If you found out you were only picking up one out of every 10 or 12 words people were saying to you, you would probably want to listen a little closer.
Body language expert Lauren Tan says that’s what you’re missing if you only pay attention to what people say, and not how they say it.
“Nonverbal communication is 10 to 12 times more powerful than verbal,” she says.
Tan, 28, graduated from Washington & Jefferson College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, “But I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.” She went on to get a master’s in school counseling from California University of Pennsylvania and also completed a course in body language training through Science of People. She works as a counselor at Outreach Teen & Family Services and teaches classes in body language and human lie detection in several locations around town, including with the Mt. Lebanon School District’s continuing education program, where she is planning a couple of courses for the fall.
So how can you tell if someone is lying to you?
“There’s not one specific cue,” says Tan, “so it’s important to establish a baseline with each person.”
Do that by asking a question or two that has a straight-up factual response—what’s the weather report, who won the game last night—and see how they respond. Then ask a question that has some room for invention and see if the person’s expressions or body language change.
Some cues that someone may be withholding something:
Hands out of sight This sounds really basic, but if you keep your hands in your pockets, or behind your back, or under the table, it’s an indicator that you have something to hide. And the reason it sounds really basic is because, like most of our nonverbal vocabulary, “A lot of these cues go all the way back to caveman times,” Tan says.
Reverse nod “So how do you like the new girl in shipping?” If your mouth says “She’s really great” but your head does an almost-imperceptible shake, the new girl might not be all that great.
Tan also has some advice for first dates, and for dating in general. Some cues are across the board; others may be more gender-specific.
One sign that a man may be into you: manspreading (the practice of stretching one’s legs out wider than the width of the chair.)
“He’ll start taking up more room, maybe resting his hand on the arm of your chair, getting more comfortable in his space. Women, if they’re showing some interest, will touch their hair more, or their lips or neck—preening behavior.”
Then, there are the three basic types of gazes.
“In conversation, people generally move their eyes in triangular patterns,” says Tan. First you focus on one eye, then the other eye, and from there, if your gaze moves up to the forehead, it means you’re all business; If it moves down to the mouth, you’re feeling more social; and if your gaze makes it as far south as the collarbone, you’re looking at this person with love (or something like it) in your eyes.
Whether you intend it or not, people may be picking up on these subtle cues in your conversations. To make yourself more aware of what you’re putting out, Tan suggests video recording yourself during phone conversations, so you can see what kind of signals you are sending. Your eyes may just naturally settle on someone’s collarbone, and now you know why everyone you talk with, from your accountant to the checkout person at Trader Joe’s, starts fixing her hair or spreading out all over.
Look for a complete schedule of continuing education classes in the September issue of Mt. Lebanon Magazine.