When people find out that I write and speak about body language, they immediately get nervous and self-conscious. They react as if I could detect their innermost thoughts with a single glance.
Well, I can't. But that's only one of the myths people believe about the subject. Here are five others:1. Body language is 93% of communication
A classic study by Dr. Albert Mehabrian is often misquoted as "the total impact of a message is based on: 7% words used; 38% tone of voice, volume, rate of speech, vocal pitch; 55% facial expressions, hand gestures, postures and other forms of body language." But Mehabrian never claimed that you could view a movie in a foreign language and accurately guess 93 percent of the content by watching body language. His research was focused on the communication of emotions — specifically, liking and disliking. The non-verbal aspect of communication won't deliver 93 percent of your entire message, but it will reveal underlying emotions, motives, and feelings. In fact, people will evaluate most of the emotional content of your message, not by what you say but by your nonverbal signals.2. Liars don't make eye contact.
The biggest body language myth about liars is that they avoid eye contact. While some liars (especially children) find it difficult to lie while looking you in the eyes, most liars, especial the most brazen, actually overcompensate to "prove" that they are not lying by making too much eye contact and holding it too long.
There is, however, one nonverbal signal that I've noticed often follows a less-than-truthful response, and it does require breaking eye contact: After speaking, some liars immediately look down and away, then back at you again in a brief glimpse to see if you bought the falsehood.3. Crossed arms always means resistance.
Of course, crossed arms may indicate resistance, especially if you see someone adopt that gesture right after you've made a strong statement. But it can also mean many other things — or nothing at all — depending on the situation. In an audience, I expect to see people with their arms crossed sitting in the first row. I know that without a row of chairs in front of them, most people will create a barricade with their arms (at least initially, before they "warm up" to the speaker and lower their guard).
Likewise, if a person sits in a chair that doesn't have armrests, the limited option increases the likelihood of crossed arms – as would the response to a drop in room temperature. And if someone were deep in thought, pacing back and forth with crossed arms, I'd realize that this was a common way to increase concentration and persistence. Crossing arms might also be the normal position someone assumes when she's comfortable.
One caveat: Since most people believe this myth, don't be surprised when you are judged to be resistant or unapproachable when (for any reason) you fold your arms across your chest.4. Eye direction is correlated with lying.
Popularized by Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), the idea that looking to the right indicates lying, while looking left suggests truth telling, is shown to be false in new research. The University of Edinburgh, completed three different studies to show that there was no correlation between the direction of eye movement and whether the subject was telling the truth or lying.
Rather than judging someone from a standard eye pattern, you'd be better off "baselining" each individual so you could spot meaningful deviations. University at Buffalo computer scientists developed a computer lie detection method that tracks eye movements and blink rates, and correctly detects deceit more than 80 percent of the time. The system employed a statistical technique to model how people moved their eyes in two distinct situations: during regular conversation (their baseline) and while fielding a question designed to prompt a lie. It was found that people whose pattern of eye movements changed between the first and second scenario were often lying, while those who maintained consistent eye movement were most likely telling the truth.5. Using body language to make a positive impression is inauthentic.
This is the myth I hear almost every time I give a speech or seminar. And it often comes from the vary participants (managers, leaders, executives) who understand the value of spending hours creating, reviewing and rehearsing what they are going to say to make a positive impression in an important meeting or negotiation.
I ask them to consider this: In any business interaction you are communicating over two channels – verbal and nonverbal – resulting in two distinct conversations going on at the same time. While a well-written speech or well-designed bargaining strategy is obviously important, it's not the only crucial message you send. In a thirty-minute business discussion, two people can send over eight hundred different nonverbal signals. And it is no more (or less) inauthentic to prepare for this second conversation than it is to prepare for the first.This article has also appeared at Forbes.com Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is a leadership communication coach, author and keynote speaker who addresses association, government, and business audiences around the world. Her latest book is "THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF LEADERS: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead." For more information, contact Carol by phone: 510-526-1727, email: CGoman@CKG.com, or through her websites: www.CKG.com