Competitive Intelligence: How to Identify Tension and Stress in Body Language

By James D. Underwood

Being able to identify when someone’s relaxed or tense is crucial in detecting potential misrepresentation as you collect data for competitive intelligence. Why? Because indicators of stress almost always accompany misrepresentation.

Regardless of whether you’re interviewing someone in person or on Skype or watching the person deliver a speech on YouTube, your ability to identify stress can add a great deal to your understanding of what’s being said. Here are a few indicators of stress to watch for:

  • Uneasiness: Call it intuition or whatever, but if you’re like most people, you can tell when someone is uneasy or anxious. Trust that intuition.

  • Stiff and tight: When people are anxious, they tend to stiffen and tighten up. Their movements seem less fluid and more constrained, so they appear smaller.

  • Changes in eye movement: If a person’s eye movements change in response to specific important issues, that could be a sign of stress.

  • Changes in emotional pitch and speech patterns: If the volume, tone, or pattern of speech shifts when talking about sensitive issues, the person is probably feeling some stress.

Determining the level of stress or relaxation can be incredibly helpful when analyzing information obtained through humint (human intelligence). The key is to understand just how good or bad the information you’re getting is.