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Interviewing -What’s Body Language Got To Do With It?

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

Humans are capable of communicating over four channels – voice quality, voice content, micro signals and body language.  Each of the four broadcasts cognitive and emotional information in varying strengths and forms. Because communication skills, talents and habits for each person vary, the overall contributing percentages of each can be different.  Of the four channels, body language provides the most output making up anywhere from 50 to 85 percent depending on the person or even which expert you may ask. The question is what’s all the body language about and what does it mean to the interviewer?


First of all body language can obviously contribute to a verbal message that is being broadcast.  Often we judge a person’s level of communication skills based not only on their verbal talents but also on the artistic flair of the person’s body language.  This subclass of nonverbal behavior includes what are called illustrators. These are motions, gestures, movements and in some cases facial expressions that support or supplement the verbal message.


Second, body language cues are also often directly connected with extreme emotional and sometimes cognitive stress changes a person may be experiencing.  It’s important to note these behaviors are not a part of the stress reactions but are the after shocks of developing or increasing stress.  Think of these cues as being similar to a tsunami.  The tsunami occurs because of dramatic unseen seismic events that occur under the ocean. Body language stress cues occur because of unseen seismic stress events occurring internal in your interview subject.


Finally, the interviewer may observe body language symptoms that have a higher correlation with deception.  There are two very prominent categories of these cues most frequently seen during deception – aversion and negation.  These cues are not part of the lie but occur because an emotional or cognitive lie has been told. In this case the person is attempting to deceive the observer by hiding a strong emotion they are experiencing or faking an emotion they do not genuinely feel.  These symptoms can also be associated with stress subject may experience when attempting to withhold information they do not want to expose or pronouncing to have knowledge they do not possess.  In either case your subject has a great deal at stake in sustaining the deception that can create varying degrees of stress.


It’s important for the interviewer to remember that not all changes in body language indicate deception but can be nothing more than a sign of changing emotion.  In addition, body language is the one channel that is often subject to misinterpretation.  One body language cue can have multiple meanings and are therefore subject to misinterpretation.  We should also note that diagnosing every single body language a person may generate in an interview is very labor intensive and concentrating all our efforts of nonverbal cues can result in the observer missing a significant verbal message.

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