with one look he can communicate volumes with exquisite clarity. He is a
man who commands respect, just by being. And from my grandmother,
to whom I dedicate this book, I learned that small behaviors have great
significance: a smile, a head tilt, a gentle touch at the right time can con-
vey so much; it can even heal. These things they taught me every day, and
in so doing, prepared me to observe more aptly the world around me.
Their teachings as well as those of many others are found in these pages.
While I was at Brigham Young University, J. Wesley Sherwood,
Richard Townsend, and Dean Clive Winn II taught me much about
police work and observing criminals. Later, in the FBI, people such as
Doug Gregory, Tom Riley, Julian “Jay” Koerner, Dr. Richard Ault, and
David G. Major taught me the subtle nuances of counterintelligence and
espionage behavior. To them I am grateful for sharpening my people-
watching skills. Similarly, I have to thank Dr. John Schafer, former FBI
agent and fellow member of the bureau’s elite Behavioral Analysis Pro-
gram, who encouraged me to write and allowed me to be his coauthor on
multiple occasions. Marc Reeser, who was with me in the trenches catch-
ing spies for so long, also deserves my recognition. To my other col-
leagues, and there were many in the National Security Division of the
FBI, I thank you for all your support.
Over the years, the FBI ensured we were taught by the best, and so at
the hands of professors Joe Kulis, Paul Ekman, Maureen O’Sullivan,
Mark Frank, Bella M. DePaulo, Aldert Vrij, Reid Meloy, and Judy Bur-
goon I learned about the research on nonverbal communications directly
or through their writings. I developed a friendship with many of these
individuals, including David Givens, who heads the Center for Nonver-
bal Studies in Spokane, Washington, and whose writings, teachings, and
admonitions I have taken to heart. Their research and writings have en-
riched my life, and I have included their work in this volume as well as
that of other giants such as Desmond Morris, Edward Hall, and Charles
Darwin, who started it all with his seminal book The expression of the
emotions in man and animals.
While these people provided the academic framework, others con-
tributed in their own ways to this project, and I must recognize them
individually. My dear friend Elizabeth Lee Barron, at the University of
Tampa, is a godsend when it comes to research. I am also indebted to Dr.
Phil Quinn at the University of Tampa and to Professor Barry Glover, at
Saint Leo University, for their years of friendship and willingness to ac-
commodate my busy travel schedule.
This book would not be the same without photographs, and for that
I am grateful for the work of renowned photographer Mark Wemple.
My gratitude also goes out to Ashlee B. Castle, my administrative assis-
tant, who, when asked if she was willing to make faces for a book, merely
said, “Sure, why not?” You guys are great. I also want to thank Tampa
artist David R. Andrade for his illustrations.
Matthew Benjamin, my ever-patient editor at HarperCollins, put this
project together and deserves my praise for being a gentleman and a con-
summate professional. My praise also goes to Executive Editor Toni Sci-
arra, who worked so diligently to finalize this project. Matthew and
Toni work with a wonderful team of people at HarperCollins, including
copy editor Paula Cooper, to whom I owe many thanks. And as before, I
want to thank Dr. Marvin Karlins for once again shaping my ideas into
this book and for his kind words in the foreword.
My gratitude goes out to my dear friend Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, a
true scientist and educator, who took time out from her busy teaching
schedule to edit the early drafts of this manuscript and share her volumi-
nous knowledge of the human body.
To my family—all of my family, near and far—I thank you for toler-
ating me and my writing when I should have been relaxing with you. To
Luca, muito obrigado. To my daughter, Stephanie, I give thanks every
day for your loving soul.
All of these individuals have contributed to this book in some way;
their knowledge and insight, small and large, is shared with you herein.
I wrote this book with the sober knowledge that many of you will use
this information in your daily lives. To that end, I have worked assidu-
ously to present both the science and the empirical information with
diligence and clarity. If there are any errors in this book, they are my re-
sponsibility and mine alone.
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There is an old Latin saying, “Qui docet, discit” (He who teaches,
learns). In many ways, writing is no different; it is a process of learning
and discerning, which at the end of the day has been a pleasure. It is my
hope that when you come to the end of this book, you too will have
gained a profound knowledge of how we communicate nonverbally—
and that your life will be enriched, as mine has been, by knowing what
every body is saying.
