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read nonverbal body language

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Are you unsure of how to read nonverbal body language at work? Could you be missing out on subtle clues about what someone is really thinking?

Imagine how valuable it would be if you were better at decoding those signals? It could help you be a more effective leader, negotiator, or team player.

It’s powerful indeed, my friends. Today’s guest, Martin Brooks, creator of the Body Language Decoder, will give us some tips on how to get better at reading nonverbal body language at work.

Share this episode with someone you think will benefit from it.

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What You’ll Discover About Read Nonverbal Body Language (highlights & transcript):

Body Language Decoder* Genesis of Martin’s interest in how to read nonverbal body language 

* How to use body language for more effective communication 

* Top 3 patterns to help you read nonverbal body language 

* Why reading nonverbal body language of audience helps adjust your own nonverbal cues 

* Where beginners can focus to read nonverbal body language

* How better nonverbal body language can reduce Zoom fatigue 

* The danger of ignoring nonverbal body language 

* And MUCH more.

Are you sometimes unsure of how to read nonverbal body language at work? Could you be missing out on subtle clues about what someone is really thinking? Imagine how valuable it would be if you were better at decoding those signals to help you be a more effective leader, negotiator or team player. Powerful, indeed, my friends. And when we come back, today’s guest will give us some tips on how to get better at reading nonverbal body language at work.


This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.


Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today I’m delighted to welcome Martin Brooks to the show. Martin is an experienced communication coach and trainer who applies his expertise in how to read nonverbal body language to help his consulting clients have a better understanding of others, as well as communicate more effectively themselves. His body language analysis has been aired on the BBC, LBC Radio and the Discovery Channel, and his new product, Body Language Decoder, includes 50 illustrated cards that reveal what others are really thinking. How cool is that? So let’s have him join us now. Welcome to Business Confidential Now Martin.


Well, thank you very much, Hanna. It’s fantastic to be here and to share some insights with your audience.



Well, it is a fascinating subject, how to read nonverbal body language. How did you get interested in that?


Well, I’ve got a career background that started on the 15th of August, 1991 in sales and progressed then into sales leadership. And one of the things that was always important to me was, well, what would give you a competitive advantage as a sales person? And then when I was training my sales teams and motivating them, how to help them be more successful.


So a psychology lecturer said something many years ago that stuck in my mind. And what’s the difference that makes a difference? What are the things that the person who comes first does more often more of the time? So I was always very interested in language patterns, voice, body language, the structure of language, anything that could make me on the teams that I’ve managed more successful in terms of how they interacted with their customers.


And then when I set up my own business consultancy in 2002, I really was able to prioritize not only my own clients, but also deepening my learning about how we communicate, what makes that, what’s the difference that makes that difference. And then to be able to share that with my clients, to help them be more successful communicators, leaders, negotiators, setters, presenters, whatever their area of business was.


When coaching people on how to use body language more effectively. Because you’re right, we show up in so many different ways in the workplace, the negotiating, the leader. What are you typically telling them not to do?


Yeah, well, that’s an interesting one. I’ve done a lot of work as I think you have as well. And business schools and one of the programs that I used to run, a larger training company, they’re called Personal Impact, and that involved six C-suite leaders coming in and doing a three-minute presentation that I would then pull apart. And it was very it was like a 50-50 split. It was what you’re doing that you need to keep doing.


And then it was things that yeah, those things that you’re doing, you want to stop doing those and do something differently. And it was very much very often about things that they weren’t necessarily aware of, but when they pointed them, I was like, Well, yeah, I can see how that might negatively impact how other people see me. So from a senior leader who would stand with his hands in his pockets, well, what does that say to the people that you’re communicating with?


Do you really want to come across as that casual? And I remember him saying, well, they’re just somewhere to go. And it’s like, yes, but you’re not thinking about what does that say? Eye contact, the way people even move, the way they walk into a room, the first impression they get when walking into a room and going to do a negotiation: are their shoulders back or they’re looking at eyeline when they walk.


