Learn How To Read Body Language & Unconscious Communication: How To Read People

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How To Read People

Body language and unconscious communication are behaviours which each of us carry out during each day of our lives, without necessarily being consciously aware of them.

Our facial expressions, the way we move our eyes, our body movements and even the words we use in our sentences all provide vital clues as to what we are truly thinking and feeling beneath our external behaviour.

Being able to read people is a very real skill which many people are impeccable at, others not so much. So, how do you learn to read people?

Sensory Acuity

It all starts with something called sensory acuity which, according to NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), is the ability to remain aware of the things going on around us and to do this we use our five senses - sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

It is these five senses which make up our internal representation of the external world. That is, how we perceive the outside world and the map we form of it in our minds. In order to develop our sensory acuity we should strengthen our internal representational systems.

By practicing remaining consciously aware of everything around us - we should consciously think about the things we can see in our peripheral vision, we should consciously think about all of the various sounds we can hear at the time, we should think about whether it feels warm, cold or windy and whether there are any odours we can smell.

The idea is not to do this with each of our senses separately, but to strengthen all of them so that we become better at using them to pick up on the things going on around us. Some people, such as a musician for example, may have a strong auditory (hearing) representational system but their visual representational system may be weaker, therefore it would benefit the musician to practice strengthening their visual system - or they may find becoming a graphic artist too difficult to accomplish.

Alternatively, a graphic artist may have a strong visual representational system but a weak auditory system and so it would benefit the artist to practice strengthening their auditory system - or they would find becoming a musician too difficult to achieve.

By developing our sensory acuity it makes it much easier to pick up on the subconscious cues, body language and unconscious communication of other people and it allows us to read people more accurately.

NLP Eye-Accessing Cues
NLP Eye-Accessing Cues | Source

Eye-Accessing Cues

The diagram to the right shows how most right-handed people will move their eyes when accessing certain representational systems. The opposite would be the case for most left-handed people (but not all).

Eye-accessing cues are nowhere near 100% reliable and should not be solely relied upon. However, if used with other techniques eye-accessing cues can provide vital clues to a person's true thoughts and feelings.

The letters in the diagram indicate the following:

Vr - Visually remembered.

Ar - Auditory remembered.

Aid - Auditory (internal dialogue)

Vc - Visually constructed (imagined).

Ac - Auditory constructed.

Ki - Kinaesthetic (touch/feel)

Vr, or visually remembered, indicates that the person is genuinely remembering a visual image from the past and is therefore likely to be telling the truth about a certain event.

Ar, or auditory remembered, indicates the person is remembering words or a sentence that someone has said to them, or they have heard, in the past.

Aid, or auditory (internal dialogue) indicates that they are listening to their own internal dialogue (the voice we hear in our mind when we think to ourselves).

Vc, or visually constructed, indicates that the person is visualizing a previously unseen image in their mind which they are constructing. They could be lying about something or they may be imagining what something will look like once it's been created.

Ac, or auditory constructed, indicates that the person could be lying about something they claim someone said to them or, if a musician for example, they could be imagining what a new song would sound like.

Ki, or kinaesthetic, indicates that the person could be remembering an emotion they experienced or the feeling of an object.

Fake Smile / Real Smile
Fake Smile / Real Smile | Source

Facial Expressions

Reading other people's facial expressions is something we all do naturally anyway, although we don't really think about. However, most of us can tell when someone is feeling depressed, tired or is in a bad mood often simply by looking at them.

Picking up on facial expressions is actually pretty difficult because they are made up of much smaller, much quicker micro-expressions which can be hard to catch. However, if someone is not genuinely interested in what we have to say or they are tired of hearing about it, it soon becomes clear to us that perhaps we should give it a break, often without that person even having to say anything.

The Fake Smile - A fake smile is fairly easy to pick up on. It's true that when we really smile, we actually smile with our eyes. If you place your hand over the bottom half of the image to the left above it looks like the man could be quite angry or frowning slightly. However, if you do the same with the image on the right, you can see from his eyes alone that he is smiling.

Rolls Eyes / Quick Look Up - If someone rolls their eyes or even just glances up briefly without moving their head, this usually indicates that they have already heard enough and are no longer genuinely interested in what you have to say - they've heard it all before.

The Squint - A subtle squint, especially if done with one eye, indicates that the person you are talking to may be finding it difficult to put too much faith in what you are saying. It's possible that they may not believe you or perhaps they are finding it difficult to see how your idea could work. Such a squint often means they are curious or suspicious.

