The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter
As a body language expert, I’m in the business of helping people understand each other better. I teach people how to study movements, gestures, and facial expressions so they can decode other people’s thoughts and feelings. The media often asks me to comment on the body language of famous or infamous people such as politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and criminals. Judging from the amount of media coverage they receive, nothing fascinates us more than the private lives of celebrities.
While individual celebrities may fascinate us, when two celebrities come together in love, we are transfixed. We create cute names for them, like “TomKat” and “Brangelina.” We track their dinner dates, their holiday plans, their “baby bumps.”
That’s why, when a celebrity manages to maintain some distance from the media and keep her private life somewhat private, we’re that much more curious. Few A-list celebrities have been as successful at holding the paparazzi at arm’s length as actor Renée Zellweger—even after her ill-fated marriage to Kenny Chesney.
Zellweger met Chesney, a quadruple-platinum country performing artist, in January of 2005 at a concert benefiting the victims of the tsunami. After a brief, intense courtship, they married in a small, romantic ceremony on the beach.
Then their whirlwind romance came to a crashing halt. A mere 128 days later, Zellweger filed for an annulment.
The gossip media was abuzz with wild speculation about the fast demise of the marriage. She had checked the box marked “fraud” on the annulment application—what did that mean? Reporters, bloggers, and fans couldn’t help but wonder, What kind of fraud? Was Chesney gay? Did Zellweger just discover it? Was she crushed?
Through it all, Zellweger maintained her dignity and stiff upper lip while under the constant watch of the public eye. She probably thought the story had gone away and that she was home free by December 2006, a full year after the annulment was finalized, when she appeared on Late Show with David Letterman to promote her new film, Miss Potter.
A frequent guest on the show, Zellweger had always enjoyed an easy, joking rapport with Letterman, who had customarily been warm, welcoming, and respectful to her.
That may have been why she was caught off guard when, after a cordial welcome, Letterman abruptly changed the subject and attempted to pin her down with a question about her marriage to Chesney. A week later, I had the opportunity to analyze Zellweger’s body language on The O’Reilly Factor, and I was astonished by what I saw:
At first, Zellweger’s signals telegraph a strong connection with Letterman—her body is turned toward him, her posture straight and tall, her shoulders back, her chest out. She’s maintaining eye contact with him, with her back to the cameras. Her legs are crossed in a pose universally seen as the sexiest sitting position for women, the leg twine, which highlights the muscle tone of her legs. She preens a bit, touching her hair and tossing her head, standard female signals of self-confidence, attraction, and interest. She’s playfully flirting with him and clearly anticipates that this encounter will be as pleasant as their earlier interviews.
The moment Letterman asks the question about Chesney, all of those rapport signals start to fall apart. Even as she’s forcing a smile, teasing Letterman for having the temerity to ask, trying to keep the moment light, this Oscar-winning actor’s body language betrays how deeply hurt she is by the invasion. She completely stops making eye contact with him. She leans directly away from him, exposing her neck in a submissive gesture that shows how vulnerable she feels about the issue. As she sits up again, at the same moment, she shifts her body so her knees and feet point away from Letterman, and she orients her chest and shoulders toward the audience.
Having introduced the topic, Letterman continues with the line of questioning, although he, too, starts to change his body language. He averts his gaze and stares down, seeming to ask the desk his remaining questions.
Their rapport has disappeared. Both parties have stopped looking at each other. While Letterman and Zellweger both continue to speak to each other verbally and show outward social signs of “making nice,” their bodies relate an entirely different conversation. Her body language is saying, “I’m so angry and frustrated that you brought this up”; his body is saying, “I’m sorry that I had to do this—let’s just get through it.”
Zellweger begins to rock her body back and forth in increasingly larger movements and responds to his comments with big, forced, barking laughs. Her fingers twist in her lap. Yet all the while she has a big smile on her face.
As Letterman makes a joke about having been disappointed when she got married because he had wanted to marry her, she turns completely away from him and drops her head down, still smiling. Then, the most telling moment: for just the briefest instant, a flash of true anger covers her face. She scowls, narrows her eyes, purses her lips, and all traces of even fake smiling leave her face. There’s no doubt—it might seem like she’s joking, but she is just plain livid.
As quickly as her anger appears, it disappears. That “microexpression” lasts only for a fraction of a second, not nearly long enough for the untrained eye to catch it. In fact, I had to slow down the clip for Bill O’Reilly during my analysis on the show. But once you’ve seen this signal, you know what to look for. You can’t miss it.
Zellweger’s flash of anger evaporates and she smiles brightly again, swings her head around, and looks directly at Letterman. For the first time in the twenty seconds since he asked the initial question, she looks him in the eye—and a bit forcefully. She even subtly moves her head around to draw him back into direct eye contact. Perhaps not coincidentally, soon thereafter he straightens his tie in his trademark gesture of discomfort and says, “Probably none of my business, is it?” and she says, “Well, now that you mention it—no!” with a big barking laugh.
We all have aspects of our private lives that we like to keep private. When we need to interact with the world, we put on our public face and try to conduct our business without letting anyone see behind the veil.
While we intend to maintain our privacy, very few of us are successful at completely obscuring our true feelings. Even the most accomplished actors can unintentionally betray their genuine emotions with body language signals.
Once you have studied and mastered body language, you will be astounded to discover how much a person can unwittingly reveal about himself without saying a word. While most people never pick up on these signals, once you learn to recognize them, you will detect them everywhere—and even be able to control them more easily in yourself.
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|Epub||July 4, 2018|
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