How to “Read” People Like a Book

Dawn Bevier

The shocking ways body language can help us identify potential lovers and liars

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Author Willa Cather makes one of the truest statements a person can make when she states that “the heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.” I know from my own experience that there are parts of me that no one completely understands: not my parents, not my husband, not my children, or anyone else for that matter. I'm willing to bet you can say the same of yourself. Humans are such complex creatures that our outer appearances, words, and actions almost always hide an inner self unknown to others.

However, we frequently ignore this reality. For instance, isn’t it ironic how easily the words “I know such and such, she would never…” or “Oh, yes, I know such and such very well, we went to school together” flow from our lips?

The truth is we can never truly define a human being or understand the myriad thoughts, ambitions, and desires that dominate their lives.

Yet our bodies often reveal more about our hidden selves than we know.

Think about a poker game. Pro players often base their decisions off of what they call “tells.” Tells are subtle automatic movements or actions that reveal a player's thoughts and emotions during the game. For example, a player with a strong hand is more likely to make eye contact, handle his chips [revealing his desire to move the hand forward], or make small talk [indicating he is relaxed]. Even his breathing patterns may change, his eagerness revealed in things such as the rise and fall of his chest. The pros know this, which is why some often wear sunglasses or hoodies to hide reflexive physical responses to the events in the game.

However, life is not a poker game, and we are not usually afforded the opportunity in daily life to conceal our bodies’ spontaneous “tells.” So, for all our attempts to hide our feelings from others, a person who knows the secret language of the body can better understand the real truth behind a person’s feelings and motivations.

Here are research-backed pointers to help you better decipher the body language of the people around you, from those you interact with every day to complete strangers you see on the street.

Clues to Romantic Attraction

  • Sneak a peek at your “subject’s” feet. Numerous students have shown that if a person’s feet are pointing towards you, it is a subconscious indication of their attraction. It is a subliminal response that indicates symbolically where that person wants to be.
  • Look at their eyes [If they are attracted to you, it won’t be hard to do this.] Research proves that we tend to make more intense eye contact with someone to whom we are attracted. Also, due to what Healthline.com dubs the “love hormones” oxytocin and dopamine, our pupils dilate when we view someone we find physically desirable.
  • Watch their gestures. Instinctively, we tend to mirror or replicate the body language and gestures of those to whom we are attracted. According to Science Daily, “ Two people who like each other will often unconsciously mirror each other’s mannerisms in subtle ways — leaning forward in close synchrony, for example — and that strengthens their bond.”
  • Look at the person’s stance. If an individual is attracted to you, he or she will subconsciously use their body as an “invitation.” For example, the closer a person stands to you, the more “open” his or her arms and legs are when near you can all be a sign that they want more contact with you. If a person stands close and “leans into” you and there are no crossed arms or legs, then it is a positive sign of romantic interest.
  • Look at their cheeks. When a person is attracted to you, the blood will rush to the face, causing red cheeks or a tell-tale blush. Vanessa Van Edwards writes in an article by Huffpost entitled “The Body Language of Attraction” that this “is an evolutionary way the body tries to attract [another's attention].”

Signs of Lying

  • Be aware of pauses or silence. People who are lying will often have “wait time” before responding, using this time subconsciously to invent a false response.
  • Notice a person’s level of movement. In NBC’s article “How To Tell If Someone is Lying to You. According to Researchers,” they report that persons who are lying will inadvertently begin to fidget as a response to stress or anxiety. They may begin touching their face, straightening their hair, swallowing more frequently, using their hands more actively or tapping their feet. Yes, some people are normally a bit fidgety, but when a person’s activity level is obviously more heightened than normal, it is usually a good indicator of dishonesty.
  • Notice subtle “hiding” gestures such as using a hand to cover the mouth or eyes, pulling a hoodie up around the face, etc.
  • Notice “grooming” gestures. Forbes’ online article by Susan Adams entitled “How To Tell When Someone Is Lying,” cites expert information based on the book Spy to Lie, written by three CIA veterans whose profession revolves around discerning the credibility or lack thereof of people they come in contact with on the job. In the book, the authors state that grooming gestures such as “brushing hair or adjusting a tie or shirt cuffs…can signal anxiety” and hint at lying.

The Bottom Line

Deborah Bull, ex-ballerina and former creative director of the Royal Opera House in London says, "Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words."

While it's obvious that no person can truly know exactly what another person is thinking or feeling, we can learn to better interpret people’s behavior if we are aware of the numerous ways our bodies automatically respond to the universal impulses and desires we feel as humans. It can at least shed a ray of light concerning the things unseen in the secret and hidden landscapes of the human heart and mind.

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Sanford, NC
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