It’s a cliche adage that only about 7% of communication consists of the words you actually use. The other 93% is about 2/3 body language and 1/3 vocal tonality. Like most cliches, it is not entirely accurate, but the point is that most human communication is done non-verbally. If you don’t know some of the intricacies of nonverbal communication, you might as well be a mute that can’t communicate at all.
Your personal, professional, and most certainly your dating life will suffer if you don’t understand nonverbal communication. It’s that simple.
We often talk about how you can improve your vocal tones around this corner of the web by projecting your voice from your chest and diaphragm, not your throat. This is why I suggest making videos or podcasts over a few months if you’re literally trying to find your voice. Most guys are wimps that talk only from the throat, but it’s not hard to overcome that habit if you just practice speaking consistently, which most people won’t do since they’re stuck in cubicles all day.
But what about the lion’s share of nonverbal communication – being able to read and understand that magical thing called body language, all the while being able to improve your own as the circumstances dictate?
Fortunately there’s a very good way to get started and understand the intricacies of body language. The book is conveniently written for a beginner who knows nothing of body language, but by its end it will allow you to understand more than the vast majority of people.
That book is Read ‘Em And Reap.
The book is written by Joe Navarro, a retired FBI special agent that specializes in nonverbal communication. Navarro used those skills during his career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations carried out by the Bureau. The book starts out with an espionage case in the 80’s where Navarro was brought in to question a suspect, who, with a slight giveaway of his body, identified to Navarro his co-conspirators. The suspect was so flabbergasted by Joe Navarro’s guess that he basically confessed:
The Special Agent wasn’t concerned with the soldier’s answers; rather, he was watching his face. When the man saw two names in particular, his eyebrows lifted a little bit and then the pupil of his eyes constricted. It was all he needed to know. The next day, he came back with two pictures of the men the soldier had reacted to and said, “Tell me about this one and this one…” The soldier’s eyes got wide as saucers. “How did you know?” He asked in astonishment. The Special Agent said, “Do you really think you’re the only one who’s cooperating with me?” At that point the soldier said, “Those sons of bitches!” and proceeded to spill his guts. All three men were convicted of espionage. (pg. xvi)
Such is the power of nonverbal communication!
Read ‘Em And Reap is ostensibly a book about poker tells. I used to play more often than I do now, and the topic greatly interested me. But don’t be fooled – this book goes well beyond poker tells. The information given within can be used to read people in any situation, because it details how our bodies have been programmed by evolution to react in times of stress, euphoria, and everything in-between.
Joe Navarro explains this in detail when he talks about the structure of the human brain. Though I have heard from various sources that this information is slightly out of date, there are three major components – the reptilian brain at the bottom, the mammalian or limbic brain above that (which is the key to deciphering body language), and the neocortex at the top, the brain that makes us human.
The limbic brain encodes deep evolutionary emotional behaviors into us that, because they are so deeply ingrained, we react to instantaneously, without thought. Deciphering that behavior is the key to understanding nonverbal communication.
The neocortex is what allowed us to build the Palace of Versailles and land on the moon, and it is also capable of deception, so with proper training, the neocortex does allow us to overcome our ingrained limbic responses and give off “false tells” with our body language. However, this is exceedingly difficult if you’re not a professional actor, and even those professionals have some trouble doing it.
Basically, don’t worry about deception with body language. It almost never happens. Body language is the most excellent barometer of truth there is. Mastering, or even simply understanding more than the average person about deciphering it will make you a tremendous force to be reckoned with – whether that’s at the poker table, at the negotiating table, or across the coffee table with that hottie on your couch.
But there is a catch! Understanding body language does not come for free or even just from reading a good book like Read ‘Em and Reap or Joe’s other book on the subject, What Every Body is Saying. Joe will show you what to look for and explain the mechanics of why the behavior he talks about exists, but first you need to get into the habit of…looking.
I previously wrote that a useful tool to overcome approach anxiety was to be a conscientious observer of the world around you. I mentioned that you’d see how pathetic most people are. Why is that? You’d be able to see how slouched over and poorly dressed many of them are, for instance. You’re already reading body language!
