Our postures, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice, when combined, all create a complex layer of communication known as body language. It’s our most effective and natural method for communicating in person with others, hence the age old wisdom that the way you say something often matters more than what you say.
Body language refers to all of the nonverbal signals we send both consciously and subconsciously, and it plays a huge role in the way we view others and the way they view us. The manner in which we stand, the aggressiveness (or lack thereof) in our gestures, and the way our shoes, hair, and eyes look, all play a role in these judgments.
On top of this, whether we appear to be awake or tired, nervous or confident, and untidy or clean, contributes to the signals we are sending to each other. To add another layer of complexity to the mix, the volume, speed, and pitch we use to speak adds to the cues we are sending and perceiving.
One famous study in particular found that only 7 percent of communication between human beings is based on words themselves, with the rest being body language and tone of voice. Although this has been disputed over time, most still agree that nonverbal signals and cues dominate the words we choose to use.
This is an intuitive language, a process that most of us already know how to use, that happens mostly on the subconscious level. When you start to pay closer attention to this communication, both yours and that of others, you will begin to see more than you originally noticed. This opens up a new world of possibility.
By studying and reading more about this subject, you can teach yourself to recognize patterns and nonverbal cues in behavior that allow you to not only understand people better, but perceive them with accuracy.
When we try to make positive impressions, in both professional and social situations, we typically hold sustained eye contact and give a friendly smile as we introduce ourselves. The trouble is that, in addition to these gestures, we are constantly giving off hundreds of smaller, subtler signals with our bodies that others will pick up on immediately and subconsciously. This is what gives us gut feelings about people that, at times, seem to come from nowhere.
By standing a certain way or shaking someone’s hand, you may trigger responses in whoever you are interacting with or attempting to make a good impression on. Perhaps they had an old relative who used to stand that way, increasing the likelihood that they will feel favorably towards you.
On the other hand, perhaps the way you stand reminds them of someone they had a falling out with years back, which could immediately decrease their trust in you through no fault of your own. As you can see, this process is complex and multifaceted.
There are multiple reasons why learning about this subject can help you in life. Primarily, it can help you understand the way you are coming across to those you interact with, and work towards sending the messages you want to send. Secondly, learning about nonverbal communication will enable you to read previously hidden signals and interpret what someone is really thinking or feeling.
By making adjustments to the manner in which we dress, move, gesture, and stand, we can purposely direct the encounters we have with others in a smoother and easier fashion. Our modern, connected world relies increasingly on social interaction, so reaching our goals becomes easier with this extra knowledge about the way humans function and communicate.
It’s important to accept that learning how to read body language and people, in general, is something that must be studied and learned over time, like any other skill. You won’t turn into an expert in one day, but gaining access to the best information and sticking faithfully with your practice will help you advance smoothly and quickly.
As soon as you start to pick up on small signals, you can move on to figuring out what they mean within certain contexts and situations. You can start out interpreting the people around you that you already know, and move on to reading strangers.
Whether you own a business, want to know how to make dates go fantastically, or simply hope to get better at playing poker, learning how to read people will help you along the way. Reading books on this subject is one obvious way to gain the information you need and start putting it to use. Let’s look at the ideal qualities for body language books.
What to Look for in Body Language Books
- Specific tips for enhancing your body language: In addition to learning how to read others, finding out how best to communicate the messages you wish to send is crucial for mastering the art of body language. Did you know that crossing your arms sends a very different message than keeping them clasped in your lap, for example? Find a book that gives you a thorough overview of each of these subtle signs and what they tell others around you.
- Step-by-step instructions on reading others: Is your main motivation for learning about body language trying to become better at scouting out dates? Perhaps you simply wish to have a better understanding of your teenage daughter, who you have difficulty communicating and connecting with. Or maybe you simply want to be able to tell instantly whether someone should be considered an ally or enemy in various social environments. Whatever your motivation is for learning about this topic, you need specific, step by step guidance on reading people, so look for a book that provides plenty of detail.