The Smirk - A subtle crafty or sly smirk could mean several things. It could be that the person has realized that they have an advantage over you or perhaps that they have gotten away with something they think you don't know about. If the person is a manipulator it could be that you have given them an indication that they have you exactly where they want you.

The Nod Of Confirmation - This is a great one to look out for. If someone answers a question with "No" or disagrees with something but nods their head seemingly in approval at the same time, then they most likely agree despite perhaps telling you the opposite.

Body Language

When reading a person's unconscious communication it's important to first establish what that person's normal behaviour is like, as the techniques do not apply to everybody universally.

Everyone has different behaviours and mannerisms and so it's important to consider what would be unusual or peculiar behaviours for them.

Is He/She Interested?

When we meet someone we are attracted to we usually make ourselves more responsive to them. We may not realize it but our pupils dilate and we provide them with many subconscious cues.

Often when we meet a new person we either seem to just 'click' straight away or we just don't seem to get on with them and this comes down to something called rapport (pronounced ra'pour).

We do not even need to speak to somebody in order to develop rapport with them because technically you cannot not communicate. Even silence is a form of communication (e.g. the silent treatment).

The stronger rapport we have with someone, the more connected we feel to them and the more we trust them. It's rapport which forms a bond and the stronger this bond, the more responsive we become to each other.

We develop rapport by sending out subtle subconscious cues to other people and we often do this by using similar language to them, similar mannerisms and behaviours to them and by subtly mirroring their body language.

Although it has to be done naturally and artfully, you can find out how strong your rapport is with someone by first adopting and subtly copying their behaviours, words and mannerisms - not literally, if they notice what you are doing then the rapport will be instantly broken.

You slowly then begin to take the lead to see if they are in rapport with you. If they are they will subconsciously adopt the subtle cues you are giving them.

For example, you could sit in a restaurant mirroring the other person's body language. If they sit with their elbow leaning on the table and their head resting on their hand, then you sit like this too.

However, you do not literally copy them as though they are looking in a mirror, that would be way too obvious. If they scratch their head, you follow by subtle scratching your head also maybe between a few seconds to a minute later.

You sit in the same position as them and give them signals that you are both alike. If you successfully develop rapport, when you start to take the lead that person will begin to mirror your own behaviour but they won't consciously realize that they are doing so.

Physiological Clues

Covers face - If someone covers their mouth or raises their hand to scratch their nose or ear when a certain subject or event is mentioned, this could indicate that they are lying or that they have something to hide.

Folded arms - Someone folding their arms could be innocent but if they also seem to have a tendency to keep looking away as though they are distracted then it's very possible they are either bored or simply not interested in the conversation. They may very well be thinking about something else entirely.

Sat with legs crossed - If they have their arms folded too then they may be feeling defensive. If they have their arms open and their chest exposed and their feet are pointing towards you then this usually indicates they are responsive to you.

If their feet are pointing away from you then they may not be in such a responsive state. If sat in a room with several people present and their feet are pointing towards you, you are sat the same with your feet pointing towards them and they have their arms open (chest exposed) then there's a chance they may even be attracted to you.

Tapping / Smoothing leg - If someone is sat in a position which indicates they are responsive to you and they begin to tap or smooth their own leg this indicates that they are attracted to you.

Circling finger on glass - If someone (usually female) is sat facing you and they start to circle their finger around their glass or cup this is also usually an indication that they are attracted to you.

Unconscious Verbal Communication

The actual words that people use also provide many clues as to their true thoughts and feelings.

If someone says "I see what you mean", because they used the word "see", we know that they are using a visual representational system whereas if they say "that sounds good" we know that they are using an auditory representational system.

That is, we know how they are representing that idea to themselves via their linguistics and we can use their eye-accessing cues to confirm so.

In addition, NLP teaches us that all sentences have a surface structure with hidden underlying meaning and therefore a way that a person constructs their sentences also provides many clues to what a person is truly saying.

I'll use the late great Neil Armstrong's speech to NASA apprentices as an example.

Armstrong started by stating:

"Wilbur Wright once noted that the only bird that could talk was the parrot... and he didn't fly very well."

Parrots don't fly very well but they do repeat what they are told!

He then said:

"There are great ideas undiscovered, breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of truth's protective layers. There are places to go beyond belief... because there lies humanity destiny."

Great ideas undiscovered?

How does he know about these great ideas if they are still undiscovered?

Breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of truth's protective layers?

