Body Language Course Part 6 | The truth detectives

The truth detectives

Uncovering Deception

Those who investigate the honesty of others need to be able to spot the tell-tale signs of deception(lie) without making it obvious that they are doing so.

Although training is needed to improve these skills. Part of such training involves the recognition of body language clues.

People involved in deception usually try to avoid blatant(noisy) lying. For example, they may :

  • Fail to answer the question asked
  • Pretend not to understand it 
  • Remain silent 
  • Feign emotion, such as anger 
  • Pretend they are feeling ill

If they can’t get away with concealing what they are doing, they may begin to falsify the situation by:

  • Inventing a scenario
  • Telling a tall story
  • Telling a lie

 To conceal or avoid telling direct lies people will often water down their statements.

Stress- The body language of deception 

The body language of stress gives us clues individuals may be trying to conceal the truth. A yawn may just indicate tiredness but under stressful circumstances, it can indicate to deceive.

As do:

  • Making odd facial expressions
  • Feigning yawns
  • Stretching
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Pushing for longer than usual, of going silent
  • Exhibiting glazed expressions
  • Repeatedly clearing the throat
  • Making speech errors
  • Alternating the pitch of the voice
  • Grinding teeth or biting lips
  • Nose touching

In some cases, individuals under suspicion decrease their normal expressive hand and arm movements,

using them instead to soothe the nose, mouth and brow can also be seen as characteristic of ‘guilty’ behaviour in some circumstances.

Deceiving others can also have the following effects:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in swallowing 
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing or blanching of the face
  • Sweating and palpitations

(Flushing, indicating a slight increase in skin temperature )

In extreme circumstances, the lier’s body may even appear frozen, with arms and legs tightly folded in a defensive posture.

Postscript on nose touching

It is well known that when people tell lies or even hear other people lying, they tend to touch their nose. There seem to be two explanations for this gesture.

Firstly, by touching the nose and the hand covers the mouth where the lies are coming from – children cover their mouths when they are telling lies. 

Secondly, when people tell lies it causes stress, and stress causes the skin to get slightly hotter. When the skin gets hotter, the nose,

which is a sensitive organ, may itch or even expand slightly so the individual touches the itching nose.

A word of warning

As a word of warning to the overly zealous – non-verbal communication provides clues to how people think and feel, not evidence. Just because someone appears nervous or behaves uncharacteristically does not prove wrong-doing.

Body language in security and control

Morris found that people exhibit ten times as many signs of tension at airports as compared to railways stations.

Only 8% of the passengers about to board a train showed these signs but 80% at the check-in desk of a jumbo jet flight.

Aggressive body language arises when people are forced to wait in queues are crowded into restrictive spaces.

Recognising tension

Being able to recognise tension in others is a first step towards limiting confrontation and alleviating stress. Cabin crew are specially trained to watch for tell-tale signs of tension, particularly amongst fidgeting passengers, which can include:

  • Repeatedly checking tickets or passports
  • Rearranging hand-luggage
  • Dropping things
  • Constantly making ‘vital last-minute checks’
  • Changing position in their seats
  • Grimacing
  • Head scratching
  • Earlobe tugging
  • Lighting but not smoking cigarettes
  • Repeatedly breaking matches
  • Rubbing the back of the neck with the palm of the hand.

When tension cannot be displayed in these ways, it begins to flow over in this form of aggression. Sometimes this may be directed at inanimate objects like airport furniture or through door slamming.

At other times it may be targeted at airport staff verbally through argument and confrontation, and non-verbally in the form of aggressive body language.

Predicting aggression

There are a number of gestures that exemplify aggressive behaviours which can be useful predictors of potential conflict situations.

  • Shaking the fist at someone expresses contempt.
  • Hand chop or hand slice whereby the hand is used as an axe to suggest execution
  • Prodding with the fingertips in the direction of another person’s eyes.
  • Staring or eyeballing as boxers do before a fight is designed to intimidate or control a situation.

It goes without saying that exerting that pressure on others, most cases of aggression do not result in physical violence as most people ultimately prefer to avoid injury.

Avoiding confrontation

There are certain basic rules that you need to follow if you are to resolve the confrontational situation to everyone’s satisfaction.

    • Be assertive, not confrontational. Problems are rarely solved through confrontation or argument.
    • Remain calm and try to ensure that your own body language is neither defensive nor threatening. You need to be seen to be in control.
  • Keep at arm’s length. This allows you to step aside should the individual possibly lunge at you. Never attempt to touch or grab someone who is angry as this will only encourage retaliation. 
    • Don’t ‘talk down to’, or use gestures that could be interpreted as you implying that the customer is stupid. 
    • Don’t shout or raise your voice at the customer. Shouting is an aggressive way of communicating and is likely to annoy not only the person you are dealing with but also in the immediate vicinity.
  • Avoid pointing at people. If you want their attention, or you wish to direct them in a certain way, use your whole hand.

Try not to point directly at individuals. Even pointing with the thumb, nodding your head in a certain direction are regarded as sure gestures and are likely to cause irritation.

  • Don’t beckon with the forefinger only as this is often sarcastic. It is better to roll the fingers towards you with the palms up although mostly in European countries as well as in Asia the same gesture is used but with the palm face down. 
  • Retain eye contact with the customer or client to show that you are interested and concerned. Looking down or looking away may be construed as disinterest and cause annoyance.
  • Avoid descent, that is, try not to shake your head or wag your finger. If you need to say no it is better to use the whole hand’s, palms-down gesture whilst at the same time maintaining friendly eye contact.
  • Maintain an upright posture when sitting, as this appears attentive, professional, and lacking in tension.

Hanging legs over chairs or feet on desks appears disrespectful and leaning back with your hands clasped behind your head and elbows sticking out in front looks ‘superior’.

  • Slow understanding when the person you are dealing with is getting flustered. Simple gestures, such as patting the palms in a gentle, downward motion combined with comments

such as “ I understand your feelings, so let’s talk about it, can make a difficult situation.

To sum up: an understanding of non-verbal communications can help identify stress and deception and also help to reduce confrontation.

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