Book Review: What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro

Posted on in Book Reviews, Lifestyle

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Interesting things have happened in my life after reading this book.

I got in on the secret of what every body is saying.

So, what is every body saying?

First, I was startled to realise how much communication my body subconsciously gives away without my permission, and was equally startled to realise I am like an open book to others who have sharpened their skill to read body language.

Second, I literally started to see body communication that was/is hidden in plain sight that I  was previously oblivious to.

And the third, perhaps most interesting thing, is that I started to become more aware of what others were saying about other people’s body language and to observe them as they observe others, myself included.

It is as if I gained a new pair of eyes. (No pun intended.)

This book, What Every Body is Sayingby Joe Navarro is a must-read for anyone who would like to improve their emotional intelligence and ability to see and decode nonverbal communication. And the best part is, non-verbal communication is all around us. All day, every day, no matter where you are.

Joe Navarro landed in America as an eight-year-old from Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion. By then, he did not know English well enough to use it as a primary language for communication, and so he resulted to observing his new classmates and those around him in order to understand the mood of the situation and what was not being verbalised.

It is this skill that he sharpened as a young boy that helped him rise to the scale of being an excellent body language expert, who on numerous occasions helped the FBI pin down a culprit who would have otherwise escaped the long arm of the law. Joe, who is now an ex-FBI agent, wrote this book for people like me and you, who need to understand better what we are observing when we interact with others.

In the book, Joe offers a wealth of insight into body language. He splits the book into 9 chapters, with each chapter focusing on a specific topic or a part of the body and what different bodily cues mean. Most importantly, he begins by sharing his top ten tips aka “commandments” for anyone who is willing to master the art of non-verbal communication.

His ten rules on mastering body language, shared in the first chapter, are:

  • Be a competent observer of your environment
  • Observing in context is key to understanding nonverbal behaviour
  • Learn to recognize and decode nonverbal behaviours that are universal.
  • Learn to recognize and decode idiosyncratic nonverbal behaviours
  • When you interact with others try to establish their baseline behaviours
  • Always try to watch people for multiple tells – behaviours that occur in clusters or in succession
  • It is important to look for changes in a person’s behaviour that signal changes in thoughts, emotions, interest and intent
  • Learning to detect false or misleading non-verbal signals is also critical
  • Knowing how to distinguish between comfort and discomfort will help you to focus on the most important behaviours for decoding non-verbal communications
  • When overseeing others be subtle about it

In this chapter, I also learnt that the human brain has three different sections (so to speak), such that if you were to think of the human brain as a computer (which it is), it would have three different programs running concurrently and somewhat in unison.

The three sections are the

  • The reptilian brain that focuses on breathing, balance, body temperature etc.
  • The limbic brain that controls our body reactions to external stimuli and that really is more honest when it comes to language as it acts subconsciously.
  • And the new brain, that is the thinking brain, that houses human thoughts, how we vocalize how we think etc. thus often is the brain that is used in verbal language, and is used to deceive or hide our true sentiments and is thus known as the lying brain.

The book focuses on the limbic brain (no 2 above) and I found it so intriguing just how much the sub-conscious brain controls how we react to the environment.

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Then, in the following chapters, Joe breaks down the body from the bottom up. This is an aspect of the book that I enjoyed a lot because most of us usually focus on the face and its expressions as the primary source of body language. Instead, throughout the book, the reader is made aware that the rest of the body, the legs, the torso, the arms, the hands (especially fingers), the neck and shoulders also harbour a wealth of information that should be not be ignored.

Below are nuggets that briefly summarise non-verbal cues of different body parts that I found interesting and that have been useful ever since I read the book (2 months ago).

  • The Limbs; the Legs and Feet.

Limbs are an integral part of the body as they the body part that largely employs the freeze, fight or flight response. Simple cues such as the direction that someone’s legs are facing, how relaxed the feet are or if the feet make movements that the person normally does not make (context is key) convey a lot of information.

Limbs should easily let you know if someone is comfortable with you or not, if they are in a hurry or not. For instance, if you are having a coffee date with someone who is well seated and has their feet firmly planted on the ground/floor have no intention to leave soon. Someone who wants to leave will have their feet raised a little bit, pointing towards the door and ready to get going.

  • The Torso, Hips and Shoulders.

The torso (shoulders down to the hips of a person; the trunk of the human body without the arms and the legs; the chest, the abdomen and the back) is like a personal billboard. This is why people wear shirts or sweatshirts with names of their alma mater or with wording that they want to communicate to the world.

This part of the body communicates a lot. How close or intimate two people are can be decoded by how open their ventral (front side of the torso) are open to each other.

For instance, a child who loves you will run towards your arms wide open, (ventral side completely vulnerable) and they will hug you. Instead, a child who is being abused will shrink away and protect their ventral side by crossing their arms in front of their abuser since they want to protect their most vital organs (heart, lungs, intestines, kidneys, groin area) from the abuser.

