Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Non-verbal Storytelling

I've been reading a fascinating book called, What Every BODY Is Saying, by Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI agent and expert on body language.

If the topic of non-verbal communication is even somewhat interesting to you, buy a copy of this book. It is loaded with pictures to illustrate the postures, gestures, and expressions that communicate loudly in ways we might not expect.

In the chapter on facial expressions, Navarro talks about a variety of unconscious behaviors people adopt when they are under stress. As it happened, I was reading the book at the gym last week when Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich held a news conference to profess his innocence. Rather than put my headset on and listen to what promised to be typical political drivel, I watched without audio to see what unconscious behaviors I might notice.

By my count, Blagojevich licked his lips 11 times in the two short minutes or so he was on camera. According to Navarro, lip licking is a pacifying behavior that occurs when people are stressed or feeling insecure. Whether a person is innocent or not, it makes sense that anyone recently arrested by federal agents and subject to impeachment hearings would be under stress. To be clear, it wouldn't be fair or appropriate to jump to any conclusions about honesty or guilt. I simply found it fascinating to see such obvious evidence of what I am sure was completely unconscious behavior on the part of Blagojevich.

At the same time, this was a nice reminder of the clues that are available to people interested enough--and aware enough--to pick up on the many ways we communicate non-verbally.