You’re a Body Language Expert. So what?

Part 2: Practical Applications for Nonverbal Intelligence and the Truth About Lying

By David Schneer

7-Minute Read

In Part 1 of this series, we established that lying is disavowed, hard to catch live, ubiquitous, and embedded in the social fabric. So now what?

Let’s get comfortable.

The Comfort-Discomfort Paradigm

Understanding the comfort-discomfort paradigm (Navarro 2008, 229-230) is critical to uncovering potential indications of deception. Oftentimes, the same signs that make someone appear untruthful are the same ones that are displayed when someone is uncomfortable. That is why you can never really be sure if someone is lying to you or just uncomfortable (are they hot, cold, ill, thinking of something else entirely, dust in their eyes, contact lenses?).

The Comfort-Discomfort Paradigm states that when someone is comfortable, they exhibit gravity-defying behavior (GDB) (Navarro 2008, 62-64). Your child hits a home run, and you raise your hands in the air (GDB)! But when they whiff, gravity takes over and you begin to slouch (Non-GDB). All this behavior is automatic and controlled by the Limbic system.

It is critical to focus on where someone appears on the comfort-discomfort continuum. Do they appear comfortable with what they are saying or hearing? Or not? Do their words match what their bodies are saying, or do they seem out of synch? If not, what do you do?

You pivot.

Here’s how an astute observer would handle signs of discomfort. Let’s call this observer Brandon. As he normally does, Brandon opened the weekly team video conference call. Everybody’s camera was on.

The agenda called for a discussion of project status. One study was problematic and visible. The team nicknamed that project Headache #1.

“Mary, can you please update us on the status of Headache #1?” Brandon asked.

Brandon takes note of the discrepancy and chalks it up as a red flag?. There’s something about Mary. Her forehead showed arched glabellas (signs of sadness) as prominent as those on a Shar Pei puppy. Vacant eyes (like she’s somewhere else). Head bowed (lack of confidence, depression, sadness). Two red flags ??.

Brandon senses confidence in the updates of the other team members. Mark leans into the camera with upright shoulders (a sign of attention and eagerness) as he describes the critical path he just completed for this project. His hands are emphatic and gesticulating (a sign of engagement). He flashes a genuine “Duchenne” smile (Ekman, Davidson, Friesen 1990, 58) that stretches the crow’s feet of his eyes. He is on the edge of his seat (a sign of eagerness, interest). Mark could take on more work, Brandon thinks to himself.

Jennifer also seems confident about her progress. Her hands are waiving high in the air (GDB) as she describes the budget, and she does a palm press above her head (GDB) when she discloses that they are under budget.

Same with Cheryl, who is working on the same project with Jennifer and Mark. She is smiling (genuinely) and nodding her head (in agreement) with Jennifer as the project’s process is detailed. They are in synch. No worry here, Brandon thinks.

Recognizing signs of stress among teammates and/or family members can help alleviate problems that some may not want to discuss. Turns out, Mary had a serious family emergency the night before and simply wanted to get through the meeting without discussing it. It was obvious to Brandon, but a less astute observer may have missed these signs, tempting disaster (or worse, perceiving Mary to be untruthful).

As a team, they circled the wagons and altered schedules to help Mary tend to her personal emergency first, and then work second. Unlike dramatic TV detective interrogations, you will get nothing out of someone who is uncomfortable.

That’s how body language really works and how it can be applied to real world situations that require preparation, keen observation and powerful questions.

So, Dad, “Most Communication is Nonverbal, Are You fluent?”


Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. Essay. In What Every BODY Is Saying: an Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2015. Ekman, P., R. J. Davidson, and W. V. Friesen “The Duchenne Smile: Emotional Expression and Brain Physiology II” by. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58 (1990).”

Image Credit – Beverly & Pack