- Well-organized format: Some readers of material on body language will be fascinated by one facet of the subject, such as facial expressions, while having no interest in others, like physical space. A well-organized book format will help you sort through the information in the guide to find what is most relevant and interesting to you personally.
- Help with deception detection: Human beings are complex creatures, and what you see and hear from them is not always what it appears to be. One major reason people become interested in reading body language is finding out how to tell whether someone is being truthful or not. Does avoidance of eye contact always mean deception? How can you tell when someone is just stressed out versus telling an elaborate lie? A quality book will go over tips and steps for detecting when someone is lying to you.
- Variety of perspectives: Body language can be useful in countless situations, such as professional interaction, romantic communication, and other basic social environments. A person’s behavior during a date would be read differently than the way the same person behaves in a crowded subway station, for instance. With such a rich and multifaceted subject, one size does not fit all. A good guide on body language will lend insights for a few different, specific, real life scenarios and give comprehensive guidance on reading nonverbal signal clusters and relevant context.
Considering the information and factors above, we’ve compiled a list of the best books on body language to enhance your skills in reading people.
2017 Top Picks
- Body Language: Effective Non-verbal Communication to Understand People, Influence People and Attract People Instantly
- The Definitive Book of Body Language
- Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception
- What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People
- Body Language: Discover and Understand the Psychological Secrets Behind Reading and Benefitting From Body Language
Body Language: Effective Non-verbal Communication to Understand People, Influence People and Attract People Instantly
It’s no secret that certain people seem to naturally have the talent of charisma, while others aren’t so lucky. But what if this is a mistaken assumption, and charisma is something you can teach yourself to excel at with practice?
Anyone who desires to can enhance their communication abilities, improve their level of influence over others, and increase their own attractiveness.
If you have ever wished you could learn to connect with the people around you simply, without struggling, this book could be what you’ve been looking for.
This guide is a simple self-help tool that will aid you in implementing effective techniques for communicating beyond words. With this knowledge, you can finally make sense of what the people around you are thinking and feeling, along with the motivations behind what they do.
You will also gain insight into how body language works, its basic functions, concepts about facial expressions, handshakes and gestures, postures, and personal space. There are countless hidden messages behind every movement of the human body, when it comes to social interaction.
In addition to this, the book will give you a set of easy to understand rules for interpreting people correctly, along with insight into the connection between the mind and body. It also includes data and signals to watch for in specific situations where interpreting this language is necessary, such as interactions with co-workers.
With this information, you can finally have the tools you need to learn how to cooperate with different personality types in a professional or strictly social setting.
We can’t control everything about the way we come across to those around us, but small changes to our facial expressions and body posture can go a long way. Taking on certain tones and gestures can have a palpable influence on your levels of confidence, emotions, and overall mood, shifting the way you feel about yourself in addition to the way that others perceive you.
The book is made well with an attractive design that allows you access to the hidden world of people’s desires and fears. It also lends valuable information about finding out whether someone is being truthful or lying. [Buy on Amazon]
The Definitive Book of Body Language
His valuable information on communication has had a large effect on the way people communicate and do business. He and his wife Barbara, who co-authored this book, typically cover topics such as nonverbal communication and the effects of gender distinctions on human behavior and interaction.
This guide covers body language and nonverbal communication from a professional executive perspective, focusing on body language cues as they relate to politics and business. However, the guide is not overly scholarly, and is perfectly suitable for the layman. As mentioned earlier, it’s a common understanding that body language plays a larger role in social communication than words.
However, surprisingly few people are aware of how exactly to read those signals. Although we are intuitively equipped with the ability to interpret nonverbal cues, we often don’t know what to make of them.
The words people choose to use are often different than what they are truly feeling or thinking, making conversation and communication confusing and, at times, overwhelming to try to decode. In this book, the husband and wife author duo aim to aid readers in handling various situations, through learning more about body language.
