Monday, February 14, 2011

You say more than you think: A 7-day plan for using the new body language to get what you want

Book Review by Richad L. Weaver II, PhD.

You say more than you think: A 7-day plan for using the new body language to get what you want

I have been reading and writing about nonverbal communication since 1971 (39 years ago!) since the publication of Julius Fast’s popular book, Body Language — which was truly a novelty at the time.  Having written many chapters — and numerous updates — on the subject since the publication of my first college textbook, Speech/Communication (Van Nostrand, 1974), Julius Fast’s book was always considered by academics as a “hack job” by an unqualified writer.

This entire book of 216 pages has only 20 sources (pp. 215-216).  The subject, nonverbal communication, has been studied intensely in the academic world for well over 25 years, and there are thousands of available resources.  Not one of her sources comes out of the speech-communication discipline, and several come from Psychology Today and one from the Calgary Herald.

I found the pictures interesting but not particularly helpful.  For those not familiar with the nonverbal communication literature and not particularly observant of all the nonverbal communication that occurs around them, they may well find information here that is new or insightful.  I found, for the most part, the information to be common sense.

The portions of the book I found most interesting were the stories the authors tell, the insights gained from all the training Janine Driver has engaged in, and the many interpretations of nonverbal cues they offer.  She is the founder and president of the Body Language Institute, and she has — according to the blurb on the inside back flyleaf — “trained thousands of law enforcement officers to decipher fact from fiction using the body language interpretation methods she writes about.”

Another enjoyable feature of this entertaining book (please consider it entertainment only!) is the sassy approach the authors take toward many of the topics discussed.  It makes the writing fun: “If you don’t want to give off a passive-aggressive vibe—bump up that one-handed broadside display a notch and move to the more confident two-handed Superman pose” (p. 122).

To reveal (somewhat) the level of writing in this book, here is a quotation: “Align your belly button to your teen’s, and you’ll be on the path of open, respectful, and powerful communication” (p. 71).

Please don’t think that the advice in the book is wrong or even that because it lacks any evidential base that it is inconsequential, that is not my point.  My point is that so much of the interpretation of nonverbal communication cues and gestures is based on the context or based on the personalities of those involved, that interpretation can be substantially off base.  The 7 myths the authors discuss in Chapter 1, “The New Body Language: What I’ll Tell You That Other Experts Won’t,” are useful; however, the title of the chapter suggests that Driver is truly an expert (she is not), and it reveals the unmitigated, bold, self-assurance that should make every reader question the authors’ authority and credibility.   If you know this as you approach the book, it will help you take what the authors say as one interpretation, or one approach, or one way of looking at nonverbal communication.  As I have said, as an entertaining read, this book is a winner.

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