The Science of Body Language and Reading People | Vanessa Van Edwards

Ever wondered what the science says about body language? Check out this interview Connor did with Vanessa Van Edwards, lead investigator at human behavior research lab, the Science of People.

Show Notes

In this episode you’ll learn from expert Vanessa Van Edwards about:

  • The science behind body language
  • How body language impacts your success
  • How people perceive you as a success
  • What micro-expressions are and how they are the key to confidence and charisma
  • How to develop confidence and charisma, regardless of your personality type

Reading people’s body language and understanding your own body language:

Once you learn how to read body language, it’s hard to not see the signs. We should teach people how to read body language before teaching verbal social skills.

Body language should not be seen as right or wrong. Rather, it should be thought of as congruency between what is portrayed and what’s going on internally. When someone is charismatic or attractive what we’re seeing is that their words and body are in alignment.

Their facial expressions and smiles match the words “I am happy.” Congruence is much more important than best/most impressive because when trying to impress others we’re fighting inauthenticity.

Body language betrays people when they lie or “Fake it ’til they make it”

Liars have a hard time keeping their body language and words congruent. Their mind is so focused on keeping the verbal story straight that they have physical “leaks,” give away their lie.

‘Fake it ’til you make it’ can be destructive. If you’re nervous and you try to show confidence, some of your nervousness will come out, and will be perceived as a liar by others. It shows inconsistency in you. Faking it also feels terrible. Humans aren’t built to pretend to be someone that we aren’t, and it we’ll pay a price in stress when we fake it.

When people ‘fake it ’til they make it,’ they end up overcommitting and doing things they would not normally do in the hope that by overcompensating they will ‘come off’ the way they desire. It goes against who you are in principle. This poses a big challenge to building relationships with people.

We read others’ body language intuitively

Study done at TUFTs: People could accurately pick out the most successful CEOs just based on their headshots. But, this only works if study participants see the headshots for less than a second. Our first impressions are extremely accurate, but as soon as rationalization kicks in, we tend to waiver.

Faces show a lot of information. When study participants see faces, they can rank the faces in terms of how aggressive, violent, or dominant they are. Hormones change the shape of our faces, so certain people look differently. We can tell a lot about someone based on their face. We aren’t always conscious of those assessments though.

How our brain maps other peoples facial expressions, and creates an internal understanding/label of the other person.

What we know about micro-expressions

It was believed facial expressions were cultural. But studies show show that facial expressions are coded genetically. Certain emotions trigger our face to react and express a certain way. This is universal.

There are 7 reliable universal expressions: happiness, contempt, surprise, disgust, fear, sadness, and anger. Once you see these, you will never un-see them. It changes the way you interact with people. It helps you understand motivations and intentions.

Where to start with micro-expressions:

Start with happiness and contempt. Happiness has to do with authenticity. Most people think of it as a smile, but anyone can smile. The only true indicator of happiness is when the smile reaches the upper cheek muscles, only 1/10 people can consciously activate these muscles. What you want to identify is the absence of happiness. To do this, check whether people’s cheeks are tense.

The second one is contempt, which is expressed in a one-sided mouth raise. It’s a smirk, basically. Contempt is a very negative one. People think it’s boredom, apathy, or sarcasm. But contempt is a mark of scorn. It almost expresses “I’m better than you.”

The last thing you want is for someone to feel superior to you in any relationship, that is how you can be dismissed.

How to use body language to instill self-confidence and charisma

There are many flavors of charisma: To learn more about yourself, ask:

  • What are your natural social strengths (be as specific as possible?)
  • Are you better one-on-one, in groups, on stage?
  • Can you tell stories well?
  • Are you good at laughing?
  • Where are you your best self? Find these moments and leverage your skills to create these kinds of situations

Using body language for connecting

The more open your body language, the more open your mind. If someone’s body language is closed, their mind is probably closed. You should consider angling your body towards the person you’re trying to attract.

Feet pointed towards, toes pointed in their direction with nothing in between you. That is how you create the space called ‘fronting.’

Guest Bio — Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is the lead investigator at Science of People, a human behavior research lab. Her latest book, Captivate, was chosen as one of Apple’s Most Anticipated Books of 2017. She is fascinated by body language, leadership and charisma and writes about these topics for CNN, Fast Company and Forbes.

Vanessa also writes a monthly column for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post. Her innovative work has been featured on NPR, Business Week and USA Today. More importantly she’s addicted to sour patch kids, airplane coffee and puppies.

More on ManTalks:

Beau Lotto — Why Our Brains Hate Change

Self-Confidence for Men: The Ultimate Guide

How to Find Purpose In Life: The Ultimate Guide

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Thank You to the Team:
Editing & Mixing by: Aaron Johnson

1 Comment

  • Jessica Haines says:

    A transcript or condensed version of this to review would be great. Very conversational which is nice but hoping for more content given the time frame.

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