We’ve all been there - trying to work out what’s behind someone’s poker face.
Los Angeles-based Eric Barker, who blogs at Barking Up The Wrong Tree about human behavioural science and psychology, has put together some tips to help even the most socially awkward individual to read body language like a pro.
If you think someone might not mean what they’re saying, his advice is to look for “unconscious behaviours that are not easily controlled and convey a clear message".
Here are some of his most useful pointers:
1. Use common sense
Context is everything - crossed arms may mean someone is being defensive or is trying to cheat you, but if their chair doesn’t have arms or it’s cold then there might be much simpler reason they’re doing it.
2. Look for mimicry
Copycat behaviour - both in speech and body language - is a sign someone is emotionally in sync with you that’s hard to fake.
3. Nervous energy
The higher someone’s activity levels, the more likely it is they’re excited or interested in what you’re saying. Women will bounce their feet if they’re interested in a man, and men do it if they’re nervous, says research from the University of Manchester.
Someone who is consistent with their timing and emphasis on words is more likely to be focused and in control. If you’re seeking to influence them, they may not be swayed.
5. Don’t focus on individual signs
There’s no such thing as a single “tell” that’s a foolproof way of knowing what someone’s saying with their body. Look instead for clusters of actions - if you notice someone is bouncing their feet and sitting the same way as you and mimicking what you say, you’re far more likely to get an accurate read.
6. Get a baseline
If someone is always fidgety or talks at a million miles an hour, so what. If they suddenly become stock still, then something might be up.
7. Be conscious of your biases
If you already like or dislike someone it’s going to affect your judgement. And we are all prone to flattery and giving the benefit of the doubt to people who we think are similar to us.
8. Most importantly, always look for the bigger picture
“Your abilities will make a quantum leap if you realise that body language is part of a bigger context and a bigger cluster and you start monitoring the other facets of behavioral interaction: voice, appearance, clothing, etc,” Barker writes.
For more of Barker's writing check out his blog here.