341: Decoding Body Language with ex-FBI Special Agent Joe Navarro

By September 5, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Joe Navarro shows how to get to the bottom of body language and why observing it can better your relationships at work and at home.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s so hard to tell if someone’s actually lying
  2. Four key, reliable body language cues
  3. The one good mannered behavior everyone should know and use

 

About Joe

For 25 years, Joe Navarro worked as an FBI special agent in the area of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment. Today he is one of the world’s leading experts on nonverbal communications and lectures and consults with major corporations worldwide. He is an adjunct professor at Saint Leo University and frequently lectures at the Harvard Business School.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Joe Navarro Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Joe, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Joe Navarro
It’s great to be here, Pete. It’s a long time coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Well, I’m super excited that I’ve been a fan of your work from afar for a good long time, so now here we are. But first I want to hear about how you got a pilot’s license when you were 17. Is that even legal or what’s the backstory here?

Joe Navarro
I don’t know how you dug that up, but not many people know that. That’s true. It was a funny thing. A lot of people make fun of our school systems, public schools in particular, but I was fortunate to go to a public school where the science class that was offered was aeronautics.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Joe Navarro
No, it was great. It was in Miami, Florida and you could study ground school, basic ground school. I took that when I was 16. Then once I turned 17 then I could begin to take flight lessons and I did, which you say, “Well, what do you do with that?” Well, interestingly enough, when the FBI came looking for me that was one of the things that set me apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, so during your time in the FBI did you do some piloting?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. In the Bureau, you wear a lot of hats. The first four or five years, it was pretty much about learning the business of being an FBI agent, working counter-intelligence, but along about the fifth or sixth year there was a real shortage of pilots. We used aircraft for surveillance. They knew I had a license, so I did. I got somewhere around 2,000 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Joe Navarro
Yeah, it was pretty nice.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is cool. I have very little piloting experience, but I had a buddy who had a little four-seater Cessna in San Francisco. I’ve only piloted for like five minutes, but part of it was over the Golden Gate Bridge. It seems like that would be hard to top. It was just breathtaking.

Joe Navarro
Oh, it’s just a lot of fun. Once you get up to altitude and you can relax, you’re not worried about other aircraft, it really does give you a different perspective on the world. I used to take the airplane over to Miami Beach and fly along the coastline. It was – you’re 17 years old and you say, “This is pretty good. This isn’t bad.” Yeah, it was fun. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. You’ve written 13 books now and were a special agent with the FBI and are quite an authority on body language. I want to get into some particulars of body language signals and how to read it, what to do with it.

But first, I’d love it if you could set the scene for us with some drama. We had Chris Voss on the show. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say FBI agents make great podcast guests. Two for two so far. I asked him if he could give us a dramatic tale to kick us off, so I’ll put you on the same spot.

Can you think of a time where, boy, a body language signal or insight just sort of changed the whole story for an interrogation or an investigation or something you were working with?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. One of the books that I wrote was Three Minutes to Doomsday. In that book, I talk about this individual who was willing to cooperate or seemed to want to cooperate with the FBI, but he was hiding a lot of information. When we asked him to come forward and tell us the truth because he didn’t really have all the access to classified material that we knew had been stolen, he said he wasn’t going to reveal their names.

One of the things that we decided to do since we understood body language was to basically not trick him into revealing it, but getting him to reveal it at a subconscious level. What we did was we wrote the names of everybody that could possibly be involved on a three-by-five card. As we showed him each three-by-five card, we said, “Will you tell us a little bit about what their personality was like?”

What he didn’t realize was that when you see something that can hurt you, your pupils squint. His pupils and his eyes squinted on two names of the 32 that we presented. Then we sent agents out with the army to two military bases, one in Alaska, one in Georgia. On the two names that he squinted, both of them confessed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow. That’s good.

