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Books: on Nonverbal Communication

Finished reading this book yesterday. The author, Joe Navarro, came to America as a child and exile from Cuba. He was an intelligent child, and immediately began to study people. His observation of nonverbal cues served him especially well because he could not understand the language, at first. Later he had a career with the FBI, interviewing suspects and watching their body language to establish what parts of their statements were suspect, or not. This book is his summary of important body gestures, for the layperson.

Guess what part of the body Joe says is most honest?

The feet.

I found What Every Body is Saying readable and useful. When I was an undergrad at the University of Tennessee (in the 80's) I took a class in nonverbal communication, and I have been attuned to it ever since. People do not realize how many signals they send off unconsciously. Joe attributes it all to what he calls the limbic brain, which is somewhere between the cortical/rational brain (the part that lies) and the reptilian brain stem, which he barely mentions. He says that the limbic brain is truthful, even when the cortical brain is not. So if you know what sorts of signals are sent by the limbic brain, you will know if someone dislikes you even if they pretend that they do. And lots more.

I bought this book because the author was interviewed on NPR. He is an excellent and intriguing speaker. I want to be an effective doctor, and reading people well seems like an essential aspect of that pursuit. By seeing what people are anxious about, and guessing at what they are not saying, one may be able to interview one's way to a more complete and relevant medical history. It is well known that even willing patients keep secrets from doctors out of shame or fear. My hope is that I will be able to make patients feel comfortable enough, over time, that they will be willing to tell me their deepest fears and to be totally open with me about what is going on with them, and about their lives, including both relevant and seemingly irrelevant bits.

Probably the most useful insight for me was the message sent by a certain way that I stand. I know that people are often intimidated by me, and I have never fully understood it. Yes, it is true, that I do not go out of my way to befriend everyone that crosses my path. It is also true that my life is full to the hilt and I rarely have time to chat about the weather with random strangers. I even get tired of dear friends when all they can do is moan about their terrible situations. I tend to give out far more support than I receive, and I must be causing that, somehow. Perhaps it is the way that I stand (and walk, sometimes), with my hands behind my torso and my chest open. I like to stand that way because it does open my chest, pull my shoulders back, and help me to maintain an erect and conscious posture. But Joe says that standing with your hands behind your back sends two messages: 1) don't approach me and 2) I'm higher status than you. I hadn't realized that. But now that I think about it, it is the posture of kings and dictators.

I also like to hold my hands in what I call prayer position, with the fingertips touching. When I am more casual the palms do not touch. Joe calls this hand position "steepling" and calls it a "high confidence" position. He suggests that you use it when you are making a point and want people to believe you. After reading his book I realize that I habitually assume many of the postures of high confidence. I know that I intentionally minimize my presentation of low confidence, even when I am feeling it. ("Keep your chin up" and all that.) So perhaps the grouping of my high confidence gestures, my standoffish stance, and my big mouth are the reasons that I so often find myself isolated. I don't want people to be afraid of me, so I am going to experiment now with displaying LESS confidence and definitely less status. And see how it goes.

There were some nonverbal cues that Joe did not mention, or did not explain as fully as I think I understand them. So I will continue to study on nonverbals.

Comments

liveonearth
Dec. 24th, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
So what was the lie that she told, and her reason for telling it? There are lots of reasons besides drinking for liver enzymes to elevate....

Ever watch House on TV? He says "Everybody lies" and frankly, I agree with him. Sometimes we know we are lying, and sometimes we are in denial and are not even aware of our own lies...but our body language betrays us either way.

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