Do they give people a good, firm handshake, particularly in the openings of interactions, we had at the start of a keynote, the start of a of a roundtable meeting or the start of a negotiation. We’re communicating with our bodies long before we open our mouth and even have finished our first sentence. And those first impressions that other people form can then form what psychologists refer to as a perceptual filter. As in this is my snapshot, this is what I think of you, and that can then color the rest of the interaction.


So it’s incredibly important. The big thing that I was always doing is raising people’s awareness about what they might be communicating beyond the words that just come out of their mouth. And of course, to be more aware of what other people were communicating back to them from their body language as well.


My goodness. Yeah. It seems that body language really is the first language that we learn as babies. We don’t have the communication skills to speak full sentences, but we read people’s faces, that’s for sure.


Oh, absolutely. Yeah. There’s a clip I saw somebody sent me on TikTok the other day and it’s like two little infants and their parents put down two little piles of sweets in front of them. And they said like, we’re going out of the room, we’re just going to be a minute and. when we come back, we can talk about what’s what sweet you have. And one of them couldn’t have been more than above two, and the other one possibly about a year or so older.


And there’s this fantastic interaction that involves no language. One of them looks at the other one, raises eyebrows and smiled and nodded his head. The other one looks at him and he smiles. And then the first one then reaches his hand out, but doesn’t take the sweet and the other one encourages then does this and this whole interaction takes place of influence of these tiny little toddlers are not a word is spoken.


It was hilarious but also very educational. Like you say, there’s that communication that they know how to use, they know how to play. And of course, that learning continues all throughout our lives. It’s absolutely fascinating.


It is fascinating. Yeah, we don’t really leave that behind. But in the workplace and that environment, some people hold their cards very close to their chest. But you’ve actually created a set of cards called the Body Language Decoder. What would be your top three body language patterns that people could use or look out for to read nonverbal body language and discover what their colleagues or bosses are really thinking?


I think some of the really interesting ones are in the areas of because the card deck is split into seven sections: deception, power plays, confidence, expressing interest, connection, nervousness and conviction. And certainly if you’re a leader and you’re running a team meeting, the expressing interest section is going to be really interesting.


Who’s really paying attention, who is nodding along, who is really signaling that they’re fully intent on listening, for example, by doing what we call the mouth cover. So you would perhaps have your elbow on the table, you’d rest your chin on the heel of your hand and then cover your mouth with your fingers. And some people actually go one step further and turn their head slightly to the side so their forefinger, their first spring grip, can point to their ear.


So not only are they signaling, I’m not speaking by covering their mouths with their fingers, but are also then visually indicating, Hey, I’m really listening by pointing to their ear. This sounds that nonverbal message of you have the talking stick and I’m listening. So if you’ve got a meeting with a customer, with a colleague, and you really want to get across the fact that they have the talking stick and you’re intently listening, why not signal that by adopting that pose? That’s very, very powerful, because most people tend not to listen.


They’re just being silent whilst they’re waiting to speak. Or and you can sometimes see that when people breathe in and hold their breath so their shoulders are raised and, they’re not really listening. They’re just waiting for you to breathe in so they can dive right in. So those are some examples there of the expressing interest. Let people know you’re listening. And, of course, the opposite.


If they’re not listening, if they have their body orientated away from the person speaking or maybe they’re expressing nervousness by their fiddling with a pen, then they’re not really engaged. They’re sending out a message that they’re not engaged. And for a manager, that’s really useful if they notice people going from being engaged to disengaged, well, what happened?


Or what do they need to change about their communication to get people back on board? They just stop talking and ask a question. After all, there’s a reason why Chris Anderson keeps TED talks to 18 minutes, because that’s the magic formula for just as the maximum for how long people can be engaged in one way communication.


