What Every BODY Is Saying: Summary & Review

what every body is saying book cover

What Every BODY Is Saying” (2008) is a book on body language in which author Joe Navarro teaches the basics to read body language and nonverbal communication.

Bullet Summary

  • Learning the baseline behavior of the people around you will allow you to pick any relevant changes
  • Discomfort VS comfort signs are the two major and most helpful nonverbal categories
  • The 3 major and most useful classifiers of nonverbal discomfort signs are “freeze”, “flight” and “fight”
  • Threatening limbic responses to freeze, flight, or fight is followed by pacifying behaviors


About The Author: Joe Navarro is a body language expert, public speaker former FBI agent.
He is also the author of “Dangerous Personalities“.

1. Mastering Nonverbal Communication 

Joe Navarro then gives 10 “commandments” for observing and decoding nonverbal body language:

1. Be a competent observer: A skill you can learn with practice

2. Observe in context: Body language is always observed within the context in which it takes place. Being nervous at a job interview for example is normal and it often dissipates. If nervousness shows again later on then you can wonder why

3. Learn Universal Body Language: Some nonverbal signs are universal and independent of the culture they take place in (example: pressing one’s lips)

4. Learn Idiosyncratic nonverbals: Idiosyncratic behaviors are unique to specific individuals.

5. Learn Baseline Behavior: Baseline behavior is how people normally look, sit, move and behave. Once you know the baseline comfortable behavior, you will recognize when they’re not comfortable.

6. Look For Clusters of Tells: Your accuracy will be exponentially improved when you can note several tells part of the same clusters. For example, a few nervous tells coupled with a few pacifying tells in a negotiator can tell you he’s negotiating from a weak standpoint

7. Look For Changes: Looking for body language changes can alert you to something about to happen, particularly useful if the impending action can cause harm or.

8. Discern False from Misleading: Learning to tell authentic from misleading takes practice

9. Discern Comfort from Discomfort: Joe Navarro says there are two main clusters you should focus on: comfort signs and discomfort signs. Comfort is associated with high confidence. Discomfort is associated with low confidence.

10. Be Subtle In Observing: With practice and persistence, you will learn to observe nonverbal cues without making it obvious you’re looking for them.

2. Living Our Own Limbic Legacy

Everything we do is directed by some portion of the brain, and by observing these behaviors, we can learn to interpret what’s happening in the brain.

Joe Navarro says that the limbic system is the holy grail of body language.

The behaviors dictated by the limbic system are reliable because they operate outside of the neocortex, the conscious part of the brain.

Freeze, flight or fight

Joe Navarro adds, rightly, that the common “fight or flight” dichotomy is actually wrong.

There are instead 3 major responses to distress or threat: freeze, flight or fight.

  • freeze

People being scolded; shallow breathing during questioning; shoplifters hiding their presence with arms close to the body and hunching (the “turtle effect”)

  • flight

All nonverbal behaviors increase the distance.

It includes leaning away, turning your feet towards the exit, placing a bag on your lap, placing a bottle in front of you in front of the table, rubbing or closing your eyes, or putting a hand on your face.

Eye-blocking behaviors are powerful indicators of consternation, disbelief, or disagreement.

  • fight

A heated exchange is a form of fight, but it also happens without words for example by puffing out the chest, violating personal space, or other aggressive posture.

Pacifying Behavior

Freeze, flight, or fight are highly intensive for our brain, which then directs our bodies to provide comforting actions to calm us down.

The comforting behaviors are the so-called Pacifying Behaviors (in other sources are called “adapters”).

When you observe Pacifying Behavior you can guess that someone is in a state of discomfort and had a negative response to something.
If it’s in your vicinity, it might be to something you said or did.

Examples of pacifying behaviors:

  • Neck Touching, covering, or massaging, such as playing with a necklace or adjusting a tie (men more obviously than women)
  • Rubbing your forehead
  • Touching or rubbing your cheek
  • Exhaling puffing out your cheeks to release stress
  • The Leg Cleanser: used when sitting by rubbing your palms on your upper leg
  • The Ventilator: pulling on your shirt collar (for men) or tossing the back of your hair up (for women)
  • The Self-Hug: rubbing the opposite shoulder with one harm

Pacifying behaviors are indicators of uneasiness, stress, or discomfort.
And there’s a relation between stress and pacifying behavior: the greater the stress or discomfort, the greater the likelihood of pacifying behaviors to follow.

Joe Navarro also warns to take note of what part of the body a person pacifies, because usually the higher the stress, the greater the amount of facial or neck stroking will follow.

