What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People

What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People

by Joe Navarro

Publishers often claim that their latest release will “change how you see the world”. Such boasts are usually attached to pseudo-philosophical self-help manuals.

What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People actually does the job.

Drawing on his professional experience and a weight of anthropological, neurological and physiological studies, Joe Navarro offers a series of insights into how and why our physical ‘tells’ reveal a staggering amount of information about our attitude to the people around us and our aptitude to the tasks and questions we face.

Non-verbal behaviours, he reminds us, account for two thirds of all interpersonal communication. The briefest of glances to the floor, the particular arrangement of the lips, the tiniest agitation of the fingers. All convey meaning far beyond our conscious intent.

The situations in which Navarro honed his appreciation of these subtle signals are beyond what most of us will experience. I suspect very few subscribers to the Si summer reading list will return bullish and bronzed from their holidays to a to-do list that involves quizzing alleged murderers and interrogating suspected terrorists.

But the insights are still useful for those of us who spend our time pitching for work, interviewing people, facilitating focus groups, and generally keeping clients happy. All tasks which demand a close attention to the mood, feeling and general disposition and responsiveness of the individuals we are engaging.

Nor did Navarro tell me a great deal I didn’t know already, in an explicit sense at least. Anyone who can turn a penny in our line of work needs sufficient intuition to feel it when a pitch is drifting, when a line of questioning isn’t yielding results, or when a presentation isn’t carrying the audience.

What the book does do is provide an intellectual framework for those tacit, feeling-level intuitions. His explanation of the tribune brain – made up of our reptilian, mammalian, and human parts – puts a scaffold around our comprehension of why we respond unthinkingly, honestly and dishonestly to different scenarios and stimuli.

And what elevates Navarro’s analysis from a coldly clinical dissection of body language is his personal story. The FBI was but the finishing school for his speed-reading education. Many years before that, he arrived in America a Cuban refugee in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle.

Eight years old and unable to speak a word of English, he got through his early months and years at school by learning “the “other” language around me, the language of nonverbal behaviour. I found that was a language I could translate and understand immediately”.

I include only one caveat in my recommendation to you to read What Every Body is Saying. Don’t read it on the tube or other means of public transport. Or if you do, avoid the temptation to turn your gaze from the page and start reading your fellow commuters’ posture and facial expressions.

You don’t need Joe Navarro’s guidance to construe a reaction that says ‘Why is this man looking at me???’

Follow Commandment 10: “When observing others, be subtle about it”.

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