So expressing interest is a very interesting section. Of course, if you’re negotiating with a supplier, the deception tells could be quite interesting in terms of when you say ask questions like can you deliver on this date? Are you sure that you’re going to have continuity of supply with supply chain issues have been really prevalent in the last year or so and you want to be listening to. Yes, how do they answer that question? But like, for example, the truth slips.


So if somebody says yes, but nod their head slightly no or says no, but nods their head slightly less. These are known as truth slips and a very famous example as, of course, President Richard Nixon, when he addressed the nation and very famously said, people need to know whether or not their presidents are a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. And as he said, I’m not a crook. He nodded his head yes, and then went on to say, I earned every cent of that money. As he nodded his head, No, I didn’t.


So expressing interest on deception tells can be really interesting to be able to read in other people and then adjust your communication accordingly. And that’s just two of the seven sections.


So in your work with people, have you actually seen that when somebody recognizes one of these tells or one of these nonverbal body language tics, for lack of another phrase, that when they make an adjustment, that the other person makes an adjustment?


Yeah, it’s absolutely fascinating. It’s like a very subtle dance. And in all of these things, these are clues, a clue to how somebody is thinking. It’s rare that one particular thing will give you an absolute insight into what somebody else is thinking or feeling, particularly in the area of deception.


Deception experts themselves will all say unique clusters of information before you can actually make a firm decision about what somebody is saying. And even then you might get it wrong. So it’s a clue. And what somebody is thinking or feeling inside the head is like a mystery. But like any mystery, the more clues you’ve got, the more qualified, the more accurate you’re likely to be in terms of your answers. And then it can give you some information about, well, if they’re thinking that or if they’re feeling this.


Let me adjust my communication and see how that works. And if I’m right, then obviously the answer is more likely to go this way. But if I’ve read it wrong, then their answer will probably tell me and I need to circle back and try a different approach. So it’s not literally the word reading, looking for that understanding of what another person is thinking or feeling and adjusting your message according to that.


And once you get good at it and I remember a lecturer saying this to me about 20 years ago, they said, once you get really good at reading other people, you can adjust the second half of your sentence depending upon how people have responded to the first half. So you start saying something and notice how it lands and go, hmm. That isn’t quite the reaction I was expecting and then adjust accordingly. I remember thinking then that that seemed to be a very lofty goal.


But like any skill, once you’ve learned the skill and you develop it over time and now I quite regularly will do that, I’ll say something, see a reaction and go, Hmm, that’s not quite the reaction I was expecting, or that’s a better reaction than I was expecting. And then adjusting constantly as I go along in terms of the feedback that other people are giving me. It’s like it’s like driving a car.


You’re constantly adjusting the steering wheel to keep it going in a straight line. You never hold it just steady. And interactions with other people are like that. You’re looking for those signals to constantly readjust, stay on track and achieve the goals that you want from the conversation.


That’s interesting because it seems that some people, instead of adjusting, they just double down.


Oh, absolutely. Yes.                                   


I’m curious about when reading nonverbal body language, are there certain parts of the body that are more expressive than others in your experience that as you’re learning this skill because we’re not as good at it as you. Let’s face it, that’s why we’re listening. That’s why I’m interviewing you. For a beginner, what would be some things to be focusing on initially to get better at this?


Certainly the first thing for most business people, I mean, there’s two sides to this. First of all, is the expressive body language. They’re what the signals that you give out with your own body language. And then there’s the reading of other people. And if you’ve never really thought about this before, then my first step would be, look, just start becoming more aware of other people. Pay attention to how they respond and interact when you’re speaking.


The vast majority of people, particularly if it’s a high-pressure business situation, like a meeting or a presentation or a pitch, people tend to be very much in their own heads. They’re thinking about, What have I got to say? No, what am I going to say next? Or what’s on my next slide? What’s that fact? What’s that figure? And they’re very much internally focused and they can have an individual or a room full of people, or more often than not, a series of screens and a Zoom call on a computer screen that are giving them signals that are subtle sometimes and sometimes not so subtle.