Joe Navarro
What’s interesting, Pete, is he wasn’t lying. He said, “Look, I’m not going to tell you anything.” What he didn’t know was how he was going to react.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Joe Navarro
We know from studies of babies, eight – nine months old, when they see somebody they don’t like or they see something that is not pleasing to them, oftentimes they will squint, turn away, or their pupils will actually constrict.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a little seven-month-old at home. I hope he doesn’t do that to me shortly.

Joe Navarro
No, that will come when they’re 14.

Pete Mockaitis
Daddy, I’m tired of you.

Joe Navarro
Pete, you’ve got 14 years.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. You’re latest here is called The Dictionary of Body Language. How would you frame or position this one in terms of kind of the main idea and how does it kind of fit into your opus and the catalogue of the other books?

Joe Navarro
Well, that’s a great question, Pete. It was one of these things where when I wrote What Everybody is Saying, which became the number one-selling body language book in the world years ago. It’s been at the top for the last eight years. There were only 140 behaviors in there.

Two years ago I was talking to my agent, Steve Ross, at Abrams. He said, “I’m looking at your book.” I said, “Well, I hope you’re learning something.” He said – he kind of said, “Is that all there is?” I said, “No, that’s not all there is.” He says, “Well, how many behaviors do you think are important and we should know about?” I said, “Well, the problem is, is how do we write it? There’s many behaviors.” I said, “Let me look through my notebook.”

I’ve been keeping notebooks on behavior for years and years and years. I went through and I said, “Well, I’ve got about 600 in here.” He said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” We talked about it and then we reduced it down to just over 400 because some of them replicate because they’re similar behaviors.

He said, “Have you ever thought about writing a book, but making it like a field guide, where you can quickly look something up and there’s a paragraph and it says, ‘if you see this, then you can interpret it this way?’” He liked the idea. He took it to Harper Collins and Harper Collins said this would be a great follow-on to go from 140 behaviors to over 400. That was – there is your opus, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s cool. That’s cool. So good. I loved What Everybody is Saying. I’m looking to forward to getting into all the more depths of The Dictionary of Body Language. Thank you for writing it. It’s just fun.

I’ve got a ton of things I’d love to dig into. Maybe I’d like to hear your take on – so when it comes to sort of gauging people’s true intentions, and I know that’s one of the juiciest areas of the body language stuff, it’s like, “How do I know when someone’s lying?” That seems to be popular for your poker books as well as maybe sort of untrusting partners or any number of contexts.

Why don’t we go with that first? How do you get to the bottom of people’s true intentions and whether they’re being honest with you?

Joe Navarro
I knew you were going to hit me with this because you always ask profound questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh shucks.

Joe Navarro
Let’s divide it up because when we’re talking about intentions, for instance, you’re talking to somebody and they’re right foot begins to orient towards an exit. Usually we begin to communicate, ‘I have to leave’ with our feet. Before they even look at their watch, before they say anything, we show intentions by foot orientation.

We show intentions such as ‘I really like that cake’ by literally leaning towards it. You see that in courtship behaviors. I’ve certainly sat at enough cafes and bars studying individuals and you can tell when they’re interested in each other.

But the more profound question is, well, what about detecting deception. I have to say both as someone who has been intimately involved in all aspects of forensic interviewing and in doing research for the books and for teaching that as Dr. Mark Frank at University of Chicago says, there is no Pinocchio effect. There is really no single behavior indicative of deception and we need to get away from that because we do a disservice to ourselves and to others.

I think it’s been too easy to say, “Well, I think you’re lying.” “Well, why do you think that?” “Oh, because I asked you a question and you were touching your mouth.”

Well, the fact of the matter is, both the honest and the dishonest do it and we do it because maybe we don’t like the question, we thing the question is too intrusive, maybe we think that you are not entitled to ask that question because of social status or whatever.

There’s – what I found interesting in doing an article for Psychology Today is I looked at the 261 DNA exonerations. As I delved deep and I contacted the people that had done the research, looked at the case work of the police officers, every one of them thought that the suspects were guilty and lying when they said they didn’t do it.

