“We Humans Are Lousy At Detecting Deception”

Crossing arms means you’re defensive about something; glancing up to the left while talking means your telling the truth; if you’re looking at the left or touching your nose, it’s a sign of deceit. These are common body language readings that we know. This former FBI says we’re wrong about all of that.

Joe Navarro is a real-life Sherlock Holmes. Not in a sense that he can figure out everything that happened just by looking briefly at an object but in a way that he can read the unspoken clues about a person just by observing their behavior and body language. He worked as an FBI special agent and supervisor in the counterintelligence and counterterrorism in the National Security Division for 25 years. “My job was to catch spies,” isn’t that the coolest line ever?!

“We may think we’re very sophisticated, but in fact, we are never in a state where we’re not transmitting information.”

Common Myths

Crossing Arms Equals Blocking Behavior

Crossed arms. ©Joe lope/Wikimedia Commons

“That’s just nonsense,” he straight up said. Saying that we make the gesture even when we like the person we’re talking to. Pausing and reflecting for a bit, he’s right. He revealed that the gesture is to self-soothe since it’s like hugging yourself, and we tend to do this more in public than in private.

Glancing to your right means, you’re being honest; to the left means you’re not

Human eyes. ©JoePhin/Wikimedia Commons

His verdict: Not true. Glancing left or right while speaking with someone simply means you’re processing the information you’re hearing. That’s pretty much the same with people clearing their throat, touching their nose, or covering their mouths. No, those don’t mean they’re lying but are, again, just self-soothing— pacifying behaviors.

What Your Body Language Says About You

In the video, he shared how he was able to identify a mole (a less cool name for a spy) who entered the US and was able to pass as a US citizen but was actually working for a hostile intelligence service. He watched a clip of this mole coming out from a flower shop and getting in his car; nothing much to see. He wasn’t doing anything suspicious or spy-looking activities like talking to someone on his watch or anything. He observed that the man grabbed the bouquet by the stalk and held it with the flowers facing down instead of the usual upward way the Americans held their bouquets. He was quick to recognize that’s how they carry flowers in Eastern Europe. When he confronted him, he made the presumptive approach: Would you like to know how we know… it was the flowers. And the spy confessed.

Carrying flowers pointing down cartoon. Artem Bekmam/Quora

In his book entitled “The Dictionary of Body Language,” he discussed the features of a face and what it tells about the person. These are some:

  • The forehead reveals stress.
  • We crinkle our noses when we don’t like something.
  • Compressing the lips means something is bothering the person. They tend to suck them in further if something is really bothering them.
  • A tilted neck indicates the person is relaxed.
  • Stiff and interlaced fingers are a tell-tale sign that something is troubling the person.

In conclusion, reading body language is important, and we, humans, will always communicate nonverbally, as much as we do verbally.