Body Language: The Tell-Tale Signs That Betray Us All


It was one of the most extraordinary cabarets of affection since Richard Gere took out a full page newspaper advertisement claiming his marriage to Cindy Crawford was rock solid. At last month’s Golden Globes, George Clooney and his new paramour, Italian presenter Elisabetta Canalis, were entwined like love-smitten teenagers. But whereas Gere’s proclamation was followed rather swiftly by a divorce announcement, Clooney and Canalis are set to stay the course. That’s if you believe their body language.

This "silent" language never lies, according to James Borg, a leading expert in the subject and author of a best-selling "how to" book.

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"They’re genuinely in love," he says. "The way they are smiling, the look in the eyes, and the nature of their proximity all give them away." Borg makes it his business to read the unconscious movements and postures of others. In his world, the curve of a smile, the blink of an eye, the position of the hands or feet are all of great significance.

"We’re all constantly judged on first impressions," says Borg. "People are making snap decisions as to whether they trust us, like us, want to work with us, or have an affair with us. But words alone don’t provide the whole picture. More than 90 per cent of meaning in any interaction is derived from non-verbal clues – the manner in which our body ‘talks’ and the way that we say things – and a mere seven per cent from the words that are actually spoken. The overwhelming meaning of a message, when communicating with others, comes from an unconscious display of the ‘silent’ language; which either reinforces or detracts from the words being used," he says.

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"Whether you need to sell an idea, get your point across or understand what other people really think, it is at the root of all communication. Get it right, and all sorts of communication will become a breeze."

President Obama, a master of modern communication, is a big fan, and cited Borg’s best-selling book, Persuasion: the Art of Influencing People when he was questioned on the campaign trail about which book he would take into the White House, should he win the election.

"The President is very skilled in body language," says Borg. "He has excellent eye contact, which is a sign of honesty and sincerity, and is why he came across so well in the campaign. His standard style is to look ahead which shows he is confident, direct and knows what he is talking about.

But body language is not a new concept. It has been studied by psychologists and neuropsychologists since the Fifties and is now, according to Borg, so refined as to be called a science.

"Developing an understanding of body language is indispensable in our modern lives," says Borg. "Every day, we constantly have to interpret what another person’s body language is telling us – as well as controlling our own to create the right impression. Although we are perfectly able to select appropriate gestures and actions to transmit a message, our body also sends out signals outside our conscious awareness – in other words, without our permission.

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February 3, 2010