What’s interesting is not one police officer could identify who was telling the truth, but they all thought they could identify somebody that was lying. What does that tell us? What it tells us is that as Paul Ekman found in 1986, humans are terrible at detecting deception. We really shouldn’t be in the business of detecting deception.

Now, so what is it that we’re looking for? What’s interesting is, is that humans are actually very good at detecting when something is wrong, when there’s an issue. The question is we don’t know why.

Babies are born communicating comfort and discomfort. We humans immediately reveal discomfort through our bodies, whether it’s a heightened heart rate, a pulsing vein, pacifying behaviors, but what we don’t know is the why.

If I can tell you an FBI story, I was at – I worked mostly counter-intelligence. We were short of personnel one time and I was asked to do an interview of a white-collar criminal. This woman is called in and usually we spend the first 20 – 30 minutes getting people to calm down because obviously when you get called in by the FBI, it’s pretty nerve racking.

But as I’m talking to this lady, she seems to be demonstrating more and more behaviors of nervousness and tension. She’s biting her lip, she’s grabbing her collar, she’s squeezing her hands together. Finally, I said, “Ma’am,” I’m thinking to myself Joe, you’re the Bureau’s expert on body language, surely you know what’s going on here, so I thought I’d cut to the chase. This is a lesson in humility.

I said, “Ma’am, you look like you need to get something off your chest.” She said, “Oh, thank God Mr. Navarro because when I parked downstairs I only had a quarter in the meter.” Here were all the behaviors of nervousness and tension and anxiety, but what was the cause? The cause was she didn’t want to get a ticket, didn’t want to have to pay a fine.

As it turns out somebody had stolen her identity and filed some bogus claims, insurance claims and that’s why she was being called in. It was a – it really taught me a lesson about humility and saying all we can really say is that I’m seeing behaviors, they’re indicative of psychological discomfort. The question is what’s driving that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Then what’s interesting is some people can just be anxious in general I imagine. That is sort of who they are all the time and they’re just not that comfortable in their own skin or talking to other people or talking to strangers or talking to official people like judges and FBI agents.

Joe Navarro
Oh sure. Look, and not even nervousness, there’s people who don’t like to make eye contact, that really feel uncomfortable being questioned and so forth.

The investigator has to look at that and say, “All right, who am I dealing with? What are the baseline behaviors?” Then if they do notice behaviors – I mean if you ask somebody “Where were you last night?” and if a question like that causes them to look like they’re doing trigonometry, the question then becomes, why does a simple question cause so much mental turpitude? Why is there so much cognitive loading going on? But then that’s for the investigator to figure it out.

As an agent, I can tell you that no matter what people said, we always had to prove what they said. It was a matter of if I asked a question, how did they react to that question. No matter what their reaction was, I needed to pursue it anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Although, what’s cool though is with those 32 names because you got an indicator you were able to really accelerate that hypothesis, like we have a good reason to suspect these are the two to go after rather than going through all 32.

Joe Navarro
Right, well, it’s because I understood that when an object or a name or something is a threat to you, that you react to it. Now, what was important was not to give any indication of – that anyone of these individuals was any more special than the others. It was just a matter of what can you tell me about their personalities and then watching for their reactions. We lucked out with that.

Now, if the two men hadn’t confessed, certainly we couldn’t go to court and say, “Well, Judge, we think they’re guilty because this guy blinked.” It doesn’t work that way.

In the same way that when a child comes home and – or a spouse comes home and they’re having some sort of difficulty. Maybe it doesn’t help to ask any more questions at that moment. Maybe it helps to delay it to another time so when they’re relaxed you get a better read to find out, “Oh, is somebody bullying you at work or at school or somewhere else?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, so that being established in terms of it’s hard to know whether someone’s lying or deception, but rather you just kind of get a sense for what’s causing discomfort. I’d love to hear out of the 400-ish behaviors, what are some of those that are kind of like the most reliable, like, “Pete, over 90% of the time when I see this behavior, it tends to mean that thing.”