The 'undiscovered' ideas are being kept hidden from public view (disinformation).

Places to go beyond belief?

That means somebody's already been there.

There lies human destiny?

Perhaps our true origin.

Armstrong provided a great example.

Over-React to accusations - If a person becomes overly offensive, rather than overly defensive, when accused of something this is often an indication that the person has a guilty conscience and is lying - they tend to over-react.

Slip-ups - The person slips up and claims it was an accident, that isn't what they meant to say, it came out wrong. However, such an occasion (if the person is lying) would probably happen a few times.

Nods / Shakes head - If a person nods their head but claims to disagree then they probably really agree but are not being honest. If a person shakes their head as if in disagreement but says yes and agrees then they are also probably not being honest.

Eye contact - Despite the common belief that a person who is lying won't be able to hold eye contact, this is actually a myth.

Many innocent people who are telling the truth often glance away and back whereas a person who is lying will intentionally hold eye contact because they believe this is more likely to make them believable.

If they do look away, it probably won't be a quick glance and this is a subtle indication that they may be guilty.

© 2013 Sparkster Hubs

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Comments 13 comments

Johnny 3 years ago

wow, I didn't know body language was so extensive. Thanks.


sparkster profile image

sparkster 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Indeed Johnny, body language actually goes a lot deeper than what I've described in this hub. Thanks for the comment.


FitnezzJim profile image

FitnezzJim 3 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

You couldn't see it, but as I read this article I turned toward the screen, spread my hands to each side of the keyboard (right hand on the mouse to scroll), and began nodding my head. When I got done, I glanced at the scroll button at the bottom of the screen, realized that there was no way you would appreciate my reaction unless I described it, then turned back toward the keyboard and wrote this comment.

Interesting article, and on the mark.


sparkster profile image

sparkster 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Ha thankyou FitnezzJim, that made me laugh!


Jen Card profile image

Jen Card 3 years ago

Great hub! Interpreting body language is an amazing skill and combined with the other senses, intuition etc. I believe it then becomes a power-tool! I remember while studying law (paralegal) body language was touched upon, it was a very interesting subject. I enjoyed this article, learned something more too! Excellent! Thank you.


sparkster profile image

sparkster 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank you Jen, I also believe that these techniques combined with others can all be consolidated into one "power tool".


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 3 years ago from Northern California, USA

I am fascinated by NLP and really enjoyed reading your hub about body language. I took part in your experiment and placed my finger on the bottom half of the smiling example. The guy on the left actually looks like he's angry! Lots of great information here. Thanks.


sparkster profile image

sparkster 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Thank for stopping by and comenting MarleneB, I'm glad you enjoyed it. NLP isn't magic like many people claim but it's a marvelous tool which can be hugely beneficial for both personal and professional uses, if used correctly.


Lizolivia profile image

Lizolivia 3 years ago from Central USA

Interesting, I've often wondered if the direction our eyes glance in while thinking or reflecting had particular meanings. I linked over from your hub about being empathic and if one were to combine body language with empathy it may result in better discernment. However, it may be easier for those who have a good instinct for it, or when present but not actually involved in whatever the exchange or interaction is at the time.


sparkster profile image

sparkster 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

I think being able to pick up on unconscious cues whilst being empathetic is an important technique for therapists. Indeed some people are also naturally more intuitive than others.


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 3 years ago from California, United States of America

Very interesting and useful information here, and it makes sense. I've seen a lot of this body language and I'm rather sensitive to it. One I've come across recently, it's happened to me a few times with the same people: They look down toward my hand when I'm talking to them; at least, it seems to be toward my hand but I think it might be one of those cues you mention here in which they look down and to their left. Of course, I'm not certain I remember the direction as far as left to right goes, but I do remember they look down, especially near the end of the conversation.


grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 4 months ago from Philippines

Very interesting. I think it must be a wonderful profession to be able to read people, like those experts who are hired by lawyers when they choose the jury. In another lifetime, I would like to be one of those experts. It's like you hold a secret power no one else has.


andrewdavidlowen profile image

andrewdavidlowen 3 months ago from Fallbrook, CA

Very interesting. The eye placement illustration and explanation is very helpful. It seems like every tv show tries to tell you that looking down and to the left is a sign of lying, period. But, obviously there's far more to reading body language. Context is incredibly important, and I think there's a lot of misconceptions out there due to what entertainment media cooks up. We have to remember...its purpose is entertainment, not scientific accuracy or practical application.

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