The ability to link a pacifying behavior with its cause will help you better understand the person with whom you are interacting and to gauge and possibly adjust the way you’re interacting.

3. Nonverbals of the Feet and Legs

Joe Navarro says that the feet are the most “honest” part of the body because they are the first to be engaged in the freeze, flight or fight limbic response.

And they are also the easiest to read because people usually focus on the face to decode what others think so we also focus on the face when we want to fake something.

Hence Joe Navarro exhorts us to do the opposite: start from the bottom, focusing on the legs and feet first.

Here are some typical body language moves associated with feet:

1. Happy feet: Bouncing or rapidly moving feet indicate excitement or satisfaction, but can also communicate impatience. As it’s true for most situations with body language, you must understand the context to correctly decode the meaning. Joe Navarro says that while you can’t always observe the feet, this movement can also show in the torso and shoulders when seated.

2. Feet direction: The feet will point in the direction of what we like or the direction where we would like to move towards. If someone is talking to you but their feet are pointing away, it can mean they either don’t like you and want to disengage, or that they must go somewhere else.

3. Weight Shifting: Placing hands on the knees and shifting the weight towards the foot placed in front while seated is an indication the person is ready and looking forward to getting up and leaving.

4. Gravity-defying behaviors: Similar to Happy Feet, they indicate happiness or excitement. One foot pointing upwards is an example. When it’s the heel to be lifted it’s a “starter’s position” and it may indicate interest as well as readiness to go.

5. The leg splay: Planting your feet far apart is an effort to control the situation. Joe Navarro suggests that if you want to diffuse a situation when you standing this way, bring your feet closer together and it will communicate nonverbally you are not interested in escalating.

6. Standing leg cross: Crossing your legs at the ankles when standing communicates that you are very comfortable. Joe Navarro says it’s because you anticipate that there’s no need to freeze or run, which would require both feet on the ground. Crossing your legs at the ankle while standing is a great way to put someone at ease by communicating you are at ease.
Notice also that we will often bend our crossed legs towards the person we like most -or the one that makes us most comfortable-.

My note:
Pease and Pease say that Standing Leg Cross communicates a submissive or defensive attitude. I tend to agree with both depending on how the rest of the body language looks.

7. Seated leg cross: If the crossed leg point towards you it’s an indicator they like you. Another important indicator is where the inside of the knee is facing: towards you is positive, and away from you is negative.

8. Walking style: How we walk affects our moods and attitudes and, of course, how people perceive us. It’s especially important to notice changes when we already know how people usually walk.

9. Foot movements: People jiggle and move their feet all the time, so it’s not useful in itself as an indicator of a lie. On the other hand, it’s very useful to understand when this behavior begins to change. Jiggling of the foot can be an indicator of nervousness, while a kicking motion is an indicator of fighting back against something unpleasant.

10. The foot lock: Locking the feet while seating is a sign of discomfort. When people are comfortable they tend to unlock their feet. Interlocking the feet around the legs of a chair is even more pronounced and is part of the freeze response.

4. Torso, Hips, Chest & Shoulders

1. Ventral denial and ventral fronting: When things are good and we feel comfortable, we face our frontal body toward the person we’re speaking to. When things are not good and we don’t like the person or there’s a relationship change, or we don’t like the topic, then we will face away with our torso and belly.
Leaning in or leaning away serves the same purpose: we lean in to show comfort and liking and we lean away to show discomfort and dislike.

2. The torso shield: We shield our torso when we are not comfortable. Arm crossing is an obvious one, but also buttoning a jacket, adjusting a tie, reaching out to one of our cufflinks, or touching our watch, they can all serve as torso shielding behaviors.

3. Torso splays: Shifting the weight to one side while leaning back communicates a territorial stance or a power pose. Joe Navarro says you can do it at home, but better not at the workplace as it communicates disrespect for authority

4. Chest puffing: A very clear aggressive pose that communicates the situation could escalate to blows. If it’s followed by removal of clothing to bare the torso it’s a further step towards physical confrontation.

5. Shoulder shrugs: Shrugging of the shoulders is a common nonverbal way to communicate ignorance on the topic. What’s most interesting is that Joe Navarro says that when the shoulder shrug is only partial- for example, if the shoulders don’t raise much or if only one shoulder goes up, it means the body language doesn’t fully back up the verbal statement

6. Weak shoulder displays: Shoulders coming up towards the head -the turtle pose- is a strong sign of major discomfort in the situation. The players of a losing team will do it, or the employees about to report on their accomplishments who haven’t had many accomplishments.

