Studies confirm we continuously size up strangers by their physical demeanour. But when it comes to folks we’re more familiar with, we often fall short. Here's how to separate the sincere from the skeevy.
If someone’s lying…
No single gesture gives a liar away. Some members of the species can even look you straight in the eye and go undetected.
However, says Dr. Goman, “when you know someone well enough to know what his baseline behaviour is, you can also know what his stress signals look like.”
Lots of blinking, a flushed or perspiring face, or a fake smile (real smiles crinkle the eyes)—these may indicate that someone isn’t levelling with you.
Read more: How to spot a liar
If someone disagrees…
What if your mate or colleague is saying one thing and you sense it means something else?
“There’s probably some mismatch between gestures and facial expressions and the words you are hearing,” says Dr. Goman.
If she genuinely likes or agrees with what you’re saying, her body will show it. Signs of engagement include leaning forward and connecting with the eyes.
If she’s just glancing at you or even slightly turns her body away from you, this indicates she’s not into what you’re proposing, no matter what she says. That’s when you know you should revisit the topic.
If you’re doing the talking…
Make sure you’re perceived as being honest by smiling, maintaining eye contact, and facing someone head-on every time you hold a conversation.
This signals that you’re interested in what’s being said and usually improves both the conversation and the relationship.
Read more: 16 tips for a naturally beautiful smile
If you’re dealing with a child…
Young children are easy to read because they haven’t learned the art of dissembling yet. A toddler with chocolate on his face will say he did not eat that cookie.
“A child just beginning to experiment with lying might even put her hand over her mouth, meaning, ‘I can’t believe I said that!’” says Dr. Goman. “Babies will fake cry just to get attention, a trick they start using from the time they are a few months old.”
As children get older, adult behaviours begin to take shape. At that age, there’s a fine line between self-awareness and self-consciousness so tread carefully when pointing out what their body language signals. But don’t leave them in the dark.
“Parents [can/should] help their children understand how we can tell when they are angry or that they love us [without even saying a word],” says Dr. Goman.