In order to both spot and interpret disparities in words and feelings, the insights revealed in their guide can be highly useful for many different reasons. You will be shown techniques for reading previously hidden signals and interpreting cues in the right way, giving you a distinct advantage in social situations and eliminating unnecessary confusion.
Within this book, you will learn about the fact that nonverbal cues should be read in clusters, rather than as isolated and unrelated events. In other words, you should try to read gestures as they relate to each other and draw conclusions from the cluster of compiled signals. You will be given concrete steps for situations such as finding out whether a person is available, convincing others to cooperate, interviewing and being interviewed, negotiating, and coming across as positive and approachable.
Through actionable steps and techniques, readers will find out how to recognize signals of deception, romantic interest, and power play attempts. Concepts such as eye movements, limb positioning, mirroring, and micro-expressions are also covered.
The book goes into a fair amount of detail on the subject of romance and courtship, giving interesting tidbits about how quickly women can sense their partner is interested in another woman, for example. It also tells about the signals women use to get the message across that they have already claimed a man in a situation where another woman is indicating interest in him.
Some readers will find that the sense of humor within the written style adds an element of entertainment to the book, making it easier to absorb and follow. If you’re hoping to read an academic, serious guide on the subject of nonverbal communication, this may not be appropriate for you. But if you’re seeking a practical and simple introduction to the fascinating topic, this is a great choice. [Buy on Amazon]
Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception
The author Michael Floyd, along with two other former agents, honed and perfected their lie detection skills on professional criminals and dangerous terrorists.
But you don’t have to be a criminal investigator to make use of their insights. This information works just as well (or possibly even better) for reading deceptive partners, slacking employees, or lying school kids.
These men have over 70 years of collective experience in the field and decided to make a book out of it, to share that knowledge with the world. Using the very information employed to protect the country and catch dangerous spies, they will teach you how to detect lies in everyday situations.
This guide provides useful and relevant anecdotes, equipping you with the skills you need to spot lies and deception in both friends and strangers.
Consciously or subconsciously, everyone tries to judge and read others’ sincerity to protect their own interests and safety. Unfortunately, most people aren’t good at this naturally. Contrary to what some people may believe, the ability to spot lies is not something we are born with, but something that must be taught and learned. Using the informative, entertaining, and practical advice given in this book, you will improve your odds of finding the truth when it matters the most.
For those interested in spy novels, the format of this book will captivate your interest with its fascinating and instructive layout. U.S. secret service researchers and FBI public affairs directors are just some of the people who have benefited from this valuable source of information on reading body language. Although the authors of the book speak from their experience in interviewing employees and assets of the CIA, they also use and illustrate these skills in ordinary settings on ordinary people.
Some people who are interested in learning about body language are mainly concerned with improving their own personal influence, and some are more intent to spot lies and truth in others. For those who fall into the latter category, this book is a great choice. It will help you in decisions related to hiring the correct addition to your office, knowing whether or not to trust your questionable babysitter, and discerning who is guilty or innocent in a legal situation.
This knowledge and insight is not always enjoyable. At times, you may discover that your colleague has a hidden motive, or that your spouse hasn’t been telling you the truth about where they go after work. However, it’s always preferable to know for sure so you can make informed decisions in life.
Learning how to detect lies is not a magic skill free from error, but nearly everyone can get better at it. Spy the Lie defines and identifies a few different barriers that may be keeping you from accurately reading deception in others. Many of us expect that most people are honest, search for the wrong giveaways in lie detection, and use the wrong questions for trying to discern truth or lack thereof.
We also make the process needlessly complicated, watching the person’s actions like a hawk, instead of focusing on more reliable, yet subtler, indications of deception.
These indicators include subconscious bodily movements of the deceiver, small hesitations in speech, and evasions in conversation. Readers will learn how to question those they suspect in a way that calls for different processing from innocent versus guilty people.
For instance, a guilty person would typically take much longer than necessary to elaborately and carefully answer a simple question than someone who is innocent and has nothing to hide. Some indications are visible and obvious within only a few seconds of the question, while indicator clusters are more reliable than isolated cues.
