Pinocchio effect.

And people who prattle that and say

well we can detect deception because the person

touches their nose or covers their mouth,

that's just sheer nonsense.

We humans are lousy at detecting deception.

Espionage work is often nowhere near

what we see in movies, and in one of the cases

we had information from another country saying

you have an American we think is actually a mole,

who somehow entered the United States,

is able to pass as an American,

but he's here working for a hostile intelligence service.

And just fortuitously, he was videographed

coming out of a flower shop.

We're looking at the video and everybody in our small unit,

we were saying well there's not much there.

You know, he's coming out of the shop, getting in his car.

And I said, Stop the film right there.

Just as he came out of the shop

he took the flowers, and most Americans tend to

hold the flowers by the stalk so that the flowers are up.

This individual took them and grabbed the stalk

and then held the flowers so that they were facing down.

And I said, That's how they carry flowers

in Eastern Europe.

Rather than confront him about are you a spy,

I decided to do what's called a presumptive.

So as I sat there with him, I said,

Would you like to know how we know?

And he had this look on his face,

and I said, It was the flowers.

And then he confessed.

When I came into law enforcement

I thought it was all about the confession.

It's really about face time.

In my 25 years in the FBI,

it was a rarity that a person didn't

eventually reveal what I needed to know

because we would sit down and have these

very lengthy conversations.

I look at behaviors to do an assessment.

What is this person transmitting in relation to any stimuli?

My further questioning comes from

my observing these behaviors.

The first thing I look at is I look at the hair.

Does it look healthy?

Does it look well groomed?

The forehead is very interesting

because a lot of times we reveal stress.

A lot of the things that we have gone through life

are often etched in the forehead.

I look at the eyes to see if they're red

or not enough sleep.

The small area here between the eyes called the glabella,

it's one of the first areas that reveals information to us.

Most often, when we don't like something,

we do that bunny nose of I don't like.

We don't really know what our lips look like,

and we tend to compress them when something bothers us.

When something really bothers us we tend to suck them in.

The mandibula and look at the cheeks.

We may do something like this,

we'll rub our tongue against the inside of the cheek.

But when we try to hide it, then it tells me that

this person is trying to do some perception management,

and if they are I wanna know why.

At the neck, I wanna see if there's any head tilt,

because head tilt, the person is more relaxed.

The minute the head tilt goes away

there's usually some issue.

I'm looking at the shoulders.

You ask somebody a question and they don't know,

both shoulders shoot up very quickly.

And then I look at the hands.

When something's troubling us,

we tend to stiffen our fingers,

interlace them, and almost like a tipi,

we move our hands back and forth very slowly.

This is to be differentiated from when

we do the steeple, which we do in this position.

When something's at issue we tend to put our

hands on our hips and we become very territorial.

This is called arms akimbo.

But look at how it changes when we put her thumbs forward,

and then it becomes one more of I'm inquisitive.

But I also look for any behaviors of ventilating,

because men tend to ventilate at the neck,

and we do it the very instant something bothers us.

And then I look at the legs to see if there's

any brushing of the legs with the hands,

which is again, to pacify.

And then the feet.

Do I see any behaviors such as wiggling of the feet,

kicking of the feet?

If I ask a question and all of a sudden

the feet withdraw and are crossed,

perhaps the person feels a little

threatened by that question.

So when we study non verbals it's not about

making judgements, it's about assessing

what is this person transmitting in that moment?

It really is looking at an individual

and saying what are they transmitting?

We're all transmitting at all times.

We choose the clothes that we wear,

how we groom ourselves, how we dress.

But also how do we carry ourselves?

Are we coming to the office on this particular day

with a lot of energy, or are we coming in

with a different sort of pace?

And what we look for are differences in behavior,

down to the minutia of what is this individual's posture

as they're walking down the street?

Are they on the inside of the sidewalk, on the outside?

Can we see his blink rate?

Can we see how often he's looking at his watch?

I know your blink rate is around eight times a minute,

but you don't know that, you're not sitting there counting.

All these things factor in because they're

transmitting information.

Now it's up to us to then use that information

to say okay, we need to marshal resources

to be on that individual right now.

Hi, Mark, good to meet you, Hannah.

