What Every Body is Saying

What Every Body is Saying: An FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People
Author: Joe Navarro
Genre: Self-Help
Publisher: Collins
Published: 4/15/2008
Read this book and send your nonverbal intelligence soaring. Joe Navarro, a former FBI counterintelligence officer and a recognized expert on nonverbal behavior, explains how to "speed-read" people: decode sentiments and behaviors, avoid hidden pitfalls, and look for deceptive behaviors. You'll also learn how your body language can influence what your boss, family, friends, and strangers think of you.

What Every Body Is Saying By. Joe Navarro

Key Insights

Wouldn’t it be great if you could tell if someone was being truthful just by looking at them?

Well, you can! FBI agents use body language every day to determine whether someone is lying or being truthful.

“Just as careful listening is critical to understanding our verbal pronouncements, so careful observation is vital to comprehending our body language.”- Joe Navarro

In, “What Every Body Is Saying,” by Joe Navarro, you discover the tips and tricks of how to read someone’s body language in order to figure out their true intentions and feelings.

Key Points:

  • Nonverbal Communication is Reliable

Approximately 60-65% of communication is nonverbal. And, this nonverbal communication is vital to understanding a person’s true feelings.

Nonverbal communication consists of things such as facial movements, hand gestures, posture, and tone of voice.

Human communication is much more than the spoken word. It is made up of many pieces and you must look at all of it in order to get the full picture.

In fact, nonverbal communication is so strong it can create friendships even if the two people do not speak the same language.

Nonverbal gestures are actually stronger than the spoken word because people perform them instinctively and subconsciously. There is a lot of truth to be found in body language.

For example, when interrogating a suspect of a crime, you might ask them the direction they were traveling. Their mouth may say one direction, but their hand gesture might say another by pointing right instead of left. This would indicate that they are not being truthful because the body language and their words do not match up.

  • All About The “Honest Brain”

The brain has three parts: the limbic brain, the stem, and the neocortex.

The limbic brain or the “honest brain” communicates information that our words do not express.

The limbic brain is responsible for our survival and it’s always working. It is in charge of all of our survival responses. This part of the brain reacts to all of the things around us instantly, so there is no time to filter reactions before they are expressed.

When the “honest brain” reacts to something, it connects with the nervous system to emit an automatic response. This causes our bodies to show our true feelings through body language without us even being conscious of it.

The “freeze, flight, or fight” response is a popular one. Oftentimes, people freeze if they are caught doing something they know they’re not supposed to be doing. This is actually an instinct hardwired into the nervous system that is supposed to protect us from predators who might be preying on us.

Today, fight or flight are not necessarily used in the literal sense. We don’t often try to fight and we don’t often run away from harmful predators. However, this instinct is still very much present in our behaviors.

The fight response nowadays would be insulting someone or being sarcastic towards them. Or, maybe even teasing them.

Today, a flight response might be ignoring a text from someone you don’t want to talk to.

The actions that are expressed stemming from the limbic brain are all important because they can help you to discover someone’s true feelings and intentions.

  • All About The Legs And Feet

One of the biggest mistakes someone can make when trying to read someone’s body language is to focus on the face. That’s because since we were kids we were instructed to smile even if we didn’t want to. For example, a child might be asked to smile and say ‘thank you’ even if they didn’t like a gift they received.

“We lie with our faces because that’s what we’ve been taught to do since early childhood. “Don’t make that face,” our parents growl when we honestly react to the food placed in front of us. “At least look happy when your cousins stop by,” they instruct, and you learn to force a smile. Our parents—and society—are, in essence, telling us to hide, deceive, and lie with our faces for the sake of social harmony. So it is no surprise that we tend to get pretty good at it, so good, in fact, that when we put on a happy face at a family gathering, we might look as if we love our in-laws when, in reality, we are fantasizing about how to hasten their departure.”- Joe Navarro

In general, negative emotions can make people look scrunched up and tense. Look for lines in their forehead or squinting eyes.

Positive emotions are often shown through a person’s eyes. Wide eyes with pupils dilated are usually tell-tale signs of positive feelings.