5. Nonverbals of the Arms

1. Gravity-related arm movements: Similarly as for “happy feet”, when we feel happy and energized our arms tend to go up. And when we feel confident, we will use our arms more and will often swing on our side when we walk. On the other hand, our arms tend to drop and droop when we are sad or experiencing negative emotions.

2. Arm withdrawal: When we are confident our arms tend to move conspicuously and stay to the side; when we feel threatened, our arms will move closer to our body or will cover our body. As a general rule, the meek will pull their arms in, the aggressors will spread their arms out.

3. Arm freeze: Part of the limbic freeze reaction, this is how our body makes us less detectable. Unluckily, Joe Navarro says that abused children will display restricted arm movements.

4. Arm cues that isolate: Certain arm behavior communicates we need or want distance and people should not come close.
Placing the arm behind your back for example, albeit often misunderstood as a pensive position, is a typical move of royal families that communicates superiority and it tells people not to come too close. In crowded places, arms will also be used to keep people away from our torso and body.
And arms can be used to distance someone when we greet them: how far we reach our hand out will say how far we want to be from them. And when hugging, fully outreached arms are a very positive sign of liking.

5. Arms akimbo: Your hands on your hips are a typical stance for territorial display and to establish dominance. The akimbo with thumbs down is more inquisitive and less authoritarian. Placing the thumbs back and fully displaying the fingers is a stronger way of saying “there are some issues here”.

6. Hooding effect: Interlaced fingers behind the head, leaning back and elbows forward while seating is another territory-claiming pose of dominance.
Usually, only the most senior person in the room will be allowed to take this pose.

7. Dominant pose: Spreading your arm while leaning on a desk or placing your arm around a chair nearby is a major territorial display of authority. Similarly, people who want to claim territory will spread their stuff wide on a table.
Dominant men might also put their arms around the date on the first date as if it were her property. Some men might also put an arm around their woman it when they feel there’s a lot of competition around, which is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t recommend you do the same.

8. Adornments and artifacts on the arms: Interestingly enough, Joe Navarro says that adornments and tattoos on the arm do communicate about us, and until tattoos will become fully acceptable he recommends avoiding them since surveys show people perceive people with tattoos as low status.

9. Arms as conduits of affection: Arms can tell how happy we are to meet someone. When meeting someone new, leave them relaxed, preferably showing the internal side of the arms and maybe even showing the palms. A hug is a great way of saying “I like you” (Leil Lowndes says hugging can mean more than “I like you” unless there’s a pat on the back, in which case is always friendly)

6. Nonverbals of the Hands and Fingers

Joe Navarro says that our brain gives a disproportionate amount of attention to the wrists, palms, fingers, and hands, as compared to the rest of the body (Givens, 2005).

1. Effective hand movements: People respond effectively and positively to hand movements, so use them when speaking and to emphasize your points. Joe Navarro uses a very strong example of a man who used his hands extremely well to sway and convince crowds: Adolf Hitler.

2. Keep your hands visible: Hiding your hand creates a very bad impression, we human beings expect and want to see the hands and what they’re doing. So keep them in front of you and above the table.

3. The power of a handshake: Joe Navarro says you should avoid the famous power plays of rotating your hand on top or putting your second hand on top.
Albeit some politicians might do it to avoid looking weaker than their speaking partners, it just makes people uncomfortable. And of course, avoid Trump’s style Alpha Male Handshake.

4. Offensive hand gestures: Very interestingly, there are more learned hand gestures than most other body language signals we’ve seen. Hence, it’s easy to offend some foreign cultures with hand gestures. Joe Navarro hence advises avoiding hand gestures in a foreign culture until you learn a bit about what they mean.
Finger-pointing is universal though, and universally offensive at that.

5. Manage sweaty hands: Sweaty hands tend to happen because of nervousness, so they’re a possible sign of nervousness.

6. Nervousness in the hands: Our hands can shake because of stress, nervousness, or excitement. But can also be caffeine or neurological disorders, so you should always use context and baseline behavior to judge. 

7. Preening: Preening yourself is rude when you’re supposed to be listening to someone, especially if done in a self-attentive, dismissive way.

8. Steepling: Steepling, a go-to move of Angela Merkel is, Joe Navarro says, one of the most powerful displays of confidence we have. On the other hand, interlacing fingers is a sign of low confidence, especially if couple of hand wringing.

9. Thumb displays: Thumbs in full view communicate confidence, while thumbs hidden, either in your own hands or in your pockets, communicate nonconfidence (unless the rest of the finger fully frames the genitals in the “genital framing”). The thumb sticking out of the pocket is a high-confidence display.

