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Live Life Fully: What does your body language reveal?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Those darting eyes. That clenched fist. Those folded arms.

Did you know your body language is saying much more than the words you're speaking? In fact, it composes 60 to 70 percent of our communication, according to body language expert Kevin Hogan. So, are you sure you're sending the right message?

Positive body language says things like, "I'm really interested in what you're saying." Negative body language conveys things like, "I don't believe a word you're saying. Besides, I'm bored."

Although body language originates in the brain's limbic system ("old brain") and occurs unconsciously, we can learn to minimize it with training, according to the website www.learnbodylanguage.org. You may even remember a TV show from a few years ago, "Lie to Me," about an investigator who analyzed body language to crack criminal cases.

Here are a few giveaways:

  • Touching your face while speaking -- rubbing your nose, eyes, ears, head or neck -- shows doubt in what you're saying or hearing.
  • Hiding your hands or palms shows you're keeping a secret.
  • Showing your soft wrist underside indicates flirting.
  • Finger tapping, scratching and darting eyes discredits what the speaker is saying.
  • Folded arms means you are guarded.
  • It's been said that our eyes are the windows of our souls. And they certainly play a major role in our body language. Check out these "visual accessing cues," identified by researchers Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who pioneered studies in neurolinguistic programming.

    These observations are from your viewpoint -- looking at the subject. And they're based on a right-handed perspective. Many left-handed people access information opposite that of right-handed folks. You can test someone (or have them test you) by posing quick questions about historic facts to get an individual baseline.

  • Eyes up and to the right: Visually remembered images (accessing memories/facts).
  • Eyes up and to the left: Visually constructed (fabricating a story/imagination).
  • Eyes sideways to the right: Auditory remembered (factual).
  • Eyes sideways to the left: Auditory constructed (imagined).
  • Eyes down and to the right: Internal dialogue (talking to oneself).
  • Eyes down and to the left: Feeling/kinesthetic (recalling a smell, taste or feeling).
  • Generally speaking, you could say "right is recalled" and "left is lying." While body language is a good indicator of when a person is lying, it's not foolproof. So, just take these guidelines as a heads-up warning that something is not quite right.

    Here's what to watch out for when a person is lying to you:

  • Eye contact is broken.
  • Body and face become stiffer.
  • Shoulders are pulled up and elbows are pulled into sides.
  • Forehead tightens.
  • Nostrils flare.
  • Blinking is increased.
  • Tone flattens.
  • Stuttering or mispronunciations occur.
  • Hand-to-face touching increases, especially mouth covering and nose rubbing.
  • Objects may be placed between you -- cups, keys, pencils, chairs -- as defensive postures.
  • Keep in mind that everyone occasionally tells "little fibs" (that's what we call lying when it serves us). In some cases we lie to protect a person's feelings or to avoid doing something we don't want to do. Joseph Teece, a researcher at Boston College, has identified six types of lies:

    1. Protective -- shields liar from danger.

    2. Heroic -- protects someone else from danger.

    3. Playful -- enhances the story.

    4. Ego -- prevents embarrassment.

    5. Gainful -- enriches the liar.

    6. Malicious -- hurts someone.

    Men often lie to make themselves look good and to increase their status, while women often lie to make others feel good, thereby enhancing their relationships.

    A red flag is a sudden change in movements. Tension is high in liars, so they need self-comforting. They can stroke their hair and touch their face more frequently.

    The best overall liar detection clue is a sudden change in posture and movements from the normal patterns for a short time -- until you have accepted what is said. If you believe someone is lying, change the subject quickly and watch the reaction. A liar will follow along willingly and become more relaxed. Guilty people want the subject to be changed, while an innocent person may be confused by the sudden change and want to go back to the previous subject.

    So, why do we lie in the first place? David Livingstone Smith, author of "The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind," believes lying is deeply embedded in our subconscious as a result of evolution. Our ancestors who survived by lying passed on stronger and stronger genes in each generation for this trait. Are we talking survival of the most deceptive?

    Giveaway signs that a person is uncomfortable include upper-body rocking, leg swinging or finger or foot tapping, along with chin tucking and shoulder hunching.

    And how can you tell a real smile from a fake smile? First of all, real smiles are normally symmetrical. Fake smiles can last much longer than real smiles. Also, you can tell a real smile because the person appears to be smiling from their eyes, with little upturned wrinkles in the corners of the eyes. A fake smile doesn't have the eye wrinkles.

    Bottom line: Our body language cues are generally recognized by everyone unconsciously because we all have them in our DNA. Emotions are normal and displaying them is healthy. Just be on the lookout if you sense someone is not being truthful with you. And notice if you're giving out any of these cues yourself. If the interpretation doesn't make sense, maybe it's something to examine. Or, it could just be a nervous habit to address.

    Don't overthink this. Have some fun with it. And make sure your message sent is message received.

    Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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