Something a little different today. Rather than a post, I’m bringing you an interview with the marvelous Mark Bowden, a world-renowned body language expert. I had the opportunity to talk to Mark about his new book, Truth and Lies, What People are REALLY Thinking. The book is full of tips on how to interpret body language in your personal and professional life. I asked Mark all the things I thought you would want to know about the body language signals on your team. I’m so excited to share our conversation with you.

You can watch the full interview or tune into specific sections based on the descriptions below. (I apologize for a few moments where the video lags a little).

Here are some of the highlights for those who prefer to read rather than view.

(2:46) What is body language? What is it good for and what is it not?

Mark talks about how “body language” is a metaphor, because it isn’t actually a language; it’s our animal communication system. Body language is how we indicate to others (consciously or unconsciously) our feelings or intentions.

Body language is useful for helping us interpret people’s intent, but unfortunately, we tend to over-interpret or make assumptions, which aren’t always accurate. We think we’re great at reading body language, but mostly we’re just guessing.

(6:35) What is the value of understanding the feelings underneath facts in workplace discussions?

Mark argues that facts are much rarer than you think. You’re probably hearing opinions being passed off as fact. That’s because, as he says, “Our brain is not a knowledge machine, it’s a prediction machine.” Our brains are full of feelings that we base our judgments on. In a world of decisions being made on hunches and feelings and ideas, it’s important to get good at understanding feelings, intentions, and judgments (especially your own).

(10:22) What are the steps to interpreting body language?

Mark uses the acronym SCAN to describe the process he uses…

Suspend Judgment. Set aside your instinct about what you’re seeing.

Consider Context. Look at what’s going on in the environment to form other hypotheses.

Ask What Else. Get more data. Ask the person or seek information elsewhere.

New Judgment. Form a new judgment with better information. (Or reconfirm your original judgment.)

(17:37) What can we learn about trust from body language? How do I know if someone trusts me?

Trust is about risk. If you want to be trustworthy, perform behaviors that are low risk. For example, keep your body language symmetrical to seem less risky (It’s hilarious when Mark demonstrates this!!!).

If you want to know if someone trusts you, look for them exposing their “kill points.” The more someone is exposing their torso, neck, and inside their wrists, the more comfortable they are.

You might even see arrogance, which is an exaggerated version of this exposure of kill points that essentially says, “You can’t hurt me.”

(27:05) What are the signs of healthy conflict? Is there such thing as bad conflict body language?

No, there’s no such thing as bad body language for conflict, it’s all dependent on the culture. Each team has their own parameters for what is healthy or not.

(30:44) How do I tell if it’s time to de-escalate a conflict because someone is “going to blow?”

To know if the conversation has gone too far, watch for signs of building pressure. If you see the person’s top lip get tighter and thinner, the person’s face change color, or their forehead come down, it might mean they are near the breaking point. Alternatively, you might see them pull in to try to contain the anger. Either way, the body language will change noticeably before they explode.

(33:06) As someone less powerful on my team, how can I use body language to help me deal with a “big dog” on my team?

As you enter a room, don’t hang out at the periphery. Don’t invade the “big dog’s” space but find a middle ground. When you sit, use a little more space at the table than you normally would. Try moving your chair back a couple of inches and putting your drink a little further away so you have to extend your arm to pick it up.


If you find this stuff as fascinating as I do, you can order Mark’s book here…

by Mark Bowden and Tracey Thomson