There are a couple of major obstacles to truth detecting you will learn about, including the bias of suspected people being innocent until they are proven otherwise, and the tendency to be uncomfortable with judging people.
Avoidance of direct answers, needlessly repeating your question, and giving unspecific and general answers to direct and specific questions could all be indications of lying. You will learn about all of that and more in this book. [Buy on Amazon]
What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People
His study of body language has spanned over 4 decades, culminating in his present status as a talented lecturer, author, consultant, and interpreter of nonverbal signals and cues.
Reading his guide will greatly enhance your body language knowledge and abilities, leading you to make assessments of behavior that are not only accurate, but quick. In his guide, Navarro goes into detail about tips and tricks for speed reading people, decoding their behaviors and feelings, avoiding traps, and identifying lies and deceptive actions.
In addition, this book will teach you about the way body language plays a role in how your friends, family, bosses, and even strangers view you. You will learn about ancient human evolution and the survival instincts behind nonverbal communication. You’ll also find out the surprising reasons behind the fact that the face is not the most reliable indicator of the way a person truly feels.
Quite surprisingly, the eyelids, feet, and even thumbs can tell you about someone’s motives and inner moods, while specific behaviors are the most reliable indicators of true feelings and confidence levels. You will find out about the simple and subtle nonverbal signals that show trust, and the signals that immediately signal authority and command respect.
Full of relevant and related examples from author Navarro’s past profession in the FBI, this guide will show you a brand new to way to interpret the social landscape around you. When you are bartering and someone gives you their “best offer,” is it really their best? When your significant other says she isn’t angry, is that the truth? When the interviewer says they will give you a call soon, is that actually going to happen?
There are countless situations where extra insight into reading people will be useful. Everyone could do with learning about which traits signal compassion and sincerity and which traits show deception or a tendency to be untrustworthy.
With emphasis on using these skills of deciphering body language cues in everyday situations, the book goes into detail about typical indicators for deception, including signs of unease. The author also emphasizes the fact that although you may be able to pinpoint reasons for certain gestures, such as someone scratching their nose and repeatedly signaling nervousness, you can’t always tell if they are actually lying.
Navarro cautions readers against jumping to hasty conclusions and encourages logical observation for discovering whether someone is stressed out due to being deceptive, or simply feeling pressured for unrelated reasons. The real skill in reading people’s body language is figuring out what their actions mean within a particular context. At times, it’s what people refrain from saying or doing that can tell you the most.
It’s important to note that some “tells”, signals, or actions may appear to signal the same meanings throughout different people, while some are unique. What an action signals in one person, may mean something entirely different in another. This is why establishing a baseline for the person you’re observing is so important. This allows you to see what behaviors are typical for them and notice when they deviate from their normal state of mind.
There is a chapter in the book devoted to the limbic system in the human brain, which is responsible for these involuntary and subconscious quirks and gestures we make. The book is illustrated with photos to help get points across and will serve as a valuable tool for research that you can refer to repeatedly. The book has even been used as research material for policemen and investigators. [Buy on Amazon]
Body Language: Discover and Understand the Psychological Secrets Behind Reading and Benefitting From Body Language
Studying this subject helps you to decipher when someone’s words are aligning with what they’re saying, or when they are being deceptive. It can also help you master the art of social interaction and improve your existing relationships in both leisurely and professional settings.
This is a skill that anyone can learn and put to use, and since most people don’t study this subject or devote extra time to considering it, doing so will give you a distinct advantage.
In the book, Body Language: Discover and Understand the Psychological Secrets Behind Reading and Benefitting From Body Language, the author will show you how nonverbal communication is truly a unique language on its own. For readers who are mostly interested in the subject of body language for the purpose of enhancing and expanding their personal presence, this book is the right choice.
It goes over various “power poses” you can adopt for a quick and empowering mood change, along with insights about handshakes and what they mean.
Our words communicate less than we think they do. Most of the time, it’s the way we act that is responsible for the messages being sent. Every movement of our bodies, the gestures we choose, and the amount of personal space we prefer to keep between ourselves and others, says something about us.
