How to Read Body Language in Competitive Intelligence Interviews - dummies

How to Read Body Language in Competitive Intelligence Interviews

By James D. Underwood

Body language is one of the best resources you have in your collection of competitive intelligence data to listen in to the silent conversation and figure out what a person is really saying. While speaking, people usually send signals indicating whether they’re being open and transparent or closed off and guarded in their remarks.

You can usually tell by interrogating the data or in this case, interrogating the target — your observations of the person’s posture and physical movements.

Reading nonverbal messaging isn’t an exact science. Rather, it’s about patterns. Seek patterns of behavior that seem to occur on a consistent basis and behaviors that run counter to those patterns. Never base your judgment on a single indicator.

Don’t focus on only one or two aspects of body language; pay attention to the composite of all aspects of the message — verbal and nonverbal. Observe patterns of behavior along with parallel behaviors. The accuracy of your interpretation hinges on your ability to engage your intuition, all your senses, and your intellect. Violating this rule often leads to incorrect conclusions.

How to evaluate eye movements in competitive intelligence interviews

You probably can’t tell just by gazing into someone’s eyes whether the person is honest or dishonest, but if you know how to interpret eye movement, you can tell whether a person is being creative or deceptive, feigning confidence, and so on.

Be aware, though, that each individual has different places that their eyes go during a conversation. Interpreting eye movement isn’t as simple as thinking that someone’s lying if he looks up and to the left. For one person, up and left may indicate lying, but for another, it may simply indicate that the person is trying to formulate an accurate response.

As you observe an individual, study where her eyes normally go after you ask her a question. Try to establish a baseline for the individual you’re watching — where the person’s eyes typically go in response to certain questions or topics — so you can tell when eye movements deviate from the baseline.

For every individual you observe, try to figure out which direction is associated with each of the following spaces:

  • The creative space: Sometimes, a person who wants to make sure that her answer is correct looks up and to the right or to the left.

  • The deceptive space: In most cases, but not always, a person’s deceptive space is the mirror side of their creative space. That is, if their creative space is up and to the left, then their deceptive space is up and to the right.

  • The liar, liar, pants on fire space: Many people look down when they’re telling a lie, to avoid eye contact altogether. This type of deception is usually accompanied by other clues, such as slumping shoulders.

  • The fake confident look: Some people try to fool you into thinking they’re telling the truth by looking you straight in the eye. Be especially aware of accompanying behaviors, such as body position, to figure out if they’re being truthful or deceptive.

  • Closed eyes: When someone closes his eyes, ask yourself why. People rarely close their eyes purposefully. He may just need to rest his eyes for a moment, or he may be hiding something he doesn’t want you to see, such as a lie. Be careful about reading too much into closed eyes, but take note of anything other than a blink.

How to unmask facial expressions in competitive intelligence interviews

Most people can easily tell when someone is happy, sad, disinterested, worried, surprised, or confident just by looking at the person’s face. Then again, some people can easily put on a brave face when they’re terrified, appear confident when they’re worried or happy when they’re sad, or seem angry even when they don’t really care.

In short, a certain facial expression may be nothing more than a mask a person puts on to influence your opinion of him or her.

You need to be able to unmask facial expressions by cross-checking what a person’s facial expression conveys against what you’re picking up from other nonverbal signals and by being aware of the following caveats:

  • Smiles can be deceiving. Some people smile at everyone, which could mean that the person is warm and friendly or that he’s trying to hide his true motives. Usually, you can safely assume that a smile is a gesture of sincere joy and receptiveness, but if the smile conflicts with other nonverbal signals, it may be a facade.

    To gather additional clues, watch how the person interacts with others and whether the interactions seem sincere. If the person is smiling but appears impatient or hostile, something’s hiding behind that smile.

  • A facial expression may change when you look away. Try to catch a glimpse of the person’s face when she thinks you’re not looking. If her smile morphs into a sad or angry expression, you may want to question her sincerity in dealing with you.

You can practice reading in a café or other social setting. Try to do this without them noticing and without actually listening to the conversation. What do their facial expressions tell you about what they’re saying and how each person feels?