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Read minds by watching for body cues

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Is he giving you an honest answer? Is she angrier than she’s telling you? Watch for “tactile signs” to know what someone really feels.

Tactile signs are physical contacts a person makes with her own clothing or body, especially the hands and face. “We unconsciously touch our bodies when emotions run high to comfort ourselves,” says Patti Wood (, a body-language expert. The signs are often as telling as the words someone speaks.

For example, Wood says, when Alec Baldwin went on national television to talk about the inappropriate, angry telephone message he left for his teenage daughter, he spoke calmly but touched his clothing and face many times, revealing his deep sense of stress and frustration. Look out for those same cues around the office.

What does it mean when someone ...

  • Pulls his pant leg up, pulls his jacket edges together or picks invisible lint from her clothing? All show a high degree of stress and the need to gain comfort. Adjusting clothing also can show a concern or fear about one’s appearance.
  • Rubs the right side of her nose? “That is typically a cue that what you’re saying does not smell right to you, or that you are lying,” says Wood.
  • Fingers his right earlobe? “That’s also a cue someone may use when what he says or what he hears doesn’t sound right to him,” says Wood.
  • Blinks rapidly? It may be a subconscious cue that the person isn’t being truthful.
  • Smiles after she has just said something weighty or serious? A smile at the wrong time sends the signal that the person doesn’t take herself seriously or that she doesn’t mean what she says.
  • Uses “chopping” or “shooting” motions with her hands? That person is at least a little bit angry.

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