Episode 005: Transform Your Life By Studying Your Body Language – With Robert Phipps

Robert Phipps believes that it's what you don't say that matters! As an expert in body language and non-verbal communciation, Robert will share the strategies that you can use to transform your life and your interactions with the world by understanding body language (both yours AND other people's).

Show Notes & Resources

Robert, tell us about your life…

  • I analyse human behaviour via non-verbal signals
  • It all began 33 years ago, when I was caught out lying, back in 1984. I asked waht gave me away and they said “body language”.
  • Back then, there were only 4-5 books about body language and I was fascinated and bought a book by Allan Pease.
  • This became my pet subject because I was entering into the sales arena, selling photocopiers and fax machines.
  • I wanted to test the body language strategies that I had learned from the books when I was out selling, negotiating, closing deals.
  • Quickly discovered that not all of the books were right!
  • Last time I checked Amazon, there were 2000+ books about body language and I have a few hundred of them, but a lot of them are not written by people who have anything to do with non-verbal communication. They are just general writers, regurgitating old information.
  • For example, one myth that has been circulating training is the statistic that only 7% of verbal, 38% of it is your tone of voice and 55% has to be body language… but that isn't true (even though it's being used in training all over the place since 1969.
  • But the guy who created that ‘theory' has a big disclaimer on his website saying that it might not be true.
  • In testing body language theories in the sales environment, I found lots of things that worked and lots of things that didn't work.
  • It's only by trying these things that you can find the things that work for YOU.
  • I talk about something called YODA:
    • Y stands for You. Everything you do in life begins with you.
    • O stands for Observe. Looking around and taking in everything around you that will give you clues about the kind of person someone is.
    • D stands for Decode. That means de-coding what you're seeing around you and in yourself.
    • A stands for Adapt. Use the knowledge and observations to change the way that you act and react.
    • I talk about something called YODA:
  • The term body language is probably misleading because it implies that it's all about body movement. But it's actually about everything non-verbal.
  • Look at everything, like what they have chosen to wear, their car, the things that are in their car, their house/office environment. These are all ‘clues' but they aren't ‘body language'.

What would you say to people who are cynical about body language and non-verbal communication?

  • I'll give you an example, from a TV studio when we recording a show.
  • I normally watch the guests and 10 minutes later give my analysis.
  • I gave the guy my analysis and he said “This is all bollocks, you're a paid person so you can say what you like. I don't believe in this body language whatsoever”.
  • So I challenged it, “if you don't believe that body language works, you won't be offended when I do this…” (making a rude gesture).
  • I did one thing and got him to react to it (which proves that it's real).

Does your body language influence your own mental state? For example, if you're very animated that might make you feel alert, whereas if you're sat slumped you might feel more tired?

  • Yes.
  • Let's go back a step to YODA. Remember that ‘D' stands for decoding and that means you too.
  • When I run body language seminars, I would do an exercise where I ask everyone to stand up and open up their body language.
  • Imagine a big festival like Glastonbury. When you're full of energy, most people's body language is very much up, open and outwards.
  • So, when it's safe to do so, try holding that up and open and outwards posture.
  • Then think about something sad like a funeral or a pet dying but try to hold that posture and it is just impossible.
  • Everything changes; your hands drop, your shoulders drop, your face drops.. just momentarily as you enter a different state.
  • Everything here is about decoding your emotional state (as opposed to someone else).
  • There are ways to tell about someone's non-verbal state, just by listening to their words (for example, over the phone).
  • People's head tilting will change the sound of their voice, which means that you can tell how someone's energy and posture is, just by their tone of voice.
  • Look at your own body language. If you're hunched and your shoulders are in, you're pulling yourself in which means you don't get as much breath and you don't think as clearly as you would if you sit up straight with your shoulders back.
  • Scientists have worked out that if you sit up straight and raise your head 5 degrees above horizontal you release endorphins that make you feel good. Just that change in physiology gives a message to your brain that you're happy.
  • There are hundreds of everyday expressions that we use that relate to our body language. Things like “beady little eyes”, “giving me daggers”, “giving me the cold shoulder”, “they were very pushy”, “they were standoffish”.

What are the uses of this stuff for someone who wants to use it in everyday life, without being a body language expert or trainer like you?

  • This leads really nicely into the last part of YODA, where the A stands for Adapt.
  • The only point in understanding body language is to take the choice to carry on as you are, or adapt your body language because you've noticed someone's reaction.
  • You're reading emotional states in people, so you can read that you're getting on someone's nerves or that they want to get away… it's not worth ignoring that.

So in day-to-day life as we are interacting with other people, what are the big things that we could be looking for in their non-verbal communication?