Anyone who wishes to advance in their professional environment or develop charisma will benefit from finding out what these signals are saying. Learn how to spot hidden clues within a conversation, excel at your customer service job, or secure the career you’ve been hoping for with this information.
This book is short, easy to digest, and simple to put into practice. It will help you analyze the people around you more accurately and gain a clearer understanding of their feelings, in addition to helping you feel and appear more confident in yourself. [Buy on Amazon]
How to Improve your Body Language
We are constantly sending silent signals to the people around us, whether we realize it or not. These are communicated instantly and recognized by others on a subconscious level. Each of these signals plays a role in how that person will view us, and in some cases, how we will view ourselves. How can you ensure that you are sending a positive, confident message with your body language?
- Eye contact: You’ve probably heard that you should hold eye contact with people you are speaking with, but did you know that there’s a preferred amount to hold for an optimal comfort level? When you are speaking with multiple people, try making sure that you are looking at each person to create a welcoming environment and to gauge whether or not they are paying attention. Going overboard and holding eye contact continuously can come across as creepy, while avoiding it altogether will send a signal that you aren’t confident in yourself. If you are unsure of the right amount, try making eye contact about 60 percent of the time.
- Keep an open posture: Crossing your arms and legs can make you come across as guarded or defensive, so try to maintain an open, neutral posture. If you’re unsure of what to do with your hands, you can keep them loosely clasped in your lap or down by your sides. Part of an open posture is keeping a confident stance, instead of subconsciously making your body smaller. Take up a considerate amount of space while sitting or standing to show that you are comfortable with yourself, as well as approachable.
- Don’t underestimate smiling: Grimacing or frowning not only shows that you are unapproachable or in a sour mood, but sends signals to your own brain that you’re undergoing something difficult and grueling. This then contributes to your body’s stress levels by releasing the hormone cortisol, fueling a cycle of negativity. To avoid this unsavory fate, try making yourself smile, even if you don’t feel like it. This may feel inauthentic at first, but you’ll soon create a positive feedback loop within your own mind and environment. The people around you are more likely to feel comfortable and smile back when you smile, and your own state of mind will soon become more enjoyable, as well.
- Look less confrontational: Standing directly in front of someone and facing them full on can make the interaction feel confrontational for both parties. You can reduce this instinctive, threatened feeling by angling your body a little bit. When you are the one being confronted, instead of backing away (which makes you look insecure or afraid), simply shift your body at an angle. You can also try to stand at someone’s side to increase cooperative and non-threatening feelings, since this subconsciously implies a collaborative attitude and willingness to work together.
- Using objects to enhance engagement: The way you position your body has a real effect on your mood and attitude. Someone who sits in the corner with crossed arms and a bowed head is likely feeling more defensive and resistant than the person moving around and talking with everyone. If you want to engage a person who appears to be closed off, you should make an effort to get them to shift their closed off position. This can involve shaking their hand, asking them to hand you their card, or offering them something to drink. Even the simple act of going to grab a bottle of water and asking someone if you can bring them one can help the person to shift their position and, as a consequence, feel more open. If you’re running a meeting and want to get people engaged, try getting them to raise their hands or shift positions.
- Use your hands to be expressive: Using the right hand motions and gestures can add a lot to what you’re saying. Consider the way someone talks when they aren’t into what they’re saying, versus the way someone looks when they are animated and excited about a story they’re telling. If you make an effort to employ this animation in professional settings, you will amp up your confidence levels, think in a clearer fashion, and effectively emphasize your message. This kind of enthusiasm is contagious.
Sources & Further Reading
- Guide to Reading Microexpressions, Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People
- Eye Reading (Body Language), Psychologist World
- Stanford scientists identify body language tied to creativity, learning, Stanford News
- Joe Navarro, Inforensics
- You Don’t Say? Body Language Speaks Volumes More Than Words, Thai Nguyen, Entrepreneur
- Pease International