If you think you can gauge the situation properly simply by hearing the words that are coming out of a person’s mouth, then you are certainly mistaken; proper communication is done in more ways than by simple words and vocal sounds alone. In fact, a lot of it happens visually, through body language – and a simple gesture could tell you whether the words are true or if some deception is going on.
Researchers have found that about 55% of all communication happens through body language. That’s an astonishing ratio, considering that “technically speaking” we rely on that smaller 45% alone in all practical matters. Are you conducting an interview? Here’s how to make sense of body language to make the right decision.
Body language basics
There are a couple of things you want to watch out for. Forget the classical defensive posture of having the arms crossed – it speaks of discomfort, but not necessarily of lying or hiding (perhaps the person is simply a misanthrope and doesn’t like people in general). Ask easy questions first, and establish a baseline. It’s when you ask a question and the behaviour changes that you have to be concerned.
Here are some things that might indicate the person is telling the truth (or at least, is comfortable):
- Relaxed, uncrossed limbs
- Moves closer to you
- Makes reasonable eye contact
- Genuinely smiles
Here are some things that might indicate discomfort with the question:
- Moving away from you
- Unconsciously looking or pointing at exits
- Creating barriers, such as placing paper or coffee mugs between you and him or her
- Looking away, or too much blinking (after or during the answer)
Spotting a liar
It’s normal that people are nervous when questioned – so keep that in mind. Look for stress signals during the answers and shortly after. Also look for unnatural pauses where your subject seems to think.
The body language in and of itself will not tell you much, however – and you need to be careful that you don’t draw the wrong conclusions. The key is not only the body language, but how the body language confirms or contradicts the spoken word. Check both the answers in the verbal and the physical sense. Unless both are positive, there might be something going on. You need to understand the context first. Be prepared. And to help you make more sense of everything, record the actual interview. Have the recorded interview transcribed by a specialist in transcription services, then go over it once you receive the finished report from the transcription services. This way, you have a better idea of what was actually said – and how it was said.