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Body Language Expert Reveals
What We Are Really Saying

Maria Trkulja asks body language expert James Borg to reveal the silent clues to what we're really saying.

It was one of the most extraordinary cabarets of affection since Richard Gere took out a full page newspaper advertisement claiming his marriage to Cindy Crawford was rock solid. At last month's Golden Globes, George Clooney and his new paramour, Italian presenter Elisabetta Canalis, were entwined like love-smitten teenagers. But whereas Gere's proclamation was followed rather swiftly by a divorce announcement, Clooney and Canalis are set to stay the course. That's if you believe their body language.

This "silent" language never lies, according to James Borg, a leading expert in the subject and author of a best-selling "how to" book.

"They're genuinely in love," he says. "The way they are smiling, the look in the eyes, and the nature of their proximity all give them away." Borg makes it his business to read the unconscious movements and postures of others. In his world, the curve of a smile, the blink of an eye, the position of the hands or feet are all of great significance.

"We're all constantly judged on first impressions," says Borg. "People are making snap decisions as to whether they trust us, like us, want to work with us, or have an affair with us. But words alone don't provide the whole picture. More than 90 per cent of meaning in any interaction is derived from non-verbal clues – the manner in which our body 'talks' and the way that we say things – and a mere seven per cent from the words that are actually spoken. The overwhelming meaning of a message, when communicating with others, comes from an unconscious display of the 'silent' language; which either reinforces or detracts from the words being used," he says.

"Whether you need to sell an idea, get your point across or understand what other people really think, it is at the root of all communication. Get it right, and all sorts of communication will become a breeze."

President Obama, a master of modern communication, is a big fan, and cited Borg's best-selling book, Persuasion: the Art of Influencing People when he was questioned on the campaign trail about which book he would take into the White House, should he win the election.

"The President is very skilled in body language," says Borg. "He has excellent eye contact, which is a sign of honesty and sincerity, and is why he came across so well in the campaign. His standard style is to look ahead which shows he is confident, direct and knows what he is talking.

But body language is not a new concept. It has been studied by psychologists and neuropsychologists since the Fifties and is now, according to Borg, so refined as to be called a science.

"Developing an understanding of body language is indispensable in our modern lives," says Borg. "Every day, we constantly have to interpret what another person's body language is telling us – as well as controlling our own to create the right impression. Although we are perfectly able to select appropriate gestures and actions to transmit a message, our body also sends out signals outside our conscious awareness – in other words, without our permission.

In a new column starting in the Telegraph next week Borg will show us how to master and control these unconscious tell-tale signs and learn to read other people's movements.

"People go around attracting or repelling others, because of their body language. You need to ask yourself what does your body language say when you are communicating with others? If you find that you're unconsciously turning people off, then you're sending out the wrong signals without realising it.

"Before you interact with others, you should take a moment to analyse your own emotional state. What is it? Impatient, angry, resentful, anxious? Each of these, for example, will influence the way that you address other people, and body language 'leakage' will arise and may cause problems. Feelings, in particular, are communicated more by non-verbals than by a person's words.

"The only window we have to a person's subconscious is through observing what they do with their body," says Borg.

"Understanding body language is effectively a form of mind reading. When a thought produces a feeling, that feeling leaks out through body language. If you can read the body language, you are reading the feeling."

Traditionally, women are better than men at reading body language, and Borg says that this really is down to a "women's intuition".

"The invention of the fMRI brain imaging machine in the Nineties has allowed us to monitor and compare brain activity in men and women. When shown an image, men used the left side of the brain, which is the side that governs logic and language. Women, on the other hand, use both left and right side of the brain, which deals with perception and creativity. It's why women will instinctively say, 'There is something about that person I just don't trust'."

But Borg says men and women alike can all master body language and become expert at reading others, and controlling their own gestures. Over the next 10 weeks, his column will teach us to read the trickiest of situations including how to tell if someone is attracted to us, if we can trust someone, or if they are lying. The latter, he says, is something even the most schooled communicators have problems in disguising.

"Most politicians are trying to impart a message that they don't really believe in, so they try to control their body language, so as not to give away their true feelings, but in most cases it backfires badly," he says. "Whereas once politics was about constructive body language, now it is all defensive."

Paradoxically, when employing body language some politicians make themselves less rather than more popular.

"No matter how hard Gordon Brown tries he just gets it wrong," says Borg. "He's obviously been told by his advisers that he needs to smile more, to make himself more appealing to the public. But because he doesn't smile a lot naturally and doesn't feel comfortable doing it, his smile is often unnatural and ill-judged, and has the opposite of the desired effect. People register that it's not the real thing and don't trust him for faking it."

Contrast him with David Cameron who, according to Borg, "has the full package". "Cameron smiles and talks very naturally, his facial expression denotes sincerity. You feel that he is empathetic and sincere."

But with all this knowledge is there not a danger of unravelling too much of the world around us? "Not at all," says Borg. "It will give you a greater awareness and ability to handle life. You'll discover a whole new language at your finger tips.

February 3, 2010

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