The Australian 10 Questions – Body Language Expert David Alssema
DAVID Alssema, 31, body language expert, on the difference between flirting and being sociable, and how to know when a person is lying.
What’s the best handshake in the business environment?
One that builds rapport. If the person you’re meeting has quite a firm handshake, aim to match it; if it’s softer, reduce your grip. This helps the other person feel you’re not trying to overpower them and shows them the relationship is equal. Be mindful of cultural variations, however. Even in Australia, country people tend to come in from a longer distance for a handshake than city people.
What are the five worst body gestures that could sink your chances in a job interview?
(1) Either not enough or too much eye contact. Always match the interviewer’s level of eye contact. (2) Slouching, especially with your legs pointed towards the exit door. This projects disengagement and indifference. (3) Fidgeting or touching things. Shows you’re either bored or nervous. (4) Crotch display or the foot-on-leg position. Both signal a competitive nature, which can be interpreted as a negative. (5) Hands behind your head or arms folded. The first reads as superior; the second as defensive. Sit with your hands on your lap: it’s a more humble approach.
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How much of a person’s basic personality traits (for example, extrovert, introvert, anxiety-prone, laid-back etc) can you tell from their body language?
You can’t judge a personality from just one piece of body language. However, it’s generally true that extroverts tend to touch others more, lean outwards, thrive on external attention, and move quickly. Introverts tend to touch themselves, lean inward and have slower action/reaction times.
Studies show that men tend to project more powerful body language when they’re with other males. What strategies, then, should a woman take in a male-dominated work environment?
Have your desk facing the door from a corner of your office. Use good eye contact. Don’t look down or away, which suggest shyness and/or submissiveness. Match a man’s handshake. Feel free to take up more room when you’re in a meeting – don’t appear small. Don’t use words or body language that appears overly deferential. Lean forward when listening; stand straight while speaking. Dress appropriately.
Tell us about the giveaways when men and women are “into” one another.
There are obvious ones such as the face platter, in which a woman places her head on her hands. Proximity signals – placing a glass or handbag close to the male – also show a level of trust and acceptance. Her legs and feet will tend to point toward him. She may toss her head back and flick her hair, or give a side glance with her head down and eyes up, Princess Diana style. She may try to fix something he is wearing – straightening his tie etc – or touch him a little more than is her custom. Rolling her hips when she’s walking away, or turning back and giving a smile over her shoulder are more obvious signs. The bloke? He’ll give longer-than-usual glances, lean forward, and may readjust his tie or shirt cuff. If he’s standing he’ll have his hands on his belt near the crutch to display maleness.
Studies have shown that men tend to over-read sexual interest from women. She might flick her hair and smile but all she’s doing is being sociable rather than flirting. How can he be sure?
Yes, playing with hair or flicking it back can also be a sign of nervousness in a woman. You need what we call the three Cs – clusters of signals (at least three or four positive signals), congruence (where her words match her body language) and context (the social environment you’re in at the time). Some men require at least three or four signals from a woman before it sinks in that she is interested…
So women are better at reading body language than men.
Yes, twice as good. Research from Harvard University suggests that when reading expressions and decoding situations, women were correct 87% of the time while men scored only 42%. Women are much better at reading emotion. This may be due to their having children: learning to read facial expressions and determine needs non-verbally.
A recent Dutch study found that waiters get much larger tips when they use the same words and speak in a similar tone to their customers. What can we learn from this?
Using the customer’s language – and their level of vocabulary – helps to build rapport, which is why it’s a part of so much sales training today. If a customer uses simpler words than you, adjust your speech so you at least sound on their wavelength. Never try to change their words, however. If someone says to you, “This seems to be an issue”, don’t ask them, “What seems to be the problem?” What you’ve done is turn an “issue” into a “problem”. Tone – the way we use our voice, as opposed to what we say – is also important, and represents up to 38% of total communication. Mirroring is so successful because people prefer to speak to like-minded people.
We know that people without much of a conscience – sociopaths and hardened criminals – are the best liars. Who else are good liars?
The hardest types to read are those who’ve been trained to communicate with body language – politicians, actors and businesspeople who are trained to project a certain persona or image. They can spend years learning to project body signals that don’t really reflect who they are inside. There’s a standard tactic to detect whether someone is lying, based on the “constructed” and “remembered” parts of the brain. I would ask someone what they did last week. Then I would ask them what they are doing next week and watch their eyes. They will access the remembered information with the first question; then they’ll access the constructed side with the second question. The third question would be the one in which I would seek the truth. The most basic telltale sign of lying is the so-called Pinocchio effect, where blood rushes to your nose and you touch it to counteract the effect. Covering your lips with your fingers and looking away can also betray dishonesty.
A new study from Columbia and Harvard universities shows that certain male postures not only make people feel more commanding, but remarkably, can double their testosterone levels.
The way we sit, stand or move changes the way we feel. The way we feel can affect our hormone levels. If you’re able to change your body language to match how you want the world to see you and you manage to stick with it, over time you will become the person you’re projecting – your internal world will reflect the outer. It has been shown over time that body language can even change the way we look, and our sexual attractiveness, whether it be a downward smile, or a more confident stride.