Michille: Body Language, Lying, and Manipulation

body-languageOne of my favorite writing blogs had a post recently entitled 10 Poses to Show Character Development Through Body Language. The post referenced a TED talk from 2012 by Amy Cuddy about Body Language. When I was noodling around the Internet on this topic, I also came across this image on bodylanguage.com. These resources reminded me of one of the sessions I attended at RWA on “Body Language, Lying, and Manipulation” presented by Dr. Cynthia Lea Clark. This is good information for me because I tend to write bare bones and do a lot of telling in my first draft and have to go back and fill in details that show. How important is body language? I found one set of statistics that said 7% of communication is the words, while 38% is about tone of voice and inflection, and 55% is body language and facial expressions. Translate that to fiction and it can add so much to a story.

Body Language for Dummies talked about smiling. Smiling easily means you feel comfortable, but smiling all the time means you’re tense. If you smile when you first meet someone, you could come across as phony. Think sales person – they are paid to try to make you feel comfortable enough from the get-go to buy – whatever they are selling. Think stereotypical used car salesmen to go from phony to smarmy. A suggestion I saw on manipulation suggested using open body language but not smiling until you have been interacting with the other person for 2 minutes, which makes you appear more trustworthy. Sheesh. I have no idea when I start smiling in human interactions.

In the Writers Write blog post, the focus was on High Power Poses versus Low Power Poses. High Power body language is open, like a spread-legged stance, arms akimbo, arm draped across an adjacent chair, standing/sitting straight or leaning back, etc. This can convey confidence, dominance, and control. Closed body language is arms crossed, legs crossed, arms folded on the table, and slouching. This can convey discomfort, insecurity, shyness, etc. Both can be a sign of lying depending on who is doing the lying. According to Cuddy, in real life, you can re-train your body language to help shape who you are. It would be an interesting aspect to character arc in a story, too, I would think.

Dr. Clark talked about four types of communication: haptic, kinesic, modeling, and non-verbal. She went into a lot of detail and had a lot of visual aids showing the aspects of communicating through touch, body movements, gestures, and modeling that could each have their own blog post. She said manipulation starts with rapport, which starts with eye contact. Meeting another’s gaze 60 – 70% of the time builds rapport. Shy people tend to meet gazes less than 30% of the time, which, according to Clark, makes them seem less trustworthy. A second part of this that brings in the body movements is nodding. Nodding when you ask a question at a rate of one nod per second will have the person answering you on the fourth nod. Who studies this stuff?

Haptic communication (through touch) is something that I have always keyed in on as a reader. Nora Roberts has a lot of touchy characters. Sometimes the characters touch waaaaay too early in a story for my taste. I’m not a touchy person. I hug members of my family, but I don’t hug very many other people. And I don’t touch others very often either. One might say I have serious boundary issues (that one would be right). If a relative stranger put a hand on my arm, I would be very uncomfortable. It would totally turn me off. The other person wouldn’t get a chance to lie to me or manipulate me because I’d be out the door. So touch used in fiction is a dicey issue for me. Gaze, body language, gestures, I can deal.

I haven’t used body language to convey lying, manipulation or positive emotion (I don’t think), but I think I need to. 55% of communication is body language and facial expressions. Do you consciously use body language in your stories? Have you used it to convey good emotions or have you dipped into lying and manipulation with it?

9 thoughts on “Michille: Body Language, Lying, and Manipulation

  1. Dr. Clark’s presentation was very interesting, though I was too far in the back to see all of her gestural examples. Body language, expressions, and lying are topics I’ve been interested in since I watched the Lie to Me television show. I’ve read several books on the subject and am still working on incorporating what I’ve learned into my WIP. I made a conscious effort to incorporate body language on the first pass through so my characters weren’t just sitting there like lumps, but I need to finesse things a little more and work on the facial expressions.

    I missed that Writers Write blog post – I’ll have to go check it out.

    • I missed some of the presentation because I was starry-eyed and trying not to go all fan-girl on Linda Howard (who was sitting right next to us). I need to work on this. Looks like more reading material needs to be added to my TBR list.

  2. I was surprised at how many people attended the seminar! I wish we had had a bigger room so all the visual aids and body language could have been seen by all. To answer your question – who studies this – psychologists and sociologists. Some of the studies are quite interesting. I think you enjoyed my seminar – at least I hope you did :). Glad you made it.

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