Joe Navarro warns that being able to master the art of decoding body language is not something you can just turn on or off when it suits you. It needs to be a part of your lifestyle. Cultivating that lifestyle means you need to observe the world around you. Two ways that Joe suggests you can get into the habit are what he calls “observational games.”
The first is to take a good look at the scene before you, almost like taking a picture, then close your eyes and try to remember as much as you can about it, down to the last detail.
The second game that Joe talks about is perhaps more exciting, and in my opinion, useful. This includes observation and intuition – it’s the “what does this observation suggest?” game. In this one you take a mental snapshot, just like before, and then try to intuit likely possibilities based on the information you took in. The example Navarro gives is a house on the street with a few newspapers on the stoop. You could likely conclude from that that the owners have been away for the past few days.
This one is particularly useful if you’re out approaching. If you see a girl walking brusquely, what can you intuit? She probably doesn’t want to be approached.
If on the other hand, she’s just walking slowly and staring at the scenery, what can you intuit? She’s likely open to a chat because she is likely not strapped for time and trying to enjoy herself, right?
Much of my success in target selection comes from the knowledge that Joe Navarro outlines in Read ‘Em And Reap.
I’m now going to give you another observational test. I want you to look at this picture, very carefully, before moving on to the next section.
The Most and Least Honest Parts of Your Body:
This is one of the most fascinating parts of the book. If you had to guess the most honest part of the human body, what would you say? If you’re really nice, please tell me in a comment below what part you thought of at first.
Joe Navarro has this to say:
Those who dedicate their lives to decoding the world around them know that the feet, not the face, are the most accurate purveyors of sentiment. Having done thousands of FBI interviews, I learned to concentrate on the feet and the legs first, the hands and the face last. If you want to decode the world around you and interpret behavior accurately, watch the feet and the legs. They are truly remarkable and honest in the information they convey. (pg. 70)
Does this sound counterintuitive? Joe Navarro discusses in detail why this is. We have learned to lie with the face our entire lives. It being the most obvious avenue of communication, we must learn how to deceive with it when required. But we have not learned how to do the same with our feet, because they are our primary means of transportation and the last means we use to communicate – which means they should actually be the first clue for honesty.
Navarro lists in the book the most and least honest parts of the body – and the lower it is on the body, the more honest it is:
- Feet (most honest)
- Face (least honest) (pg. 77-78)
Read ‘Em And Reap is a book about poker tells, so Joe mentions that at the table you should be looking for “happy feet,” where an opponent’s feet and legs bounce up and down. This very likely means he has a good hand and that you should fold unless you have a monster hand of your own. A person’s shoulders wiggling at the table also suggests “happy feet.”
Think about more mundane encounters you’ve had though. Have you ever noticed that when you’re talking to a person you want to get away from, your feet and legs, and often your torso, are pointed away and they feel tense, all the while you put on, literally, a happy face? That’s part of the freeze-flight-fight response that Joe Navarro mentions at the beginning of the book, and is an honest indicator of your displeasure. Read about a recent encounter of mine for some more intricate details of this.
Now go back and look at that picture again. If you were doing your homework, you should have noticed these things. The young girl on the left is particularly telling of her distress. Note how she literally tries her best to put on a happy face, yet still fails to do it well. More tellingly, her hands are frozen in place, her torso is shifted ever so slightly away, her legs are even more so, and her feet do the most talking – they are actively raised as if they want to move. This is what Joe Navarro calls “an intention cue” – an intention to act.
If you can glance at your opponent’s feet beside you at the poker table, and he raises his feet on his toes in this way after receiving his cards for instance, it means he believes he has a good hand and intends to act.
With our young damsel in distress, the intention cue signals her desire to get up and leave.
Note also that the further down you go from her face, the more honest she is about not enjoying herself, holding true to Joe’s ratings of body part honesty without fault.
