Joe Navarro's career as a counterintelligence special agent for the FBI made him one of the most uniquely qualified experts on nonverbal communication. When you spend 25 years interrogating terrorists and criminals you're bound to pick up on a few things.
In Chapter 1 of this 4 Part blog series he shared that even the "experts" in law enforcement can't accurately tell if someone is deceiving you or lying to you. The 2nd Chapter focused on the significance of dis-possession: how it's NEVER a good thing when someone suddenly stops claiming ownership for something (my gun vs. the gun).
As my interview with Joe progressed we started talking about specific nonverbal behaviors and actions that someone might exhibit that would give you a huge clue that they're uncomfortable and you should dig in further. It's important to point out that this also ties in nicely with what Chris Mursau shared a few weeks ago about the significance of self-awareness and why a Candidate who answers a question about their weaknesses or career mistakes with, "You know...I can't think of any."
[JDavis] Earlier in our conversation you suggested that it's fairly easy to pick up on INDICATORS OF STRESS. We discussed the weight that certain words can have (a knife or blade vs. a machete) and that if someone knows how to look for these key indicators they should dig in further. What's an example of an INDICATOR OF STRESS?
In my experience, the most honest part of anyone's body is their feet. If you watch someone who's on the phone, even if you can't hear what the dialogue is, their feet will tell the story. When a conversation is going well, their feet will defy gravity. Just like tapping your feet to the beat of a song you like, our feet and legs move up and down based on whether something is positive or not. Interestingly, gravity-defying behaviors rarely show up in people who are suffering from clinical depression. It's because the body reflects precisely the emotional state of an individual - even if their mouth is saying something different.
[JDavis] Is there anything really specific that might happen to the feet and legs during an interview or a conversation that an amateur could look for to help them detect stress?
Yes. I call it "Distancing". Most of the research that has been done on nonverbal displays of discomfort or guilt seemed to concentrate on the face. One thing I found was that people with guilty knowledge or discomfort (stress) distance themselves with their feet. If you bring up a subject they don’t like they’ll place their feet in the “starter’s position” because they literally want to run away and not be there.
[JDavis] I can see it being a bit awkward as an interviewer to constantly be looking under the table at someone's feet when we're supposed to be talking with them and acting like we're paying attention. What are some examples of nonverbal behavior above the table that an interviewer might notice?
To answer this question it's important to explain how the brain works first. In nonverbal communication, the limbic brain is where the action is because it's the brain's emotional center. From here, the signals that go out that orchestrate our behaviors as they relate to our emotions. It's considered the "honest brain" because many of the behavioral reactions that are manifested through our feet, torso, arms, hands and faces occur without thought and, unlike our words, they are genuine.
With that said, we use our shoulders all the time. If you get asked, “do you care where we eat?”, a quick shrug would be representative of a low confidence display that shows that you don’t truly care.
In a more serious setting, if you ask someone, “Will this project be done by July?” and they answer by having ONE shoulder rise up to their ear, you can deduce that the person who is answering lacks confidence. Having one shoulder come up is a subconscious way of that person demonstrating that they have some internal doubt or internal dialogue that doesn’t support the verbal answer that they are giving you. The opposite is also true: when we answer something with confidence, our shoulders are down and squared.
In the final installment of this 4 Part Series I'll share Joe's Top nonverbal actions that represent a change in countenance of someone you're interviewing.
For twenty-five years, Joe Navarro was an FBI counterintelligence special agent and supervisor specializing in nonverbal communications. A frequent lecturer, he serves on the adjunct faculty at Saint Leo University and the FBI. You can learn more about Joe through his website or by following him on Twitter.