I remember from What Everybody is Saying, you said some things to say about feet and how it’s absurd that in interrogation rooms there are opaque desks and they need to be transparent so that we can observe their feet.

It was like this is a guy who speaks from experience because I’ve never seen anyone or heard anyone go on a rant quite like that. I dug that. Tell me is it the feet or what are some of the most reliable tell-tale things to look toward?

Joe Navarro
Well, actually one of them you just did. You did what’s called eyelid flutter.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy, what’s it mean?

Joe Navarro
Eyelid flutter we do when we are emphasizing something, when we feel negative about something, when we’re flustered by something. You were channeling me there quite accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Joe Navarro
When I wrote about interviewing and how you’re a paid observer and here you’re sitting for an interview and the person’s hiding behind a desk and you cannot even see their feet or their hands or their torso. I was like I cannot believe that you as a professional cannot see the object of the interview and they’re hiding behaviors that are critical.

As you were channeling that, your eye – you did the eyelid flutter. Eyelid flutter is very accurate when we’re struggling with something.

But you mentioned the feet and I think this is one of the things that was astonishing. There’s a really good section in the new book, The Dictionary of Body Language, dealing with the feet because I got so many questions over the years after I wrote that of people saying, “Well, is there anything more about the feet?” I said, “The feet are very accurate because they reveal our emotions and we tend not to hide them.

In the same way that we might do a social smile, the feet, if they don’t like you or if you don’t like someone, your feet will move you away from that person. You will immediately rotate away. If you’re excited and happy to see someone, you can hide a smile, but try to hide the feet of a child.

I was just at the airport the other day and a little kid arrived with a family. They were going to Disney. Every time the mother mentioned Disney World, the child’s feet were jumping up and down. She had happy feet. You can’t hide that.

Even with adults, poker players soon found out that you can see the happy feet of a player that has a monster hand just by the shirt shaking. The feet certainly have a lot of information.

You were talking about what are some of the more accurate significant ones. There’s another one that you do, which is great. It’s the gravity defying behaviors of the eyebrows.

Pete Mockaitis
I just did that before you – the first – we don’t have the video for the listeners. It’s fun that you started with the video. It should have occurred to me, of course he wants the video.

Joe Navarro
Yeah. Well, because it’s very instructive. You can see how excited you are about things because you arch your eyebrows and you go, “Well, what about this and what about that?”

Think about the times when you greet somebody and they arch their – they flash their eyebrows and they go, “Hey, how are you?” and compare that to other times when you greet someone but you don’t have those behaviors and you realize, “Oh, that just doesn’t feel the same. There’s something going on here.”

I often get this with – when – I’ve taught many clinicians over the years. They say, “A lot of times these couples come in and they say, ‘Well, I had no clue that she didn’t love me anymore or he didn’t love me anymore,’” I say stop right there. There were plenty of clues. You just didn’t see them. You just didn’t see them.

You didn’t see the eyes that never flash when they see you.  You never saw that two years ago she was touching you with her fingertips rather than with her full palm hand. You didn’t notice that rather than smiling at you, it was more of a little smirk and the corner of her mouth was pinched, which shows disdain and so forth. I said there’s always behaviors there. The question-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so sad.

Joe Navarro
Well, it is, but the argument that I never saw it coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Joe Navarro
One of the important things I really believe Pete is that if we’re sensitive to other people’s body language, we make better friends and better mates because we early on can begin to sense “Oh, there’s an issue. Something is wrong.” To wait for something six months, two years on, is sometimes too late.

I think if you begin to sense that “Oh, my partner, she’s bored watching TV another night and when I mention going out, her eyes light up.” Well, that’s a clue.