  • It's really all about you. As you enter somewhere new, if you're positive, uplifted and smiling… that's contagious. You can only give a smile, it can't be taken from you.
  • If you walk in somewhere and smile, most people instinctively smile back before they consciously have a chance to stop themselves.
  • Let's imagine you walk into a car showroom… maybe you'd smile, say “Good morning!” and put your hand out to shake someone's hand. Let them know that this is where you're headed, feeling positive and upbeat.
  • If they don't respond in a similar way, then maybe you can do something to try and break their pattern of negativity.
  • For example, you hear a lot about people sitting with their arms crossed. Let's look at that. Arm crossing isn't always a negative or stressful, sometimes it's just comfortable.
  • But if we're talking to someone and we're both being positive, open and upward and when I say something you suddenly cross your arms and say “Well…”, that tells me that you're probably going to say something negative.
  • So when people are being negative, if you're able to stop them in their tracks before they verbalise their negativity (because you've picked up on something non-verbal) then you can quite often break that by getting in before they say it out loud (which makes it too late).
  • Because you can pick up on something that is going to come up negative, you can get rid of it. Like tapping them on the arm and saying “ooh, hold that thought” and coming in with something positive.
  • A lot of the time, you can change things just that simply.

Aside from building a successful career out of this, what are the real world biggest positive epiphany that understanding non-verbal communication has had on your life?

  • The most basic would be my marriage. I've been married for 30 years and people used to say to my wife, “Oh my God… it must be horrible living with him because he always knows what you're thinking” and she used to say “No, it's lovely”.
  • When you can pick up on your partner's mood, that really makes a difference.
  • With situations outside of your personal relationships or marriage, understanding body language gives you a little bit of an advantage over other people that don't understand it.
  • Within personal relationships, you pick up on the other person's non-verbal communication and that becomes a ‘lose-lose' if you don't take any notice of it (the relationship will fail) or you can use it and it becomes a ‘win-win'.
  • When you understand your partner, you can adapt and be understanding to the situations and moods.

Most of us would believe that our physical body language is subconscious. If we go into a particular position (eg. ‘slumped'), we don't do it intentionally. What can we do to train ourselves to analyse our own body language and make best use of it?

  • Start by physically looking at yourself. Stand in front of the mirror, pull all of your regular poses and pay attention to them.
  • Watch out for the things that look like they might come across to other people as negative or not as good as you could be at getting your message across.
  • Then start changing one thing at a time. If you try to overhaul and undo everything from you're programmed to do, it won't work.
  • For example, decide that you're going to start by just holding your posture with your shoulders wide and open for a whole day… and just work on that.
  • This is something that I have done and so do our political leaders. They stand and practise their posture.
  • Think about Tony Blair's famous pose when he's talking, with his hands ‘out' to the audience like a shepherd pulling in his flock.
  • Just choose one thing and work on it for 2-3 days until it becomes part of your programming and then move on.
  • Pay close attention and practise the poses and postures that you want to adopt.
  • Build an armory of things that you can use to defend yourself when you get thrown off-guard or caught out in a difficult situation, and avoid slumping into negative poses.

If you had to look over your career and choose 5 of the most interesting examples of things that people do in their body language, would you choose?

  • Posture – in research by the British chiropractic association, 62% of people automatically associated good posture with high confidence. Amongst recruiters in the same research around 55% of them wouldn't give put someone forward for a job if their body language was slumped or lazy.
  • Facial Expressions – we have around 27 different types of smile and not all are positive. For example, the sarcastic smile, the snarly lip smile with contempt. Look at the smile you get. Is it positive? Is someone engaging you with the eye contact that you'd expect? Remember that body language is cultural, of course. Here in England, we will look at people around 65% of the time we're talking to them. But in some of the Scandinavian countries, they will look at you 80-90% of the time. If you're not used to that from someone, it can be quite disconcerting.
  • The Overall – study things like accessories, clothes, tattoos, makeup, jewelry, hairstyle, etc. All of those things were a free choice. So what people decide to wear is generally portraying some sort of message. For example, most salespeople go out suited and booted and smart, while builders will go out with rougher gear on because they will do different types of work. Look for things that stand out on people or in their space (home, work environment, car). Things will give you clues about someone.
  • Hands – look at what people do with their hands. The hands are really the mouthpiece of the body. They will give away things that the words don't. You'll see this from politicians all of the time. Record the TV when a politician is on and watch it with the sound off. Work out what you think is going on, then watch it back with the sound off and compare it to what you thought their body language was saying. This works well with soap operas too. Hands are used to show when people want to be open and ‘honest' differently to when they are closed, negative or secretive.
  • Tactile – some people like to be touched, some people really don't like it. It's good to test rapport by moving into someone's space… do they move away or lean in. Do they allow you to touch or touch you back? Paying attention to this will show you how well a conversation is going and whether you're on the same page or not.

One thing you'll see a lot is where someone's words say one thing, but their body language says something different. Is one a more accurate representation of how they feel than the other?

  • Body language categorically, ALWAYS tells the truth. The body doesn't know how to tell lies, only your brain does.
  • When your brain has to tell a lie and starts to think about all of the possibilities (and things like, ‘the lie has to be logical' and ‘the lie has to make sense'), your body is doing its own thing.
  • Your body can only react the way that it knows how to react, which goes all the way back to the programming you've had in your entire life.
  • Here's an example that Allan Pease gave a long time ago. If you were holding a barbecue and you have a table full of food and all of the adults are outside and the food is inside. You hear a big bang and crash and you go inside to investigate and find a kid standing saying “I didn't do it!” and throws their hands over their mouth. Would you pay attention to the verbal statement or would you believe the slapped hands over the mouth trying to hide the words?

Where can we find out more about you?

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