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  • The Arms

Ever wondered why the expression – within an arm’s length? For about five years now, I have had a friend who has trust issues with women, and one day when we were talking, I told him, “I feel like you have a lot of people at arm’s length, myself included”. Turns out it was actually a very valid phrase to use.

When it comes to matters close to the heart, and the organs in our torsos (heart, lungs, stomach/intestines, kidneys etc.), we use our arms to protect us from physical and psychological harm.

When we are in conversation with people we do not like, or who express opinions we do not like, we cross out arms across our torsos to bar ourselves from them. In addition, when we hang around people who we are free with, we let our arms hang loose, and freely, as a sign of being secure.

This is one of my favourites as it is an easy tell-tale. For instance, when walking home from work, I have come to notice how women carry their handbags – when there is something valuable in there, she will hold it close to her chest, tightly held by her arm, in order to protect her valuables.

Also, like in the pictures of myself in this post, my arms go up since I am in a happy mood. Generally, when we receive good news, we celebrate by lifting the body up (arms, eyebrows, limbs).

  • Hands and Fingers

We use our hands all the time. We use them to touch, grope, scratch, write, mold, clean, cook, point, gesture, cause assault, play music on the guitar or the piano, grab things, hold the phone, type, clap etc. Without dispute, we can easily agree that the hands and fingers convey so much information that we should be aware of.

For example, this morning during our department meeting, one of my colleagues had to answer to our boss on some tasks that he had been given. I could see that he was running his palms across his thighs in a pacifying manner repeatedly and playing with his fingers. He later then crossed his fingers with his thumbs hidden inward. Since I learnt from this book what these cues mean, I understood without him telling me that he was uneasy. Later he told me that the tasks in question were still pending, and he has a lot of work to do before getting them done.

Also, notice how when someone is expressing something they believe in, how much the hands accompany what they say without prompting. Or how when someone is not confident, or shy, the hands and fingers are displayed; it is usually in a coy manner.

  • The Face

Apparently, the human face has about 10,000 unique facial expressions. Yet despite this, the face is the hardest to read. From a very young age, we are taught by the adults in our lives to mask our true feelings by smiling when in agony or upset when relatives who we do not like come visiting. As we grow older, there is an ever-increasing need to censor our thoughts by creating something similar to a poker face. We learn how to absorb shock or excitement while displaying little, of any, emotion.

However, with a keen eye, one can notice a few facial cues, such as

  • the difference between a fake and a real smile,
  • how the eyebrows quickly rise up when someone is genuinely excited by news they have received,
  • the hands are likely going to cover their eyes if they are distressed (even if for a split second).

Another facial gesture that I really liked learning about is that when someone purses their lips to the side they are likely having an alternative thought to the one you are expressing, or lip suppression/disappearing can be done out of habit or when someone is being distressed by a thought.

Last word:

My rating for the book is 4.9/5 stars. It is well written, very informative and has pictorial examples of a lot of gestures he speaks about and real-life examples.

So what is every body saying? To find out, grab a copy of Joe Navarro’s book and get in on the secret as well.

Thanks for reading!

2 comments

  1. I couldn’t help but think about the TV series, Lie To Me while reading this. I particularly enjoyed it and ever since then have learnt to read body language. (The skill is both a bane and a boon at interviews because, when you are relaxed and able to read the body language, you can tell whether the interviewer likes you or not. It is of course exciting when they do, even if they try to hide it.) It would be interesting to read about it from a writer with non-fictional experience.
    I like how books open a new world to us. There is so much that can be learnt. The more you read, the more you know. And on the flip side, the more you read, the more you realize how little you know. I did not know about the Bay of Pigs invasion for instance. Now I do. (Thanks for linking the article up by the way.) But now I also realize how little I know about the reign of Fidel Castro and the interference of the USA in the affairs of other autonomous governments.

    1. Asingwa,

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      I am yet to watch the TV series, Lie to Me, but I can look for it. Hopefully, I can get the time to sit and watch.

      I’ll share What Every Body is Saying with you.

      I like what you say “…I like how books open a new world to us. There is so much that can be learnt. The more you read, the more you know. And on the flip side, the more you read, the more you realize how little you know.” Interestingly enough, someone told me that this review is too long, and I told him – in fact, I have not scratched the surface on what is shared by Joe to us in the book. There is so much to learn. So much.

      I am glad you enjoyed reading about the invasion and the US involvement. Another thing you can explore is Communism. An ideal born from the Communist Manifesto (written in 1848 by Karl Marx when he was 30 years old) that Cuba adopted and that in recent years is sort of waning off. You’ll also understand better the US involvement in Vietnam (also communist), and the Vietnam war.

      Thanks for reading once again!

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