Body Language Expert Reveals
What We Are Really Saying
Maria Trkulja asks body language expert James Borg to reveal the
silent clues to what we're really saying.
It was one of the most extraordinary cabarets of affection since
Richard Gere took out a full page newspaper advertisement claiming
his marriage to Cindy Crawford was rock solid. At last month's
Golden Globes, George Clooney and his new paramour, Italian presenter
Elisabetta Canalis, were entwined like love-smitten teenagers.
But whereas Gere's proclamation was followed rather swiftly by
a divorce announcement, Clooney and Canalis are set to stay the
course. That's if you believe their body language.
This "silent" language never lies, according to James
Borg, a leading expert in the subject and author of a best-selling
"how to" book.
"They're genuinely in love," he says. "The way
they are smiling, the look in the eyes, and the nature of their
proximity all give them away." Borg makes it his business
to read the unconscious movements and postures of others. In his
world, the curve of a smile, the blink of an eye, the position
of the hands or feet are all of great significance.
"We're all constantly judged on first impressions,"
says Borg. "People are making snap decisions as to whether
they trust us, like us, want to work with us, or have an affair
with us. But words alone don't provide the whole picture. More
than 90 per cent of meaning in any interaction is derived from
non-verbal clues the manner in which our body 'talks' and
the way that we say things and a mere seven per cent from
the words that are actually spoken. The overwhelming meaning of
a message, when communicating with others, comes from an unconscious
display of the 'silent' language; which either reinforces or detracts
from the words being used," he says.
"Whether you need to sell an idea, get your point across
or understand what other people really think, it is at the root
of all communication. Get it right, and all sorts of communication
will become a breeze."
President Obama, a master of modern communication, is a big fan,
and cited Borg's best-selling book, Persuasion: the Art of Influencing
People when he was questioned on the campaign trail about which
book he would take into the White House, should he win the election.
"The President is very skilled in body language," says
Borg. "He has excellent eye contact, which is a sign of honesty
and sincerity, and is why he came across so well in the campaign.
His standard style is to look ahead which shows he is confident,
direct and knows what he is talking.
But body language is not a new concept. It has been studied by
psychologists and neuropsychologists since the Fifties and is
now, according to Borg, so refined as to be called a science.
"Developing an understanding of body language is indispensable
in our modern lives," says Borg. "Every day, we constantly
have to interpret what another person's body language is telling
us as well as controlling our own to create the right impression.
Although we are perfectly able to select appropriate gestures
and actions to transmit a message, our body also sends out signals
outside our conscious awareness in other words, without
In a new column starting in the Telegraph next week Borg will
show us how to master and control these unconscious tell-tale
signs and learn to read other people's movements.
"People go around attracting or repelling others, because
of their body language. You need to ask yourself what does your
body language say when you are communicating with others? If you
find that you're unconsciously turning people off, then you're
sending out the wrong signals without realising it.
"Before you interact with others, you should take a moment
to analyse your own emotional state. What is it? Impatient, angry,
resentful, anxious? Each of these, for example, will influence
the way that you address other people, and body language 'leakage'
will arise and may cause problems. Feelings, in particular, are
communicated more by non-verbals than by a person's words.
"The only window we have to a person's subconscious is through
observing what they do with their body," says Borg.
"Understanding body language is effectively a form of mind
reading. When a thought produces a feeling, that feeling leaks
out through body language. If you can read the body language,
you are reading the feeling."
Traditionally, women are better than men at reading body language,
and Borg says that this really is down to a "women's intuition".
"The invention of the fMRI brain imaging machine in the
Nineties has allowed us to monitor and compare brain activity
in men and women. When shown an image, men used the left side
of the brain, which is the side that governs logic and language.
Women, on the other hand, use both left and right side of the
brain, which deals with perception and creativity. It's why women
will instinctively say, 'There is something about that person
I just don't trust'."
But Borg says men and women alike can all master body language
and become expert at reading others, and controlling their own
gestures. Over the next 10 weeks, his column will teach us to
read the trickiest of situations including how to tell if someone
is attracted to us, if we can trust someone, or if they are lying.
The latter, he says, is something even the most schooled communicators
have problems in disguising.
"Most politicians are trying to impart a message that they
don't really believe in, so they try to control their body language,
so as not to give away their true feelings, but in most cases
it backfires badly," he says. "Whereas once politics
was about constructive body language, now it is all defensive."
Paradoxically, when employing body language some politicians
make themselves less rather than more popular.
"No matter how hard Gordon Brown tries he just gets it wrong,"
says Borg. "He's obviously been told by his advisers that
he needs to smile more, to make himself more appealing to the
public. But because he doesn't smile a lot naturally and doesn't
feel comfortable doing it, his smile is often unnatural and ill-judged,
and has the opposite of the desired effect. People register that
it's not the real thing and don't trust him for faking it."
Contrast him with David Cameron who, according to Borg, "has
the full package". "Cameron smiles and talks very naturally,
his facial expression denotes sincerity. You feel that he is empathetic
But with all this knowledge is there not a danger of unravelling
too much of the world around us? "Not at all," says
Borg. "It will give you a greater awareness and ability to
handle life. You'll discover a whole new language at your finger
February 3, 2010