[Joe] So in most Western cultures,

the first time people touch is when they shake hands.

Touching becomes that important,

because we can always remember a time when we

shook hands with someone and we didn't like that.

It's also the first time when our bodies

release these bonding chemicals that say

I like this person or I don't like this person.

So hand shaking is both necessary

and essential in most cultures.

Pigeons are supposed to be like dirty birds,

nobody actually ever kept them as a pet.

Ladies, hi, I'm Joe Navarro.

Joe, I'm Laura, nice to meet you.

Laura, how are you?

And you are?

Hi, nice to meet you, Kateshia.

Kateshia, how are you?

I'm good.

[Joe] Let me ask you this.

Let's back up a little bit.

Is this comfortable for you?

Yes.

Yeah.

It's a little bit more comfortable,

but it's not for you is it?

Nope.

Alright, thank you.

Alright, so, keep talking.

What we've done here is we've talked about

the importance of space and comfort.

They don't is how much further apart they are now standing,

and it's because we have brought the subject up

to make them comfortable about saying hey,

it's okay to be comfortable at your perfect distance.

And so now we see when they rock,

they rock away from each other and they create this space.

If you notice, their feet tend to move around more.

There's a dynamic going on here,

where they're kinda trying to find

well what is the perfect space?

What is the perfect distance?

And we know that they're unsettled

because of the high degree of movement that's going on.

[Male] Check.

Poker's an interesting game.

The similitude of sitting across from a spy

or sitting across from players,

it's their reactions to a stimulus.

We have behaviors indicative of psychological discomfort

that we use at home, at work, or at the poker table.

So we're gonna take a look at poker players

and some of the body language that you'll find

at a typical poker game.

So we'll pause it right there.

So one of the things that you first notice

is that when a table is called,

this is the first time any of them see each other.

This is a great opportunity to be looking for

behaviors indicative of discomfort.

We're gonna see the individual shifting in his chair.

We're gonna see one individual reaching over

and grabbing his shoulder.

The woman in this case, her shoulders are rather high.

This is a great opportunity, even before the game starts,

to collect poker intelligence.

[Male] Alright guys, button is good.

Button is good, let's do this.

So we'll stop right there.

Look where their hands are at.

Here we're looking at player number two and number three,

and we notice right away that their hands

are on top of the cards.

Some players will cage their cards,

some players will put their hands

directly on top and press them down.

And they may do that because the cards

have now increased in value.

Player number one tends to keep his hands

very close to his body.

Player number four, she's actually withdrawn

her hands from the table, because when we like things

we tend to move our hands forward.

When we don't like things we tend to move the hands away.

This guy saw my cards.

So as we look at player number three,

I'm often asked about players who shuffle their chips.

What you're really doing is self soothing,

and this just helps you to make it through the game,

and that's really all we're looking for.

Oh come on!

Okay so we'll stop right there.

Player number five is sitting there, arms crossed.

You don't see a lot of activity.

That doesn't mean he's not transmitting

a lot of information.

On down the line, I wanna see where those thumbs of his are,

because he holds 'em very close when nothing's going on,

but does that change as the game evolves?

If you're looking at non verbals it's often useful

to look at 'em at double the speed,

because all the non verbals that are critical

jump out at you as though it were a caricature.

Alright, so stop right there.

The woman in position number four,

you see her head moving around quite a bit.

Player number three, you see a lot of

activity with his hands.

When we look at player number five,

now his hands are fully out.

This is as far as we've seen them before.

At this point we know that he's engaged

and that he's interested.

Now, the game is out in the open.

75 to 80% of the information we need is sitting out there.

What you often see is everybody's looking at their own cards

or looking at the community cards,

rather than looking around.

You should be looking around to see

well what was the reaction,

because you're gonna see that reaction again.

You know, in poker we used to say

that you can have a poker face

but I encountered you can't have a poker body.

Somewhere it's gonna be revealed.

When I was in college in the early 70s

there were really no courses on non verbal communications.

You quickly realize that to a great extent

it's really about what you can interpret from behavior.

And so we talk about non verbals because it matters,

because it has gravitas, because it affects how

we communicate with each other.

When it comes to non verbals, this is no small matter.

We primarily communicate non verbally and we always will.

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