And they’re not picking them up because they’re inside their own head. They’re caught up in their own thought process about what they’re saying and what they’re going to say next, I think the first step for reading other people is start developing the opportunity to maintain that train of thought but pay attention to the people that you’re talking to either in real life or over a virtual platform the other way round. That’s first stage.


And then you can start to think about the face or the hands or people’s posture or how they breathe or the coloration in their face or their eyebrows can be very expressive if they’re just listening to what you’re saying. On the expressive side then certainly I talked about your first impressions. So eye contact. All the basics that are so important, eye contact, a smile.


If you are face-to-face and it’s all COVID compliant, a good firm handshake, stand tall or sit tall. Make sure you’re expressing that level of confidence and self so other people can have confidence in you. And then think about things like your hand gestures, making sure you’re making the – the Body Language Decoder has a whole section on confident behaviors, a number of which are hand gestures, which allows people to think of you as confident, because if you’re doing confident behaviors, then people will think of you as confident.


And in business, whether you’re asking people for an investment or to invest their time, or if you’re asking for a team to buy into you as a leader and the vision, they need to see that confidence in order to be able to make that investment. So being aware of your more expressive behaviors and expressing confidence that that’s what’s required, then that’s a good start position positioning in terms of that. So there’s two sides, there’s the expressive side and then there’s the reading side. And those are some good places to start.


Good, because we all need a good starting place. But you mentioned something interesting that you may not be in-person, you may be over a Zoom call or some other type of video conferencing platform. How does that impact the amount of information and the clues that we can gather? Is there something that then heightens or needs to heighten our awareness for what’s happening on the other side of the screen?


Yeah, absolutely. And this is really interesting for business because with the global pandemic and the shift to much more of virtual communication, I mean, 2020 was just about survive and just about let’s keep communication channels going, let’s do the basics. And I think 2021 now and certainly into 2022, it’s going to be okay. We kind of mastered just the functionality of this virtual communication, but we know it’s not working as well as it could because we’re having people talking about Zoom fatigue, for example.


And I’ve got a strong personal belief that Zoom fatigue is a symptom of a non-engaging speaker, that something’s happening there, not that the speaker is not being as engaging as they need to be in order for the other person to make it easy for them to pay attention. So I think a lot of Zoom fatigue. I mean, some of it this comes from volume. If you’re doing it 8 hours a day, that’s just too much. But some of it certainly comes from having to work harder to achieve the same level of engagement as you would have face-to-face.


Now, why is that happening on a number of Zoom calls or other platforms that I’ve seen? One thing is that people have got their cameras off. It’s very difficult for a speaker to have that same level of enthusiasm when they can’t actually see somebody. So even though we can’t, we’re not seeing each other right now.


I made a decision to pull up your LinkedIn profile, pull open your profile picture that’s as big as it can be on my screen, because that helps me feel like I’m talking to a real person and that should be here, that you should be able to hear that in my vocal inflection and the fact that I’m just looking at my hand, I’m just articulating as if as if you were here, as if you were speaking.


So the really important thing in virtual platforms is to think about how can I come across as engaging as I need to be, and certainly the use of our hands and our gestures. We need that to keep that visual level of engagement because we are not face-to-face. And I think it’s an absolute disaster for anybody as a communicator to have their own camera turned off and then go, Why aren’t people engaged with me?


Well, you just shut off this huge channel to their brain, the visual part and human beings are in fact primarily visual and then encourage people to have cameras on because as a speaker, you need that. And of course, you can’t read any of the nonverbal behavior of an audience, either a customer or your team or your colleagues, if you can’t actually see them.


So you need that nonverbal feedback because to find out how they’re feeling to read their reactions to things and to be able to adjust accordingly. So the big things for me is about getting yourself into that mental excited state that you need to put extra juice into to do it as well virtually as you would do in person and make sure we don’t get lazy in terms of that vocal inflection or the gestures, the communication agency, what you advise.


