The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said – Peter F. Drucker

I was first exposed to the idea of Body language at age 14, when I watched the TV show ‘Lie to Me’. The main characters were body language experts and I was amazed at the insight they had into other people’s emotions. I was intrigued to find out whether reading body language and micro expressions was a real thing and if it was, how do I become good at it?

Considering how knowledge of micro expressions and body language can be applied in any social situation, the importance of this subject cannot be understated. The versatility of the subject being one of the aspects which peaked my interest will be further discussed later. However, it is important to emphasise that proficient knowledge of this subject can be used in every business meeting, conversation, and general social interaction. As a result, it is difficult to find another skill which can have such a profound influence on how you view the world. Furthermore, just recognising and interpreting the body language of others and gaining these initial insights is only the first step. Once you understand the language of other people you can then apply this knowledge to improve your own communication skills and learn how to better present yourself.

Looking back on what I have learnt about body language and micro expressions, I was curious what it was about this subject that interested me so much? I think that originally it was wanting to be able to have the awareness and understanding of what people were really thinking and feeling, like the characters in the TV show. As my understanding of the subject progressed, I also become interested in why certain situations provoke certain emotional reactions, and how these visible reactions can be linked back to specific emotions. However, my ultimate goal was to get to the point where I could utilise this knowledge in real life, therefore I think what interested me most about the subject was its versatility. This relates back to the quote at the top of the article, in that most of the non-verbal communication is generally missed by people and considering how much social interaction the average human will have over their lifetime this is a lot of information going unnoticed. As a result, I believe it is well worthwhile putting the time in and trying to understand body language, as you will gradually experience a more complete picture of social interaction.

After being inspired by how the TV show ‘Lie to Me’ specifically related body language and micro expressions to deception, I wanted to further my own understanding of this area. I therefore read everything I could about the subject and went on to write a 16,000-word dissertation, which included an experiment where candidates were asked questions and then judged to be either telling the truth or lying. It is well known that there is no individual micro expression or body language indicator that can tell you if someone is definitely lying. However, what I found in my experiment was that there are definite differences in the body language of people lying when compared to people who are telling the truth, which is supported by other scientific research in this area. Although I can give no conclusive answer to this question, it does help me raise an important point that should be considered when utilising this skill in any aspect of your life. In order to get the most accurate reading of a person emotions not only do both micro expressions and body language need to be taken into consideration but also all the other external influences. For example, the situation in general, any background context that could affect a person and the relationship that you have with the person you are talking to. There are also different reasons why people act and react in certain ways. The dilation of pupils can be caused by lighting as well as positive emotion, it may be a cold room and not what you are talking about which causes someone to cross their arms, and some people are not experiencing psychological discomfort when they touch their nose, they just have an itch.

Now, 2 years after watching that TV show and not only reading other people’s research but conducting a small investigation of my own I do still believe that for all the reasons listed above, body language is incredibly useful. With the right understanding and awareness, you are able to better interpret the previously unseen information around you, and this will be beneficial in every aspect of your life that involves human interaction. Regarding how effective micro expressions and body language are at detecting deception, I can provide no conclusive evidence either way apart from suggesting that you take the advice of Jerome K. Jerome ‘it is always the best policy to tell the truth, unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar’.

Will Clarke
Twitter: @WillCla96412815