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Physical gestures account for more than half the messages we send out in daily life. Best learn to read them, says BARBARA McCARTHY

You can tell he's just thrilled to be here!

WHAT do poker, politics and body language have in common? Quite a lot, says Peter Collett, Big Brother’s resident psychologist, author of the Book of Tells and creator of Body Talk, a television show on the subject. By using the system of 'tells,' the poker term for behaviour that gives clues about your hand, Collett says he can decipher the truth behind a politician’s rhetoric. His conclusion: “Politicians lie: They just do.”

How do we know that? Well, according to Collett, their unconscious 'tells' give them away. Bill Clinton’s testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky is a case in point. His body language displayed a catalogue of indicators associated with lying, says Collett. One of these was his nose-touching. “People touch their noses when they are lying because they’re using their nose as a convenient alibi for the mouth cover,” he says.

So why do people tell untruths? “In a professional environment people often over-promise and under-deliver and, therefore, find themselves in a position where they may feel they have to bend the truth,” says Rowan Manahan, managing director of Fortify Services, a career management and outplacement firm. “Human beings are not good liars but they still do it all the same.” It all has to do with diplomacy and tact. These little daily lies enable us to get on in life, they stop us from offending people but, if they go beyond that, lying becomes a dangerous game. “People who are paying close attention will recognise the body’s tell-tale signs and very quickly call your bluff,” says Manahan.

Instinct may tell them that you are not telling the truth or they may simply have read one of the many books on the subject.

Robert Phipps, a body language trainer, says it is crucial to be able to recognise body language in the workplace. “It’s extremely important to be able to read the signals coming at you in the workplace, as your so-called colleagues may also be stitching you up.” Body language counts for about 55% of the messages we communicate in daily life, he says. It is not only when we are lying that our body speaks up for us. “Body language is the unspoken communication that goes on in every face-to-face encounter with another human being,” says Phipps.

Body language is on show all the time, from the interview, to staff meetings through to the boardroom, where battle lines are sometimes drawn across the table. The credible employee in a meeting is the one who has excellent eye contact, the one sitting straight back and the one giving good feedback. The one who is sitting back in the chair with their hands clasped behind the head may look relaxed and casual, but is actually displaying open arrogance towards colleagues.

According to Manahan, it is money well spent for managers to learn to read body language. “It offers them an insight into what makes people tick, as well as getting the team and group dynamics going.” Learning to read body language is simple as your subject material is all around you. Reading books, listening to tapes, watching videos and attending specialised courses will enable a person to read the signals better. But what about those who want to learn how to use body language to their advantage at interview level?

Both the interviewer and the interviewee can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do says Allan Pease, the author of Body Language, a bestseller on the topic which decodes the meaning of hundreds of non-verbal gestures. To make the interview go smoothly, Pease emphasises the importance of having a firm handshake. “A recruiter’s first impression of you is often formed when you shake hands. A firm handshake will give the right impression. But it should not be too firm — that can seem arrogant or too challenging.”

Like other body language experts, he is not keen on distracting hand gestures. “No matter how nervous you are, try to avoid hand-to-face gestures such as touching your nose or rubbing your eye,” he says. “This means you’re not entirely comfortable with the subject matter being discussed.” Pease also counts crossed legs, having your hand to the back of the neck and picking imaginary pieces of fluff from clothing as interview no-no's as they will irritate the interviewer.

Phipps also tells interviewers to watch out for tell-tale signs such as palms of the hands out of sight in pockets, shifting from one foot to another and having difficulty in maintaining good eye contact. These generally mean that the interviewee is uncomfortable and may be telling an untruth, he says. Accomplished liars sometimes look you directly in the eyes, Phipps warns, but it lasts a little too long and is therefore another giveaway.

Collett uses George W Bush as an example of someone who is out of their depth. The programme. Body Talk, showed a clip from Bush’s recent meeting with the British Queen. Bush was stiff and nervous in her company. At a dinner party hosted in his honour, the overwhelmed Bush forgot all about protocol and reached for his glass to propose a toast when the American national anthem was playing.

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