Your audience is keeping an eagle eye on you as you speak in public settings. Yes, they are listening to your words. But they are also soaking up every gesture and vocal quality you display. How important are these nonverbal cues?
Let’s examine two facets of nonverbal language: How and why we observe others, and our culture’s current fascination with spotting liars.
Standing on the Corner
It takes time and practice to get better at reading nonverbal indicators. And, like some of us can whack a tennis ball better than our opponents, some are inherently more talented with regard to nonverbal interpretation.
How can you improve your capacity for gleaning these body language signs? Find a place where you can people-watch without attracting undue attention to yourself. Airports are great for this. You have people rushing about, often displaying bare, frazzled emotions.
If you live in a major metropolitan area, the subway is a great observation spot. Shopping malls, concerts, and sporting events are also prime venues. So is your gym (though beware of coming across as a creep who leers at others). Or simply stand on a street corner and observe.
One final suggestion: Your workplace. Want some insights into what the boss really thinks of you (granted, some of us would be better off remaining in the dark)? Or you may wonder just how supportive your direct report really is. Let me emphasize that nonverbals cannot supply definitive answers. They can, however, indicate which way people are leaning, and give you intelligence that tells you that you need to check things out more closely.
The Fascination with Lie Detection
It is difficult to spot a liar, so I advise you to steer clear of any source that claims in ironclad fashion it can help you discern when someone is being less than truthful.
In order to have an even money shot at unmasking an untruth you need to first have a grasp of an individual’s baseline nonverbals. Good luck if your conversational partner is someone you’re meeting for the first time.
For those who think they are the original lie detection machine, most of us might as well flip a coin, for the rate of accuracy for lie detection rests near the 50 percent level. Research studies found only Secret Service agents regularly outperforming that mean.
In addition, one study assessed more than 12,000 people’s lie detection talents. Among those 12,000 they found only 29 “truth wizards”—those who could detect accurately above 80 percent. Twenty-nine! Far less than one one-hundredth of one percent. You and I had best have that coin handy the next time we try to guess who’s lying.