by Lina M. Maini
One of the most important tools in an investigator’s arsenal when questioning people is her ability to quickly and accurately read the subject’s body language. Most people believe that they are exceptionally good at judging the physical stances and reactions of others. Test yourself. If a subject’s feet are crossed at the ankle; significance? A slightly tilted head and one that is overly tilted indicate two very different emotions. What are they? How does the investigator subliminally encourage the subject’s cooperation?
Obviously, use your common sense but, generally, the below tips on body language are rooted in the many studies and practical experiences in the field in decoding innate physiological reactions that occur when someone is confronted.
1. Physical Closeness. Slowly Does It.
- Does the subject appear comfortable with your physical presence in his environment? We’ve all heard about one’s “personal space”, the approximate 18″ perimeter around oneself which, when breached, can either alarm or relax a person. (Bear in mind that personal space is culturally fluid; what may be considered close in one country is distant in another.) If the person entering the personal space is a “friendly”, the subject is relaxed and welcoming; a relative stranger or an adversary entering this space is perceived as a threat and will make the subject uncomfortable.
- Know your intent: If you are seeking the subject’s cooperation, gradually draw yourself closer and gage the reaction. When this personal space is accessed by gradual degrees, the result can be a more trusting environment, encouraging the subject to share information.
2. Head Position
- Overly titled head are a sign of sympathy, potentially even playful/flirtatious. (Be careful when encountering a subject employing this type head position as they may be intentionally trying to disarm or distract the questioner.)
- A lowered head indicate that the subject may have reason to hide something. It could be evasion, shyness, fear, disbelief or, s/he may be thinking to oneself or trying to decide whether to cooperate. (Gage the reaction and act appropriately by either gently backtracking from the current line of questioning that prompted this reaction or move almost imperceptibly closer to the subject with hands in the up and open position – indicating empathic and trustworthiness.)
- A slightly tilted head in your direction means that the subject is confused or judging or challenging you. (In this case, maintain eye contact and shift slightly horizontally which the subject perceives as your backing down as you’ve moved further away when in fact you’re exactly the same distance away, just in a different spot.)
3. The Eyes Have It.
People who look:
- to the sides often are nervous, lying,distracted or trying to hide something emotional.
- away from the speaker are indicating that they are uncomfortable or submissive.
- at the speaker with a questioning look are unconvinced or distrustful.
- at the speaker with dilated pupils, (unless the subject is under the influence) indicate that they are interested.
4. The Mirror Effect.
- If someone mimics your body language this is a very genuine sign that they are trying to establish rapport with you. If you change your position from time to time and they do likewise, they are mirroring you. This is a very useful tool for the investigator as the subject is fully engaged, sympathetic or empathetic and more likely to release information as their natural reservation is diminished by the effort of trying to keep pace with your physical movements.
5. Check the Arms.
- Closed arms indicate that the subject has closed themselves off to outside influence.
- Folded arms with the feet positioned shoulder length apart indicates a position of toughness or authority.
- Rubbing their hands together or otherwise touching their body is an effort to comfort themselves, indicating their uncomfortableness with the current situation.
- Arms resting behind their neck or head means that they are open to what is being discussed.
- Arms on hips indicate irritation or impatience.
- If their hands are closed, they could be angry or nervous.
6. Nervous Gestures.
- If someone brushes their hair back with their fingers, this may be preening, a common gesture if the person likes you, or their thoughts about something conflict with yours. If their eyebrows are raised during this gesture, they do not agree with you.
- If the person wears glasses, and is constantly pushing them up onto their nose again, with a slight frown, this may indicate that they disagree with what you are saying. Look to make sure they push up their glasses with an intent, not casually adjusting them. Look for pushing on the rim with two fingers, or an extra motion of wiggling the side of their glasses. The distinguishing feature is whether they are looking directly at you while doing it.
- Lowered eyebrows and squinted eyes illustrate an attempt at understanding what is being said or going on. It’s usually skeptical.
7. Watch their feet
- A fast tapping, shifting of weight, or movement of the foot will most often mean that the person is impatient, excited, nervous, scared, or intimidated.
- The meaning of feet tapping can usually be discerned depending on the context; if you are currently talking and they are tapping their feet, that is an indication of a desire to leave (though usually this behavior manifests when the person is anxious to get somewhere specific, such as a meeting, rather than because of what you’re doing specifically).
- Slow shuffling indicates boredom with the current situation.
- If the person is sitting, feet crossed at the ankles means they’re generally at ease.
- If while standing, a person seems to always keep their feet very close together, it probably means they are trying to be “proper” in some way. Sometimes feet together means that they are feeling more submissive or passive.
- Some people may point their feet to the direction of where they want to go or sometimes their interest.
Again, many external or unknown factors can influence a subject’s cooperation but being able to gauge the meaning of the subject’s body language expertly and correctly is usually the difference between a successful interview and a frustrating and fruitless one.
BNI Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.
As always, stay safe.