In the same way that as parents we look at the baby for every single little sign of a smile, of any kind of discomfort because we transmit information fairly much in a binary fashion, comfort, discomfort. The same thing applies in real life. That’s part of having that social intelligence, but it’s also about equity, what we bring to the table as a partner and as a parent to ensure that those we love are cared for.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful, yes. It’s funny, I’m thinking about my buddy Muhammed, who’s going to be on the show a little later. It’s exciting. That is one – I always feel very – I don’t know, I guess, welcomed or liked, appreciated when he greets me because his eyebrows really do do that. I guess I have not articulated or thought of that specifically until we really got precise about that fact just now. That’s intriguing.

We’ve got some feet. We’ve got the eyelid flutter. We’ve got the arching and lifting of eyebrows for excitement. What are some other big ones?

Joe Navarro
Let me give you – yeah. Let me give you one that is just a remarkable behavior. It really stands out with women. In part because oftentimes their necks are more exposed than men because we tend to wear shirts that have high collars or we wear a tie and a coat or – and so forth. Women have more of an open neck.

The behavior is covering of the lower neck area. There’s a little dimple there called the suprasternal notch. The suprasternal notch is just above the sternum and that’s why it’s called the suprasternal.

Pete Mockaitis
… Okay, yeah.

Joe Navarro
Invariably when someone is struggling with something, having difficulties, is insecure, there’s a little bit of fear, they will immediately bring their hand up and cover this very sensitive area of the neck. Men, we tend to mask it by grabbing our necks more robustly and grabbing our shirts. Women tend to just put their finger on it.

In fact, just the other day, in fact I think the day we talked or we emailed each other, there was an attack on a speech that was being given in Venezuela, on the President of Venezuela. It was a drone attack of some sort. While all the soldiers stood there at attention, being mindful of their duty, the First Lady, as soon as she sensed that something wrong, her hand immediately went to the suprasternal notch to cover it.

This is a very ancient behavior. This has to have been with us for tens and tens of thousands of years. Maybe even longer because it’s seen in every society. It’s been seen in every culture. Interestingly enough, it’s been seen even with children who are born blind, who have never seen the behavior and yet they perform this behavior when they feel threatened or scared.

I would say it’s one of those behaviors that it’s probably in the 95 to 96 percentile of communicating that something is wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one.  That’s a good one. Any other sort of top, top probability items coming to mind?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. One of the ones that I talk about in the new book is – has to do with what is in essence a reserved behavior. Reserved behaviors are those behaviors that we really hold back until something is really stressing us and then they come out. We don’t tend to do them every day, but every once in a while when something is really bad.

One of those reserved behaviors is with the fingers. Now in the previous book I talked about steepling, that’s where you put your fingertips together and you straighten them up and it looks like a church steeple.

Pete Mockaitis
It makes me think of evil genius.

Joe Navarro
Right, like Mr. Burns.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent Joe.

Joe Navarro
But this behavior is very similar, except that the fingers are rigid straight and they interlace and the person sort of rubs them back and forth with very straight fingers. And I started to see this behavior probably in the ‘80s, with people in – who were going to be interviewed, people who were in trouble.

I also verified it by looking at these very old videos. They weren’t even videos; they were 35 millimeter movies from the 1950’s of couples in therapy. One of the things that I found was that when they were about ready to say, “Look, this relationship is over,” they would often do this behavior.

I call it teepee hands because when they interlace and the fingers are straight, if you were to hold it right in front of you, it looks like the top of teepee with the poles sticking out.

I tell parents, “Look if you’re talking to a child and they start to do this behavior, because they do it subconsciously, put your iPhone away and pay attention because something is significant here.” This is a reserve behavior.

We have another reserve behavior, which is kind of interesting. I hadn’t written about it before, but it’s in the new Dictionary of Body Language, and that’s called facial denting.

Facial denting is – you often see this at sporting events where the score is really close and you’ll see people squeeze their cheeks to the point where as you look at them you say, “Surely, that’s got to hurt. They’re going to pop a tooth.” They’re squeezing themselves so tight.

That’s one of those reserve behaviors for when we’re dealing with a lot of stress and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.

