How to Become a Body Language Expert

I got an email from Dr. Paul Ekman's office yesterday. After I stoped jumping up and down with excitement, I answered his assistant's request. Since the new TV show, "Lie To Me" based on Dr. Ekman's life has come out, his office is getting queries on how to become a body language expert. Here is my answer.

It was so kind of you to contact me. Dr. Paul Ekman is my idol. I read his research in my first nonverbal class when I was 19 years old, I quoted his research on my Master’s and Doctoral exams and I have been sharing the results of his research with my audiences since I taught my first body language class at Florida State in the 80’s.

There are many ways to become an expert in any field and I will give you different paths to take. I will start with the most arduous and then give you easier routes.

The first path is one that I chose. Get a degree. Don't freak out. The academic route is rewarding. If You want to pursue a full education I recommend you look for universities that have a program in Nonverbal Communication in a their -Communication Department, but also have a strong psychology, sociology, business communication and or anthropology departments. I was able to take courses in other colleges within my University to create my undergrad degree and I feel that truly helped me have a strong foundation in both brain research and the social interaction research on nonverbal communication.

Another path is take just take a college course on the topic. Look online at the college course catalogue. The course may be listed as nonverbal communication, but you may have to go deeper into the course description. Typically, you find courses that have a section or module on the topic under Psychology or Communication. You may also find them in the Business School or in the Anthropology Department or in the Sociology Department.

The web is full of information, but some of it is far to simplistic and some is just plain wrong. Look for the experts with degrees in the field. When you do a Google search use the word "research, as the first word in the search. Read
You may also want to find read some of the best books on the subject. I recommend going deep and reading all of Paul Eckman's books. Also read Desmond Morris' seminal contributions to the field.

Another path or mode of learning is to become a keen observer. Watch talk shows, look closely at the behavior. I have a chart in my Success Signals book that you can use to note when certain nonverbal behaviors occur and how many times they occur. One of the key times to watch is the pause before someone speaks. There are the micro expressions that Paul Ekman discovered that occur in that fraction of a second. They are the truthful expressions. Start looking for what people say, before the words come out. Then, observe what they do with their face movement and gestures and body, just as they finish speaking. There is the least amount of control at those moments so there is so much truth in those moments.

Don't over analyze your daily interactions; it will take you out of the real moment with people. It can make you crazy, or just make other people think you are crazy. Instead, observe as an outsider. Go the mall or the airport or the bookstore or coffeehouse or the grocery store and see if you can predict people’s next actions or get gut impressions of how people respond to waitress or cashier. For that matter, do something I do. Look for the nice people. For example, look at all the cashiers at Target, observe their nonverbal cues and decide which cashier will make your interaction the best. Personally, I look for the person who appears friendly, and present rather than an autotron. For you, that may mean choosing someone who is fast. Form an impression then predict their future behavior. Test your skills.

You can also look for a mentor or coach to guide you through the process. Find someone who is skilled at reading people as well as a good teacher.

Personally, I earned two degrees in communication with a specialization in Nonverbal Communication and did an additional four years of Doctoral coursework in nonverbal communication and taught Nonverbal Communication at the University level for many years. I have also been doing research on the topic since the early 80’s. My favorite areas of research are first impressions, handshakes and greeting behavior, rapport building, gender differences, deception detection and touch.
I studied with Dr. Larry Barker for my Masters to specialize in nonverbal communication and I did Doctoral coursework in Nonverbal Communication in the same manner as my undergraduate degree, by seeking courses in other departments related to the field.

If someone wants a different kind of education please let them know I am taking on students for one on one coaching. I also take on student interns to work with me in my business.
Please let Dr. Ekman know I enjoy the television show and marvel at the accuracy of the nonverbal information. It is wonderful to have this show on the air for those of us who teach and have a passion for the field of nonverbal communication. If there is anything else you would like to know please feel free to call me.