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Mastering the Secrets of
henever I’m teaching people about “body language,” this
question is invariably asked. “Joe, what got you interested in
studying nonverbal behavior in the first place?” It wasn’t
something I had planned to do, nor was it the result of some long-term
fascination with the topic. It was much more down-to-earth than that.
It was an interest born of necessity, the need to adapt successfully to a
totally new way of life. When I was eight years old, I came to America
as an exile from Cuba. We left just a few months after the Bay of Pigs
invasion, and we honestly thought we would be here only for a short
while as refugees.
Unable to speak English at first, I did what thousands of other im-
migrants coming to this country have done. I quickly learned that to fit
in with my new classmates at school, I needed to be aware of—and sen-
sitive to—the “other” language around me, the language of nonverbal
WHAT EVERY BODY IS SAYING
behavior. I found that was a language I could translate and understand
immediately. In my young mind, I saw the human body as a kind of
billboard that transmitted (advertised) what a person was thinking via
gestures, facial expressions, and physical movements that I could read.
Over time, obviously, I learned English—and even lost some skill with
the Spanish language—but the nonverbals, I never forgot. I discovered
at an early age that I could always rely on nonverbal communications.
I learned to use body language to decipher what my classmates and
teachers were trying to communicate to me and how they felt about me.
One of the first things I noticed was that students or teachers who genu-
inely liked me would raise (or arch) their eyebrows when they first saw me
walk into the room. On the other hand, those individuals who weren’t too
friendly toward me would squint their eyes slightly when I appeared—a
behavior that once observed is never forgotten. I used this nonverbal infor-
mation, as so many other immigrants have, quickly to evaluate and develop
friendships, to communicate despite the obvious language barrier, to avoid
enemies, and in nurturing healthy relationships. Many years later I would
use these same nonverbal eye behaviors to solve crimes as a special agent at
the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (see box 1).
Based on my background, education, and training, I want to teach
you to see the world as an FBI expert on nonverbal communication
views it: as a vivid, dynamic environment where every human interaction
resonates with information, and as an opportunity to use the silent lan-
guage of the body to enrich your knowledge of what people are think-
ing, feeling, and intending to do. Using this knowledge will help you
stand out among others. It will also protect you and give you previously
hidden insight into human behavior.
WHAT EXACTLY IS NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION?
Nonverbal communication, often referred to as nonverbal behavior or
body language, is a means of transmitting information—just like the
spoken word—except it is achieved through facial expressions, gestures,
MASTERING THE SECRETS OF NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION 3
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE
“Eye-blocking” is a nonverbal behavior that can occur when we feel
threatened and/or don’t like what we see. Squinting (as in the case with
my classmates, described above) and closing or shielding our eyes are
actions that have evolved to protect the brain from “seeing” undesirable
images and to communicate our disdain toward others.
As an investigator, I used eye-blocking behaviors to assist in the arson
investigation of a tragic hotel fire in Puerto Rico that claimed ninety-seven
lives. A security guard came under immediate suspicion because the
blaze broke out in an area where he was assigned. One of the ways we
determined he had nothing to do with starting the fire was by asking him
some very specific questions as to where he was before the fire, at the
time of the fire, and whether or not he set the fire. After each question
I observed his face for any telltale signs of eye-block behavior. His eyes
blocked only when questioned about where he was when the fire started.
Oddly, in contrast, he did not seem troubled by the question, “Did you set
the fire?” This told me the real issue was his location at the time of the
fire, not his possible involvement in setting the fire. He was questioned
further on this topic by the lead investigators and eventually admitted to
leaving his post to visit his girlfriend, who also worked at the hotel. Unfor-
tunately, while he was gone, the arsonists entered the area he should
have been guarding and started the fire.