Advance and Retreat:
Much of Read ‘Em And Reap consists of something most of us around this corner of the web know – the body language cues regarding the advance and retreat of space.
If a man’s hands inch their way further onto the poker table after seeing his cards or after a community card is dealt, it’s likely he has a good hand. If they retreat, it’s likely the opposite. We’ve known this for a long time as well – space is status. Take up more space and have more status and confidence, take up less and it’s the opposite.
Joe Navarro goes into detail on how to decode this with all the parts of the human body, including the most subtle facial and eye cues, in Read ‘Em And Reap.
But be warned, however, that these body language cues need to be taken in context to have the most accuracy. This is something called baseline behavior, and while you won’t be able to use this so much on girls you randomly approach (as your observational timeframe will be limited), it will be of more importance to people you see regularly in your personal and professional life:
I’m also looking for baseline behaviors: how people sit, where they place their hands, the position of their feet, their posture, their facial expression, even their normal chewing rate if they have gum in their mouth – anything that might help me read them more effectively when play starts. Establishing a player’s baseline behavior is critical because it allows you to determine when he or she deviates from it, which can be very important. For example, if you note where your opponents usually place their hands on the table, then you’ll be in an excellent position to gain valuable information if, during critical phases of play, their hands move forward or retreat from where they are normally positioned. (pg. 12)
Baseline behaviors are critical because they allow you to get not only a more accurate reading, but the intensity of the departure from the baseline, to narrow the truth down to that much higher degree of probability.
For instance, my feet and legs are naturally somewhat jumpy from time to time. It’s hard for me to be able to stay on one task at a time because I’m always looking ahead to the next action. I’m eager and energetic. This might mean, say, at the poker table, that my feet bounce more often than usual compared to someone else. I might have a great hand, which causes them to bounce, but my feet might not necessarily always be saying that about me (my great hand), compared to someone else who’s feet are usually still. If however, my feet suddenly clam up, it might mean I have a crappy hand.
I just did you a favor should you ever be sitting across the table from me one day.
So to be able to tell to the highest degree of accuracy, we need to look at the baseline behavior of the people we observe. If a woman is usually somewhat demure it doesn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t like you, it just means she’s demure, but if she suddenly starts to edge closer to you, if ever so subtly, you’re in good shape!
You get the picture. The tells Joe talks about in regards to body language are good cues, but to truly make the maximum use of them, they need to be put into context, which is what observing baseline behavior allows you to do. Joe Navarro says to think of the world as a jigsaw puzzle – the more pieces you can acquire, the clearer the picture will be.
Reading Read ‘Em And Reap years ago absolutely improved my social skills. No ifs ands or buts about it. I at once learned how to project confident body language consistently while also looking for nonverbal cues in others. Some months ago, I was in a club with a few friends and a woman came onto me ever so subtly. Most guys would not know how to act at all and likely wouldn’t have even interpreted her behavior correctly (which is why most men suck with women). Even in the dark, I saw her eyes bulge (a behavior that Joe calls “flashbulb eyes”), her brow arched, her torso leaned in ever so subtly, and her feet mirroring mine. I instantly grabbed her hand, isolated her, and escalated.
The guy that brought her up to me didn’t have a clue.
Refreshing myself with this book recently made me further conscious of some subtle things to look out for in interacting with others, and also reminded me of the need for conscientious observation. I’m naturally observant, so perhaps I have an unfair advantage compared to others, but it nevertheless was a reminder to take it even more seriously.
At the end of the day, nonverbal communication is the vast majority of interpersonal interactions, and body language is the lion’s share of nonverbal communication. If you don’t understand it you might as well be trying to look around at the other people in your life in the dark.
Reading Read ‘Em And Reap by Joe Navarro will put you well ahead of the curve in understanding nonverbal communication. You’ll know why it works as well as what to look for. You’ll also put yourself in the habit of taking in more information than almost everyone else around you. You give yourself in essence, a sort of X-Ray vision, while everyone else around you is happy with trying to see through lead.
That is the power of the information that Joe brings to you in this relatively short and very easy to understand book.