Why we do that it hasn’t really been very well studied. I’m hoping – one of the things that I’m hoping – you were asking me earlier what are some of my hopes for this book. My hope is that researchers will look at it and say, “Okay, so here are things that this FBI guy over 40 years picked up by watching people. Let’s go and test it. Let’s go and verify it. Let’s go validate it.”

I hope they tear into it and they try to demonstrate that it’s universal or not universal, that it’s peculiar to this area of the world or that world or that it’s used when we’re stressed or unstressed or whatever. But I’m hoping that the average person can use it to learn, but I’m also hoping that the researchers will look at things that they’ve never looked at before.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really cool. Just to note, that if you’re seeing the teepeeing or the facial denting that we’re dealing with something serious here.

Joe Navarro
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny. I can think of a buddy who everything was going wrong on his wedding day in terms of things coming together. So and so didn’t pick up his tux and this person’s late and he’s getting all these texts. It was a lot of stuff. He was sure doing some good squeezing there. That all makes sense that it was intensely troublesome for him, but it all worked out. They got married. They’re happy and it’s good.

But that’s cool. Well, I’d love to hear maybe precisely or more specifically when it comes to in the world of professionals in their day-to-day job/career lives, what do you think are some of the most helpful things to be on the lookout for in terms of what you’re observing or what you’re projecting.

I’m thinking about things like maybe someone is bored or thinks that idea is wrong and just a terrible – I think that happens a lot in meetings. Someone says something and someone thinks, “That is a terribly bad idea,” but they don’t say anything because they don’t want to stick their neck out. That’s the big boss. They don’t want to offend or insult. Are there any indicators along those lines or other helpful kind of career scenarios?

Joe Navarro
Well, I’m glad you asked that question because it’s really a good question. I would have to say number one, if you’re taking notes, write this one down. We are always transmitting information.

A lot of people think, “Oh, I’m in the parking lot. Nobody’s going to notice me,” or “I’m in the elevator. Nobody’s going to notice me,” or “I’m sitting outside for an interview. Nobody’s noticing me,” or “I’m at the end of the table. Nobody’s going to notice me.” Stop right there. Welcome back to Planet Earth. The fact of the matter is that you are being observed constantly. People are picking up on everything.

Let’s go through a few of the things that you probably never thought about. Good manners. Manners are non-verbals, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you, sir.

Joe Navarro
If you see a piece of paper on the floor and you pick it up and you put it in the garbage can, that is a behavior. You don’t have to talk to do that one.

How you talk to people, your intonation, how quickly you respond, do you face them or do you roll your eyes before you answer them and so forth. Good manners is a non-verbal.

The fact of the matter is, is that we’re all being scrutinized. People look at us and they notice how well groomed we are. Walk into an office and change your haircut. People will – “You’ve got a different haircut.”

You probably have gone through your life thinking, “Nobody notices me.” No, everybody notices. They notice if you’re wearing glasses. They’re noticing if you wear new glasses, if you change your hairdo, your color, if you’re not well-groomed, if all of the sudden you’ve gone from really nice clothing to really tattered clothing. They notice-

Pete Mockaitis
They’re noticing the wrinkles in my Polo shirts, Joe? Do I have to start ironing these things?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. It makes you think. Shakespeare was right, life is theatre and we’re on stage.

For a lot of jobs, how we look may not matter, but the fact of the matter is that for a lot of jobs it does matter. It matters how we, as clinicians say, how we present. Are we on time? Are we eager? Are we leaning forward? Are we interested?

Something so simple. We were talking earlier about great behaviors. Here’s one behavior that you need to build into your repertoire.

That’s when people are talking to you that you tilt your head slightly because we know that from a very young age babies respond to this and it’s a behavior that says “I’m listening to you. I’m interested. I don’t have an agenda for the moment and I’m actively listening.” It’s a very easy behavior to emulate, especially with children and loved ones.

I live in a community not far from central command where there’s a lot of Navy SEALS. These guys have great bodies. They’re like world-class athletes. But I notice how they talk even to their spouses and they look like drill sergeants. It’s like they can’t stand down.