In this case, the guard’s eye-blocking behavior gave us the insight we
needed to pursue a line of questioning that eventually broke the case
open. In the end, three arsonists responsible for the tragic blaze were ar-
rested and convicted of the crime. The security guard, while woefully
negligent and burdened with tremendous guilt, was not, however, the
WHAT EVERY BODY IS SAYING
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
A memorable example of how body language can sometimes be more
truthful than verbal language involved the rape of a young woman on the
Parker Indian Reservation in Arizona. A suspect in the case was brought
in for questioning. His words sounded convincing and his story was plau-
sible. He claimed he hadn’t seen the victim and while out in a field had
gone down a row of cotton, turned left, and then walked straight to his
house. While my colleagues jotted down notes about what they were
hearing, I kept my eyes on the suspect and saw that as he told the story
about turning left and going home, his hand gestured to his right, which
was exactly the direction that led to the rape scene. If I hadn’t been
watching him, I wouldn’t have caught the discrepancy between his verbal
(“I went left”) and nonverbal (hand gesturing to the right) behavior. But
once I saw it I suspected he was lying. I waited a while and then con-
fronted him again, and in the end he confessed to the crime.
touching (haptics), physical movements (kinesics), posture, body adorn-
ment (clothes, jewelry, hairstyle, tattoos, etc.), and even the tone, timbre,
and volume of an individual’s voice (rather than spoken content).
Nonverbal behaviors comprise approximately 60 to 65 percent of all
interpersonal communication and, during lovemaking, can constitute
100 percent of communication between partners (Burgoon, 1994,
Nonverbal communication can also reveal a person’s true thoughts,
feelings, and intentions. For this reason, nonverbal behaviors are some-
times referred to as tells (they tell us about the person’s true state of
mind). Because people are not always aware they are communicating
nonverbally, body language is often more honest than an individual’s
verbal pronouncements, which are consciously crafted to accomplish the
speaker’s objectives (see box 2).
MASTERING THE SECRETS OF NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION 5
Whenever your observation of another person’s nonverbal behavior
helps you understand that person’s feelings, intentions, or actions—or
clarifies his or her spoken words—then you have successfully decoded
and used this silent medium.
USING NONVERBAL BEHAVIOR TO
ENHANCE YOUR LIFE
It has been well established by researchers that those who can effec-
tively read and interpret nonverbal communication, and manage how
others perceive them, will enjoy greater success in life than individuals
who lack this skill (Goleman, 1995, 13–92). It is the goal of this book
to teach you how to observe the world around you and to determine
the meaning of nonverbals in any setting. This powerful knowledge
will enhance your personal interactions and enrich your life, as it has
One of the fascinating things about an appreciation for nonverbal
behavior is its universal applicability. It works everywhere humans inter-
act. Nonverbals are ubiquitous and reliable. Once you know what a spe-
cific nonverbal behavior means, you can use that information in any
number of different circumstances and in all types of environments. In
fact, it is difficult to interact effectively without nonverbals. If you ever
wondered why people still fly to meetings in the age of computers, text
messages, e-mails, telephones, and video conferencing, it is because of the
need to express and observe nonverbal communications in person. Noth-
ing beats seeing the nonverbals up close and personal. Why? Because
nonverbals are powerful and they have meaning. Whatever you learn
from this book, you will be able to apply to any situation, in any setting.
Case in point (see box 3 on next page):
WHAT EVERY BODY IS SAYING
GIVING A DOCTOR THE UPPER HAND
Several months ago I presented a seminar to a group of poker players on
how to use nonverbal behavior to read their opponents’ hands and win
more money at the tables. Because poker is a game that emphasizes
bluffing and deception, players have a keen interest in being able to read
the tells of their opponents. For them, decoding nonverbal communica-
tions is critical to success. While many were grateful for the insights I
provided, what startled me was how many seminar participants were able
to see the value of understanding and utilizing nonverbal behavior beyond
the poker table.
Two weeks after the session ended I received an e-mail from one of
the participants, a physician from Texas. “What I find most amazing,” he
wrote me, “is that what I learned in your seminar has also helped me in my
practice. The nonverbals you taught us in order to read poker players have
helped me read my patients, too. Now I can sense when they are uncom-
fortable, confident, or not being entirely truthful.” The doctor’s note speaks
to the universality of nonverbals and their value in all facets of life.
MASTERING NONVERBAL COMMUNICATIONS
REQUIRES A PARTNERSHIP
I am convinced that any person possessing normal intelligence can learn
to use nonverbal communication to better themselves. I know this be-
cause for the past two decades I have taught thousands of people, just like
you, how to successfully decode nonverbal behavior and use that infor-
mation to enrich their lives, the lives of their loved ones, and to achieve
their personal and professional goals. Accomplishing this, however, re-
quires that you and I establish a working partnership, each contributing
something of significance to our mutual effort.
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