Master Life Faster: Newsletter

The Secret to Reading Body Language is Not What You Think

Posted in Newsletter by Paul Lem, M.D. on October 12, 2009

Volume 2, Issue 10
SOCIAL: The secret to reading body language is not what you think
WEALTHY: Why you should bet on David and not Goliath
HEALTHY: Why party animals catch more colds

“If you play a tune and a person don’t tap their feet, don’t play the tune.”
-Count Basie

The Secret to Reading Body Language is Not What You Think

SocksJoe Navarro spent 25 years as an FBI agent in the areas of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment. Over his career, he became an expert on nonverbal communication. In his book What Every Body is Saying, Joe reveals the secrets to speed-reading people.

Your Secret Weapon
Why should you care? Researchers estimate that nonverbal behaviors account for 60 percent of all interpersonal communication, and up to 100 percent during lovemaking. Reading body language can give you a big edge in business negotations, understanding your friends and family, and meeting cute guys and girls.

Look Down
According to Joe, the common misconception is that you should focus on a person’s face. The problem is that people train themselves to mask their emotions. For example, it’s not socially acceptable to show disgust when you meet someone you don’t like.

That’s why Joe recommends observing people’s feet to get a truer indicator of how they feel about you. Unlike their faces, most people have not trained their feet to hide their feelings. Also, millions of years of evolution have conditioned our feet to react instantaneously to danger. It’s an instinct that’s hard to fight.

Meet My Feet
Here are Joe’s top tips for reading feet:

  • People are genuinely welcoming you if they move their feet along with their torso to face you. If they just swivel their torso but don’t move their feet, then they’d rather be left alone.
  • When two people talk, their feet normally face each other. If one person turns her feet away or repeatedly moves one foot in an outward direction, you can bet she wants to get away.
  • If you see someone pointing his or her toes upward, it usually means the person is in a good mood or hearing something positive.
  • Crossing your legs is a sign that you feel comfortable and confident. The reason is because it significantly reduces your balance and makes it hard to run away from danger. Your brain only lets you do this if you feel safe and secure.
  • If you don’t like someone or don’t feel close to them, you will immediately move your feet away if they touch you accidentally with their feet. This is one of the early warning signs that a couple is having problems with their relationship.
  • “Happy feet” is when you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet. It’s a strong indication that you’re excited or getting something you want.

The next time you’re at a party, try reading people’s feet and see if it matches what they say to your face.

Navarro J. (2008). What every body is saying: an ex-FBI agent’s guide to speed-reading people. HarperCollins.

“Everybody pulls for David, nobody roots for Goliath.”
-Wilt Chamberlain

Why You Should Bet on David and Not Goliath

CannonIn the Book of Samuel, the Bible describes how the Philistine army had gathered for war against Israel. Goliath, the Philistine champion, was over 9 feet tall. Thick bronze armor covered every inch of his body. Each day for 40 days, Goliath came out and mocked the terrified Israelites. No one was brave enough to fight him.

Little and Lethal
Finally, the Israelites sent out David, a young shepherd boy who was scarcely old enough to shave. David staggered under the weight of his full battle armor. He could barely lift his sword. Facing off against Goliath, David realized he had no chance if he played by Goliath’s rules. So David took off all his armor and dropped his sword. His only weapon was a slingshot and some stones.

Goliath laughed when he saw David approaching. How could a shepherd boy possibly hope to win against him? Of course, we know that David made Goliath pay for his cockiness with a stone between the eyes.

As Wilt Chamberlain said, people love rooting for the underdog. But was David really at a disadvantage?

The Weakness of Strength
The Correlates of War is a data set of 197 wars fought around the world from 1800 to 1998. Out of this total, there were 170 wars where strong actors started off with military advantages of 5:1 or more against weak actors. Despite the overwhelming odds, weak actors were victorious nearly 30 percent of the time. In fact, the trend is that weak actors are becoming more successful over time. From 1800–1849, weak actors won only 12 percent of these asymmetric conflicts, but this increased to 55 percent from 1950–1998.

Crazy Like a Fox
How is this possible? When a weak actor is attacked by a strong actor, there are two main options: (1) direct defense, such as meeting the enemy head-on, or (2) indirect defense, such as guerilla warfare. The goal of direct defense is to stop the enemy’s attack quickly, whereas the goal of guerilla warfare is to destroy the opponent’s will over time.

Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung explained it this way: “In guerrilla warfare, select the tactic of seeming to come from the east and attacking from the west; avoid the solid, attack the hollow; attack; withdraw; deliver a lightning blow, seek a lightning decision. When guerrillas engage a stronger enemy, they withdraw when he advances; harass him when he stops; strike him when he is weary; pursue him when he withdraws. In guerrilla strategy, the enemy’s rear, flanks, and other vulnerable spots are his vital points, and there he must be harassed, attacked, dispersed, exhausted, and annihilated.”

Successful Strategies
Political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft summarizes how to be successful: “Strong actors are more likely to win same-approach interactions and lose opposite-approach interactions.”

Out of the 170 asymmetric wars fought from 1800 to 1998, strong actors won 76 percent of all same-approach interactions, and weak actors won 63 percent of all opposite-approach interactions. Same-approach interactions lasted an average of 2.7 years, whereas opposite-approach interactions lasted an average of 4.9 years.

So if a strong actor directly attacks a weak actor, and the weak actor responds with guerilla warfare, how should the strong actor respond? The answer is that indirect defense should be countered with indirect attack. There are two parts to an indirect attack: (1) Prepare expectations for a long drawn-out war, and (2) Send in special forces trained for counterinsurgency operations.

War and Business
These findings have applications outside of military strategy. For example, Clayton Christensen’s “Theory of Disruptive Innovation” recommends that companies not compete directly against incumbents. Instead, companies should either:

  1. Target the low-end of the market with “good enough” products and services. Incumbents don’t usually care if they lose these budget-minded customers.
  2. Target new customers in new markets. These new markets are typically too small to be of interest to incumbents, at least at first.

By not going head-to-head against an entrenched competitor, Christensen showed that the odds of success increased from 6 percent to 37 percent.

In a similar way, martial arts such as judo and kung fu teach you to turn your opponent’s force to your advantage rather than to oppose it directly.

Victory is a matter of choosing the right strategy based on your circumstances. Chinese general Sun Tzu was one of the greatest military strategists of all time. He said: “It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, engage them; if equal, be able to divide them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.”

Arreguin-Toft I. (2001). How the weak win wars: a theory of asymmetric conflict. International Security. 26(1): 93–128. Full Article.

Christensen CM. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma. Harvard Business School Press.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”
-Irish proverb

Why Party Animals Catch More Colds

Sleeping catHave you ever noticed that you’re more likely to get sick after a weekend of drinking and dancing? You’re not imagining things. It’s true.

The first reason is because there’s usually at least one or two sick people at any party. When they cough or blow their nose, their germs become airborne for you to inhale. When they touch a door handle or washroom faucet, their germs can get onto your hands without you knowing it. If you then touch your eyes or nose, the germs get transferred from your hands and into your body.

The second reason is because staying out late means getting less sleep. And not enough sleep means you don’t fight off colds as well.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University proved this by conducting a study with 153 healthy men and women. For 14 consecutive days, the volunteers kept notes on 3 things:

  • How long they slept.
  • The percentage of time they actually spent sleeping while lying in bed (sleep efficiency).
  • Whether they felt rested after sleeping.

Next, the volunteers were quarantined and given nose drops containing a virus for the common cold.  For 5 days after exposure, the volunteers were monitored for cold symptoms and administered lab tests to see if they were infected by the virus.

Less Party, More Pillow
The results? Eighty-eight percent of the volunteers were infected by the virus, but only 35 percent developed cold symptoms after being infected. Sleep losses of 2-8 percent (e.g., 10–38 minutes for an 8-hour sleeper) were associated with 4 times the risk of developing a cold.  About 9 percent of the volunteers had sleep efficiencies less than 85 percent (e.g., lying in bed for 8 hours but sleeping for less than 7 hours). These people had 5 times the risk of developing a cold. In contrast, feeling rested was not a significant predictor of preventing a cold.

The bottom line is that you’re more likely to catch a cold if you’re not getting enough sleep. And even a small amount of missed sleep means you’re much more likely to catch a cold.

redOrbit. (2008). Cold germs lurk for days. October 29. Full Article.

Cohen S et al. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 169(1): 62–67. Abstract.

Copyright 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it