I think one of the things that enhances communication, especially with loved ones, is if we can stand down and relax and tilt that head and just say, “I’m listening and tell me about your day,” and not look like we’re looking for the next marching orders.

I have to say a lot of executives come home and do the same thing. They have that very stern, I’m in charge sort of look. We know that humans respond to that look of interest and kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Interest, kindness, kind of letting go and not being in charge, tilting the head. Any other kind of indicators of “I’m listening. I’m interested. I’m not bored. I’m not formulating a response. I’m not getting my argument ready?”

Joe Navarro
Yeah. I’m on the road all the time and I’m giving presentations all over the world. You’re running – one day you’re in Germany, the next day you’re in Romania, then you’re back in Chicago, and then you’re on the West coast and you’re talking to people – and Beijing. You’re talking to people from all over the world. What’s interesting is is what seafarers found 400 – 500 years ago, that affability, having a smile.

One of the things that works really well and I encourage young business people to do this is don’t feel like you have to stand directly in front of another person. That in fact we tend to increase the amount of time we are with others if we will just slightly angle to them so that we’re not directly in front of them. We’re just at a slight angle to them. By angling, we increase what’s called face time. Obviously, for business, this is really critical is increasing face time.

I have found this works in every culture wherever I’ve been. Instead of just standing right in front of them, I – you greet them, you angle to the side and there’s a sense of harmony.

We have to remember that when the conquistadores arrived in the New World they saw the same behaviors here that they had seen in Queen Isabella’s court. The king had better clothing. He sat higher. He had an entourage. He couldn’t be touched, blah, blah, blah. Everything in Queen Isabella’s court.

These are universal things that are endearing, such as giving people the requisite amount of space. In fact, I just wrote an article about that for Psychology Today because I go around asking folks “How far away do you like people to stand near you?” It’s kind of shocking to listen to what they say. It’s always greater than where people are standing next to them.

They say, “You know three to four feet,” and some people want even more. Be sensitive to the spatial needs of other people, that some people just don’t like others to be too close.

Be yourself. Be natural. Not everybody’s going to be an alpha. There will always be omegas. There’s a place for everybody. But also, be mindful that if you have something important that you should be heard.

One of the things I notice a lot with, especially with young women coming into business is that often they sit rather demure at their seat. Then almost the meeting is over and they don’t have an opportunity to talk. Oftentimes, they’re not giving away the cues that say, “I have something important to say.”

Those things are instead of leaning back, leaning forward and in when you have something ready to say, making direct eye contact with the person that is either presently speaking or is the moderator to let them know, “Hey, I have something to say.”

The other one is not steepling. Steepling, and that’s where the fingertips are together, is the really the only universal sign that we have of confidence, that we’re confident about what we’re thinking or about to say. I think-

Pete Mockaitis
So we should not steeple?

Joe Navarro
No, we should when we have something important to say. You don’t want to do it all the time.

What I found in my studies was that oftentimes women will do it low on their lap or not very high. When in fact, they should do it so it’s visible so that it communicates to everybody this is important and I’m very confident at this moment.

Look at Angela Merkel, over in the UK – or in Germany, sorry. She steeples all the time, but then she is a – she has a doctorate in engineering and she is very confident. You see those behaviors. I used to see them also with Margaret Thatcher and others.

It’s a behavior you want to emulate. You want to use it at the right time and the right place, but you also need to communicate “I want to be heard.” Those are some I think good indicators there.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you. Now tell me, Joe, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Joe Navarro
I think one of the important things about body language is that I continue to be a student of it. I’d like to one day be able to say yeah, I have the definitive expertise. I’m reluctant to do that because I’m learning things all the time. I’m observing things all the time.

I think it behooves us to learn this language that is so part of us as humans and it’s the primary way that we demonstrate love and empathy. That’s pretty important.

It’s also the way that we sense and detect danger. We’re at an ATM machine. We’re looking over our shoulder. It’s late at night. We’re looking for somebody sneaking up on us.

