Imagine, if you will, the ability to determine what a friend, family member, coworker, or stranger is thinking or feeling at any given moment. Not by some superhuman power, but by learning the basics of nonverbal communication and applying them in everyday life. Such is the premise of Joe Navarro’s book, What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People.
With more than 45 years of experience in studying nonverbal communication and behavior, Navarro gets down to business quickly in his book by sharing some of the most common ways that humans show their true feelings and thoughts. Some of these nonverbal behaviors include how we touch various parts of our bodies in certain situations, our foot and leg positioning, and our eye reactions.
Navarro points out that there are three parts of the human brain, two of which are responsible for the ways we react to situations and people.
He explains that the neocortex is the thinking part of the brain, and is the part we use to lie and deceive. According to the author, we use this part of the brain a lot and have learned to do so from childhood. The neocortex is the part of the brain that makes us, for instance, tell a friend that we like their haircut when we really don’t like it. This part of the brain is not a good source of reliable information.
The author explained that the limbic system part of the brain, however, is a good source of reliable and truthful information. In essence, you cannot regulate the limbic system cognitively and it is the honest part of the brain from which nonverbal, and honest, behavior originates.
Some of the ways the limbic system causes our true feelings and thoughts to manifest is through our body positioning and ways that we move and touch various parts of our body. From the rubbing of our neck in a stressful situation to the bouncing of our feet when we’re happy or excited, the signs are there to read for those who know what to look for.
You’re probably familiar with the notion that humans have “fight or flight” responses, with these being our two innate options for how we react to danger or stressful situations. However, Navarro argues that there’s a third component that’s not included in that notion, which is, freeze. Freezing, fighting or fleeing threats is how humans have survived, the author teaches. These three options for dealing with threats, real and perceived, influence how the limbic system drives our nonverbal behavior in these situations.
Navarro’s explanations of these principles include examples with which most of us are familiar. For instance, he tells of an experience in which he was enjoying a late-night snack with family when, at 11 p.m., there was a knock at the door. Due to its unusualness, the late-night knock caused everyone in the room to freeze, hands, legs, bodies and all.
“What Every BODY Is Saying” is an eye-opening read that provides valuable information that can improve our interpersonal relationships. However, we need to apply this knowledge in a thoughtful and constructive manner, not as an “I told you so” weapon to win an argument or to manipulate others.
The book is available in digital and print formats and contains 250 pages (about seven hours of audiobook time).