Against popular belief, looking away is not a sign of someone not being truthful. Rather, it is a sign that someone is listening.

Smiles that are genuine lift the whole mouth. But, if a smile is fake, only the corners of the mouth are lifted.

When you hide your lips, it shows that you are stressed-out.

Nonverbal communication is expressed from unexpected body parts including the legs and the feet.

Our feet have been helping us react to threats for centuries. For example, when you step on hot sand, your feet immediately react and work to get to a cooler spot.

If someone is having a conversation with you and their feet are turned away from you this could mean they want to leave or that they don’t feel confident.

The legs and feet are important to pay attention to when observing body language because they affect the rest of the body.

A lot of people cross their legs and if two people are crossing their legs next to each other and having a conversation, this means that they are comfortable with each other. If one person has their legs uncrossed, that could be a sign of discomfort.

However, crossed legs in other situations can mean that the person has a wall or a barrier up between them and the other person.

A more positive sign from our feet and legs is bouncing up and down when we feel happy. However, pop culture has made leg jiggling a sign of dishonest people. Of course, the body language needs to be looked at in terms of the situation and environment in order to correctly read a person.

  • The Torso, Hips, Chest, and Shoulders

In general, your body will shift away from things that make you uncomfortable and toward the things that you find agreeable. That is because people instinctively protect and guard themselves against the things they find threatening.

The torso has three main actions: fronting, leaning, and splaying.

Fronting is when you face your torso toward something or someone. This is a sign of comfort and agreeability.

Leaning forward also is a sign of comfort. However, leaning backward suggests uncomfortably.

Splaying is when a person leans back, this shows that they are relaxed, open, and comfortable in the situation.

There is also the neutral torso, which is simply a bow at the waist. This shows that respects for the other person, but it is not that common for Westerners. However, for East Asian countries, a bow is a sign of respect toward another person.

The crossing of arms is a sure sign of defiance and stress. But, of course, we have to look at the situation to properly contextualize it because it could also be a sign of being cold.

The puffing of the chest is obvious aggressive behavior and is meant as a sign to warn the other person of built-up anger.

Shoulders shrugged up close to one’s ears indicate that a person is uncomfortable and insecure in the current situation.

  • Arms Tell Us Things Too

When someone is happy, they do not have a problem moving their arms wide away from their bodies. For example, a person jumping for joy might throw their arms in the air.

Arms can show sadness and disappointment too. For example, if someone is told that they did a poor job on an assignment, their arms will instinctively drop to the side, close to their body.

When people are upset, they keep their arms close to their bodies. This shows that they do not want to fight and become more upset.

Arms can also show authority and possessiveness. For example, many men like to put their arms around their partners in order to claim dominance.

Man-spreading is also an example of men claiming dominance and space as their own.

  • Our Hands React To Stress

Shaking someone’s hand tells you a lot about a person. Some people have more confidence and show it through stronger handshakes while others are more insecure and it’s expressed in their weak grip.

Handshakes are used to establish dominance, but that can make the other person quite uncomfortable.

Our hands and arms are precise and versatile. They can be delicate by drawing, creating, and sewing. And they can also be strong and tough by carrying heavy items.

Our hands also play a huge part in body language. And, if people can’t see your hands, they instinctively will not trust you.

People tend to look at other people’s hands. Especially if they are holding something. This is a survival tactic. For example, if someone sees another person holding a gun, they most likely would retreat because the gun is a threat to them, rather than go up and greet the person calmly.

Pointing is another gesture that our hands make that can change the tone of a situation. If someone is pointing at you, they are most likely accusing you of something.

A thumbs-up gesture is an important part of body language because it is used all over the world.

Another lesser-known thumb gesture is when someone has their thumbs sticking out of their pockets. This is a sign that someone is of a high-status in their community. And thumbs in the pocket means that someone is of a lower status and lacking confidence.

A popular myth about hands is that if someone has sweaty hands, they are lying. But, really, it could just be a sign of nerves as a lot of people suffer from social anxiety.

Shaky hands could mean a number of things. They could mean the person is nervous, overexcited, or maybe just had a few too many cups of coffee.