It’s the number one way that we choose our mates. We don’t ask for a resume. We look at them. We smell them. We touch them. We watch them and we make decisions based on nonverbal.

A lot of people think, “Well, is it really that important?” Well, I can’t think of anything more important than safety, child rearing, and mate selection. That pretty much hits it out of the park.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Thank you. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Joe Navarro
Yeah, I think one of my favorite quotes, and I know a lot of people will hear this who have been to my seminars, it’s – I’m going to paraphrase, but it comes to us from Carl Sagan, Carl Sagan the cosmologist, absolutely brilliant, taken from us at too early of an age. He said, “We’re really not who we think we are. But if you were to ask what are we. We’re the sum total of our influence on others.”

I think it’s very true. You, yourself, with your podcast, sharing knowledge, sharing ideas, that’s influential. I look at the people that have influenced me in life and I think what was it that was great about it? Could they build something? Could they do this? Yeah, we love people that are skilled with a craft, but we’re mostly influenced by those that are influential and they do that by how they live their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Joe Navarro
One of my favorite ones came out a few months ago. It just goes to show how sensitive we humans are to the smallest of little details.

They grabbed somebody and they put a green sweater on him. They said, “Go out and ask for favors.” They did. Then they took the same person and they – on the sweater, they put the logo of a high-end clothing manufacturer. It was only a half-an-inch logo.

They sent him out to go and ask people for favors, like, “Can I use your phone? Can I park here? Can I come inside?” and all this stuff. The times when he wore the logo 52 – 53% of the people agreed to help out. When he didn’t wear the logo, only 13% would help out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh. Wow.

Joe Navarro
What does that tell – that tells social scientists – and I’ve done this experiment, interestingly enough, with people just wearing beach shoes, flip flops, ones that cost $1.99 and then ones that were from a famous manufacturer.

Pete Mockaitis
So they’re still flip flops, but just different – yeah.

Joe Navarro
They’re still … but different manufactures. Invariably in my non-scientific study, those that wore the nicer got better treatment.

What does that tell us that anthropologists and biologists would say look, we’re primates. We’re very sensitive to hierarchy and we’ll always be sensitive to hierarchy and the markers of well, who is the alpha, who’s the silverback and who is everybody else. We cannot escape that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Joe Navarro
My favorite writer is Steinbeck, so Grapes of Wrath.

But the one book that I return to over and over and over again is the Histories by Herodotus. It’s the only book that I’ve actually read six times. Here’s the father of history writing 2,500 years ago. He’s telling us about the world as it existed then. It’s just exquisite in its breadth.

Pete Mockaitis

How about a favorite habit?

Joe Navarro
Favorite habit, it has to be going out for a walk with my family at night. I love them dearly, my wife, my dog. I enjoy their company.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate? Folks retweet it. They quote it back to you often.

Joe Navarro
Yeah, there’s one in particular. I’m glad you asked that. I put it out there many, many years ago when I first started on Twitter. I didn’t know I would become that significant. It’s – someone told me that it may have been not necessarily borrowed, but it’s a variant of what somebody else had said. It probably is since there’s nothing new under the sun.

But basically what it says is that what we do in private when nobody is watching us is more important than when we’re in public and that when we help those who can do absolutely – can do nothing for us, that is the true measure of our humanity because there is no expectation of any kind of reward. For some reason that seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

Pete Mockaitis
And Joe, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Joe Navarro
Very easily, my website, JNForensics.com. My books are at all the major retailers. Certainly they’re available on Amazon or they can come to your website.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm, sure thing.
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks who are seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Joe Navarro
I do. Become better observers and you’ll become better humans. You cannot attend to others if you can’t observe them. I think most of us know how to look, but very few of us know how to observe.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Joe, this has been such a treat. Thank you for taking this time and good luck with The Dictionary of Body Language and all that you’re up to here.

Joe Navarro
Well, thank you Pete. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be on your show.

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