10. Genital framing: Thumbs sticking in the belt or in the pocket with the other fingers pointing towards the crotch is a dominance display more often seen among young people.

11. Frozen hands: Same as frozen feet, a sudden stop of all movements can be an indicator of stress and lying.

12. Interlaced stroking or rubbing: In case of doubt or under low stress, people will slightly rub their palms together. When they move to rub their hands with interlaced fingers, the situation is more stressful for them.

7. Nonverbals of the Face

Joe Navarro deals last with the face for a simple reason: it tends to be less accurate.

1. Pupillary constricting and squinting: Our pupils tend to widen when we are surprised, aroused, or confronted. They constrict when we perceive something negative. We also squint our eyes when we perceive something negative or something we don’t like, thus squinting plus constriction makes for an ever greater negative response.

2. Eye blocking: Our limbic system tries to block incoming negative information, which can translate into heightened blinking, blinking more slowly, touching our eyes, or bringing our palms to cover our faces.

3. Eye flash: The eyebrow flash, a non-verbal already talked about by another FBI agent in The Like Switch, happens when we raise our eyebrow for a split second, and it indicates a positive reaction.

4. Eye-gaze behavior: When we look directly at someone’s eyes we either like them, are curious about them, or we want to threaten them.
We must rely on other facial cues to understand which one is it. When we look away during a conversation we can do it to engage a thought, in which case it is actually a comfort display. However, a little later, he says that subordinates are required to be attentive with their gaze and keep facing the king as they leave the room. But the dominant men can look wherever they want.
Also, he recommends that you look at potential employers at an interview as looking all over “as if you owned the place” will unnerve them and make you look superior and disinterested.

5. Eye-blink / eye-flutter behavior: Joe Navarro says that Eyelid flutter indicates an internal struggle either with our performance or with the person or environment around us. It cannot be a good indicator of lying though because any stressful situation can cause the bling rate to increase.

6. Looking askance: The head is tilted or looks sideways with an aside glance or eye roll.

7. Disappearing lips, lip compression, and the upside-down “U”: These are, in order, all rising signs of stress

8. The lip purse: The lip purse involves puckering the lips, and indicates disagreement with something that is being said or done.

9. The sneer: The sneer communicates disrespect or disdain

10. Tongue displays: Often a pacifying sign. Tong jutting between the teeth without touching the lips is used when someone got caught for doing something they weren’t supposed to do or when they got away with something.

11. Furrowed forehead: Frowning is a signal of discomfort or anxiety, but it can also be concentration and full focus on a task.

12. Facial blushing and blanching: It’s our response to an impactful, major event. Our blood is siphoned off from our faces in preparation for a flight or fight situation.

13. Gravity-defying behaviors of the face: Tucking our chin in and pushing our nose down is a sign of low confidence. Chin up and nose high instead are indicators of confidence.

8. Detecting Deception: A Coin Toss

Joe Navarro goes deep in dispelling a myth and an industry worth millions: the myth that we can spot a liar.

He says that “even the very best of us are no better than 60% accurate”.

Body language is great to spot how a person is feeling, or a disconnection between words and nonverbal signs.
But when it comes to guessing when someone is deliberately lying, then… It’s no more than pure guesswork.

The wrong idea that many have is that any sign of nervousness is a sign of lying. It’s not. People can be nervous independently of lies.

The idea of catching if someone is lying is to establish full comfort so that if he is nervous when lying, then it will be possible for you to notice the changes from comfort to discomfort.

It’s simply a lie that anyone can accurately spot lies.

Three Major Tells To Spot Liars

Three major tells you can look for are:

  • Synchrony: Says no but nods
  • Emphasis: When lying we don’t put much verbal and nonverbal emphasis on our words
  • Confidence: People who tell the truth tend to be more convinced. For example, palms up display a suspicious “please believe me” attitude

My note:
most “spotting a liar mechanisms” are based on the idea that if someone is lying, they might not be too experienced in it and will need to put a lot of mental load on the lie.
That will raise tension and lets the nonverbal go awry. So you wanna know the biggest secret to a perfect lie? Don’t lie. And if you need to, believe in your lie. It’s not a lie if you believe it 😉

what every body is saying book cover


I Would Have Liked More Pictures
More pictures would have been nice. Some interactive links to some videos would have made it an even more wow book. But for a non-interactive video, little to criticize, it’s just great.


What Every BODY Is Saying” is a great book for anyone looking to improve their interpersonal skills.

It’s well written, well researched, and contains boatloads of wisdom even for more advanced practitioners of the social arts.

Get The Book
What Every Body is Saying at Amazon.

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