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Body language is everywhere. Body language helps regulate how we communicate with each other every day. No matter where you live or who you are, you already use body language to communicate with people even if you don’t realize it. In this short article we will explore how to best read people’s body language, with a focus on facial expressions and emotions and a quick review of two current leading body language books. As you will see, a small investment in body language training can pay big dividends in the long term!

Body language and how to read people’s faces

Many of us already read body language quite well. You don’t need to read a body language book or take a course in body language to understand much of what you see every day. Most of us are very good at spotting an angry or upset person. After all, we deal with such people at home and at work every day! Body language training, however, can help to fine tune your skills, learn new information and make sense of many behaviors that perhaps have you scratching your head and asking, ‘What does that mean?’

One area to start with is people’s faces. There is so much to see in the face, and it is usually the one place many people start when focusing on other people and trying to understand the nonverbal signals they see. After all our faces can be very expressive. On our face we show happiness, sadness, anger, fear and a range of other emotions. It is a key area where we use body language to communicate with others. For most cultures it is also the default place we look at when communicating with someone else.

But the question is, how accurate are people when picking up all the body language signs the face is projecting? Body language in communication is key and the face certainly sends many messages – many more than the average person realizes. For example, body language experts generally agree that there are seven different emotions with universal facial expressions. If you know what to look for then you should be able to identify which emotion is being projected, even if it is a fleeting display on the face.

Body language expert, Joe Navarro, famously identified possible suspects by observing the facial reactions of another suspect during an espionage case in the United States. By looking for signs of discomfort in the face he was able to pick which faces garnered a reaction when he showed a potential suspect several different pictures of potential accomplices. The dilation of the suspect’s pupils and the furrowing of his brow enabled Joe Navarro to ascertain that the reaction was a sign that the photos of people that produced such a reaction were of significance, which he and the law enforcement team he was working with went on to prove. All that from a look on the face!

Body Language and emotions

Understanding different facial expressions can also help you to identify whether facial expressions are showing real or fake emotions. We all put on a face to cover up our real feelings at times. When someone asks you how you are feeling in the morning when you get to work, you may well put on a smile, when the reality is you had a terrible night’s sleep and are dreading a meeting you have on that day. Smiles often mask sad emotions. Anger can often mask fear and many times you may also see a combination of emotions, such as contempt, disgust and anger together.

The first step to working out what you are seeing is to first recognize the different physical manifestations of the different emotional facial expressions. By taking some basic body language training you can easily increase your ability to recognize these true emotions and increase both your speed and accuracy in a relatively short period of time. Several different facial expression training tools are available on the market today, including a new tool being developed by the team at the Body Language Academy by Joe Navarro. These tools show you what the true expression looks like and then present faces that go from a neutral stance to a particular expression in a fraction of a second. As your accuracy improves you are able to speed up these transitions and recognize what seems to be a lighting fast ‘micro expression’ as it flashes across the face. The term micro expression was first developed by Dr Paul Ekman and his team several decades ago. Dr Ekman is a leading researcher in the field of emotions and facial expressions and has worked with other body language experts, such as Joe Navarro, over the years.

And of course, micro facial expressions are not the only thing you can take away from the face. There is a range of other expressions that have meaning to the trained observer. For example, the furrowing of the brow or the biting of the lip all mean different things to someone who is trained to recognize the behaviors. Furthermore, it is often the change in behaviors that are as important as the behavior itself that can give us a signal as to the emotions, thoughts and intents of a person. If in doubt about what you have seen, then a good technique is to try the facial expression yourself – what do you feel when you make the expression? We can often work out what body language means by simply imitating the behavior. The body is hardwired to experience different emotions when we make the physical imitation of that emotion, which is why it is a great way to help work out what you are seeing when you at first don’t recognize the expression.

Body language books reviewed

There are literally hundreds of books out there about body language. Which body language book you are after, however, really depends on your focus. Are you interested in body language and dating? How about body language in communication or body language and poker? What about body language and business or body language for social interactions?

While there are many books specializing in these different and varied themes, I am actually recommending two body language books that provide a broad overview of body language, including advice on how to apply some key skills in everyday life, both in business and social settings. My top recommendation and one of the leading books in this category is Joe Navarro’s best-selling body language book, What Every Body is Saying. This body language book covers a range of different body language topics but begins with the basic rules of body language and provides a background on why our bodies react the way they do, including many of the involuntary body language signals we send to each other every day. This particular book has also been translated into approximately thirteen different language.

My second recommendation and a good companion body language book is the Dictionary of Body Language by Joe Navarro. This book provides specific insights into a wide range of different nonverbal behaviors you see every day, cataloguing hundreds of different body language signals. This is great reading alongside the more general body language book, What Every Body is Saying. Together these two books could easily form the genesis of any person’s study of body language.

Body Language for everyone

As you can see, body language is for everyone. Young or old, rich or poor, we can all get better at how we communicate with each other. Learning a few basic nonverbal communication skills about body language is an easy way to increase your chances of understanding and relating to others in both your professional and personal life. Facial expressions, for example, provide a huge amount of information for someone who takes the time to understand what it all means. A great way to start is to consider body language training or by investing in a good body language book, and I can thoroughly recommend Joe Navarro’s books as one way to begin your journey in the study of body language.