It’s 25 of the world’s top 35 brands. I think that’s the tagline there. Chief Strategy Officer Patti Sanchez has written a book called Presenting Virtually. And one of the things that’s fascinating in an interview she said recently said talking about it, she said that people need to make a greater performative effort. They need to make a greater performative effort. And that’s something I’ve been talking about for a few months. Because it’s wonderful when somebody says two words and you go, That’s what I’ve been talking about.


So using your hand gestures, perhaps even a little bit more on a virtual call-in order to get that visual engagement and get that energy across to make it easy for people to stay engaged with you. I think that’s crucially important. And another colleague of mine said something beautiful. I said, don’t talk to the camera. Remember, you’re talking through the camera to the people on the other end, some of its mindset as well.


So it’s the physical setup, having the visuals for yourself and getting yourself into that, making a greater performative effort to make sure you make it easy for people to stay engaged with you so Zoom fatigue can go away.


Very good, because it really is about how to keep that energy level up and gesturing. I remember somebody once saying that just even to have a receptionist in a traditional in-office setting sound friendlier on the phone is to keep a mirror on the desk and ask them to smile as they’re answering the phone, because it does make a difference in their inflection of their voice. And it just comes across as warmer and people will be more willing to engage.


So this is fabulous advice. I really appreciate it, Martin. Also I’m just so curious here, what type of nonverbal body language is easily misread?


Oh, that’s an interesting question. Well, I think very often the thing is not it’s not so much misread, it’s that people see what they want to see and don’t see what they don’t want to see. That’s like we’ve all been to presentations or keynotes, something you said earlier that aren’t working and the person just keeps going. It’s like, I don’t want to see lack of engagement, so I’ll just press on. I’ll just ignore the nonverbal feedback that I’m getting.


So that’s something that you that you often see, an unwillingness to register what’s right there in front of them. I think that’s because that would mean they’d have to vary from their script. They’d have to stop that. They have to ask a question. They’d maybe have to have a more difficult conversation that they don’t want.


So it’s the old adage, you see what you want to see, you don’t see what you don’t want to see. So I think that’s one of the big issues that I often see in business, an unwillingness to engage with things that they don’t want to see because they want to maintain a positive it’s working. It’s going really well. Everybody is loving changes and I’m looking around the room going, no, they’re not. But you’re not adjusting because you’re not seeing what you don’t want to see. I find that a great deal because it requires a flexibility that people haven’t prepared for.


You’re right, they haven’t prepared for it. And they’re afraid that now they’re going to be stammering or have to answer a question that they really don’t want to answer.


Yeah, for sure.


Yes, definitely. I appreciate your insights on how to read nonverbal body language. I think it’s something we all need to get better at and it’s useful in all aspects of our life and I think in all of our relationships, not just in the workplace, but at home and with the people that are close to us. So if you’re listening and you’d like more information about Martin’s work and how to read nonverbal body language, his contact information is going to be found in the show notes at, along with a link to his amazing Body Language Decoder cards.


I think we all need a set of those, and if you know someone who’s interested in how to read nonverbal body language better, tell them about Martin Brooks’ work and this podcast episode. Share the link. Leave a positive review on your podcast app or come on over to makes it really easy there because this is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner and I thank you for listening and I hope you have a great day and an even better tomorrow.

Best Moments

How Better Nonverbal Body Language Can Reduce Zoom Fatigue

The Danger of Ignoring the Nonverbal Body Language You Encounter

Where Beginners Should Focus When Starting to Read Nonverbal Body Language

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Guest: Martin Brooks

Martin Brooks


Martin Brooks is an experienced communication coach and trainer. In his consultancy practice, he applies his expertise in the reading of body language to help clients better understanding others as well as communicate more effectively.

His body language analysis has been aired on the BBC, LBC Radio and the Discovery Channel.

His new product, “Body Language Decoder,” includes 50 illustrated cards that reveal what others are really thinking.  


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Contact Martin and connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

Learn more about his work at

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