October 30, 2014

The Significance of Nonverbal Communication


For three years, from 2009 to 2011, “Lie to Me” was arguably the best crime show on television. This show distinguished itself in that crimes weren’t solved by conventional police work, but by reading facial expressions to determine if a suspect was lying. This show stressed the importance of nonverbal communication, not only in police work but also in everyday interpersonal communication. The coolest part about “Lie to Me” was that some of the facial expressions and patterns on the show were factual and can be seen in real life.

In the show, the protagonist is Dr. Cal Lightman, a sarcastic and somewhat antagonistic individual who, along with his colleagues (who called themselves The Lightman Group), accept assignments to solve crimes and uncover truth by reading both facial micro expressions and body language. In one particular episode, Dr. Lightman is ordering lunch from a vendor who is operating a hotdog cart on the street. The vendor hands Dr. Lightman a hotdog with his bare hands, causing Lightman to inquire whether the man had washed his hands that day. The vendor subconsciously scratched the back of his neck as he replied, “Yes.” Despite his vocal response, the vendor’s body language told quite a different story, causing Lightman to hand the food back and leave.

Though this scene is entertaining and makes Lightman look like a mind reader, a lot of the micro expressions and body language in “Lie to Me” are actually really good for communicating with other people in the real world. It’s true that someone rubbing the back of their head or neck is hiding something. There is also subconscious meaning behind licking your lips, scratching your nose, your posture, or where your eyes go when trying to recall something. In his book, Imponderables, David Feldman actually lists out where we are looking and what it means:

up-right : visually remembered images

up-left : visually constructing [new] images

straight-right : auditory remember sounds or words

straight-left : auditory constructed [news] sounds/words

down-right : auditory sounds or words (“inner dialog”)

down-left : kinesthetic feelings (which can include smell or taste)

You don’t have to be able to solve crimes or call out your co-workers and friends when you catch them in a lie, but it is important to understand that people communicate when they are not physically moving their mouths. When someone is talking to you, a common sign you are subconsciously listening to them might be to mimic his or her body language. Whatever the case may be, try to keep a positive demeanor. Your posture and body language says a lot about you, and you never know who may be watching and evaluating!