  • Nonverbal Cues Help Spot Lies

When someone tells a lie their words and body language conflict. And because of that conscious lie, the adrenal system starts to speed up and the person starts to feel nervous.

“For instance, when people press their lips together in a manner that seems to make them disappear, it is a clear and common sign that they are troubled and something is wrong.”- Joe Navarro

A physical sign of the system speeding up while telling a lie could be presented in the form of shaking or quivering. However, quivering or shaking could be a sign of excitement too.

After people experience something stressful and their body emits a response such as quivering, they will instinctively do something to try to help it without even being conscious of it. For example, if someone is quivering, they may try to bite their nails to calm down the shaking.

Another example of these responses, which are called pacifying behaviors, is when people touch their necks or faces when they are being asked uncomfortable questions.

“Neck touching takes place when there is emotional discomfort, doubt, or insecurity.”- Joe Navarro

Everyone has unique pacifying behaviors that they demonstrate when they are nervous. But, it’s important to observe their other behaviors too in order to see when they are in a normal state. That way, you have something to compare their pacifying behavior against.

  • Reading Bodies Takes A Lot Of Practice

Reading body language takes a lot of observational talent. And it is something that takes a lot of time to learn.

You must understand both behavioral cues as well as the context of the conversation in order to get the full story. Just knowing facts about body language and how it works isn’t enough.

You must have situational awareness. Situational awareness is the knowledge of the details in the space and situation. This awareness focuses on the details around the body language, which would be considered the big picture.

If you are trying to analyze a person, you must first understand their baseline behavior, or in other words, who they are and how they act in a normal state. This makes it easier to determine when they are being insincere.

To determine a person’s baseline behavior, you must observe and ask yourself questions such as, “How do they normally stand?” or “Do they always put their hands to their face?”

“By examining what’s normal, we begin to recognize and identify what’s abnormal.”- Joe Navarro

When you start spotting actions or gestures the person usually does not do, chances are they are being insincere.

Always remember to remain discreet when you are observing another person. Staring at someone will reveal your intentions of reading them and they will adapt their behavior to yours in order to feel comfortable.

  • How To Distinguish True Communication

So, how do we figure out through body language if someone is trying to deceive us?

The first step is to look at their verbal and non-verbal communication, does it match up?

If they seem to put unnatural emphasis on certain words, chances are their inner feelings do not back up what they are saying.

Our body language should naturally match our speech if we are telling the truth. But if we are lying, our body language will not convey the same thing that our words are.

For example, if someone is lying during an interrogation, they will need more time to think up their story. This causes delays in their gestures.

When interrogating someone, never suggest to them that they are lying. Your subject will automatically begin to change their behavior to make it seem more truthful.

Comfort is key to communication. Sitting too close to someone, invading their space, or staring at them might make them uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they change their behavior.

Remember to always stay open-minded when it comes to observing body language. You should always adapt your thesis to your findings, not your findings to your thesis.

  • The Ten Commandments of Non-Verbal Communication


  1. Observe - Look and observe the other person’s body language carefully in order to get the full story.
  2. Understand the Context of the Situation - Always look at the body language alongside with what is happening in the situation. Do not just look at one or the other.
  3. Recognize Universal Behaviors - These behaviors include things like smiling or pointing.
  4. Decode Behavior By Knowing What Prompts It - Look at the cause of the behaviors being displayed by the other person.
  5. Discover the Baseline or the Person’s Natural State - Make sure you understand how the person acts when they are neutral and comfortable in a situation.
  6. Look For Clusters In Behavior - Clusters are groups of behaviors that all point to the same conclusion.
  7. Look For Changes In Behavior - Note if a person’s behavior is different from their baseline.
  8. Identify Misleading Signs - There are a lot of subtle differences in body language that can be misleading.
  9. Be Able to Decipher Comfort From Discomfort - This is important to understand someone’s normal behavior.
  10. Always Be Subtle - If you show that you are observing a person, they will quickly change their behavior to match yours to seem normal and comfortable.


The Main Take-Away:

Our limbic brain or “honest brain” causes unconscious instinctive movements, which help to express how we really feel. With a lot of practice, you can learn to interpret people’s body language in order to determine if they are being truthful.


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