Michille: Body Language, Lying, and Manipulation

bromanceOne of my favorite writing blogs had a post a while ago 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.

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 to buy. Think stereotypical used car salesmen to go from phony to smarmy. Using open body language but not smiling until you have been interacting with the other person for 2 minutes – you appear more trustworthy. Sheesh. I have no idea when I start smiling. We are going to a used car dealership tonight so I’ll have to observe the salespeople and take note.

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. 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.

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

  1. Body language is a really interesting topic. I did a lot of research last year on how to determine truth/lying via facial expressions, but am not at all skilled in that area. This is all good information to think about when building character – especially as a way to go from “telling” to “showing”.

  2. I was reading Darynda Jones’ “First Grave on the RIght” yesterday and Charlie, the main character, noticed another character (convicted of committing a crime he insists he’s innocent of) answering a question with a look downward and to the right, which indicates telling the truth. As you said, Michille, who studies this stuff?!? I wonder if Darynda read the same book Jilly has mentioned before from the former FBI agent (?) about body language and lying (the name escapes me at the moment)?

    Then there’s the problem I have in my own writing — too much eye stuff. My characters’ eyes (and eyebrows) do all the talking. Way too much, in fact. I need to be better about spreading the body language wealth around for my characters.

  3. I’ve got to work on this body stuff, too. I don’t always “see” my characters when I’m writing, and the sense of touch only seems to work when they are quite intimate, at least for me. Finding the vocabulary for the little flashes I “see” also is a challenge.

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