Former FBI Agent Explains How to Read Body Language | Tradecraft | WIRED

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nonverbals 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 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 nonverbals

we look at the person through the

peephole 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 nonverbal 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 her throat touches their

nose or covers their mouth they're lined

we do these behaviors as self soothers

they're they're pacifying behaviors


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 a 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 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 buy the stock so the

flowers are up this individual took them

and grabbed the stock 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 and I said would you like

to know how we know and he had this look

on his face and 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


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 relations to

any stimuli

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

itched in the forehead I look at the

eyes to see if they're red or not enough

sleep this 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 knows 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 mandibular and look at

the cheeks we may do something like this

will will 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 want to

know why at the neck I want to 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


and then when I look at the hands too

when something's troubling us we tend to

stiffen our fingers interlace them and

almost like a teepee 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 how it changes when we put our

thumbs forward and then it becomes one

of more of I'm inquisitive but I also

look for any behaviors of ventilating

because men

to ventilate at the neck and we do at

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


perhaps the person feels a little

threatened by that question so when we

study nonverbals it's not about making


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 ins with a

different sort of pace and what we look

for our differences in behavior down to

the the minutiae 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 eight times a


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

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 ladies hi I'm

Joe Navarro Laura how are you and you

are Katina how are you let me ask you

this let's back up a little bit is this

comfortable for you yeah it's a little

bit more comfortable but it's not for

you is it all right thank you all right

so keep talking what we've done here is

we've talked about the importance of

space and comfort they don't realize is

how much further apart they are now

standing and it's because we have

brought this 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 kind of 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 that's going on

pokers an interesting game the


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 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 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

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

want to see where those thumbs of his

are because he holds them very close

when nothing's going on but does that

change as the game evolves if you're

looking at nonverbals it's often useful

to look at them at double the speed

because all the nonverbals that are

critical jump out at you as though it

were a caricature all right so stop

right there the woman in position number

four you see her head moving around

quite a bit

player number three you see of 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 percent 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 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

nonverbal 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 and when it

comes to non verbals this is no small

matter we primarily communicate

non-verbally and we always will