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Talk the walk, walk the talk

Published on Thursday, 12 Apr 2012
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: Body Language: It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters
Author: Robert Phipps
Publisher: Capstone

The term “body language” is so ubiquitous today that it seems it’s been around for as long as its two component words. However, Robert Phipps – body-language expert and author of this study – tells us that this “science” has only been around for about 25 years. As a result, it is a relatively new area of study. And it’s also a crucial one for job-hunters.

In this direct connection, Phipps tells us how his interest in body language started: He was busted for lying during a job interview. It wasn’t a whopper, more of a little fib. But it was transparent enough for the interviewer to call him on it. After explaining himself with rather more candour, Phipps then asked the interviewer how he had known. And the reply was: “Your body language gave it away.”

In just over the past couple of decades, we have learned just how revealing body language really is. And there’s now a whole army of body-language experts writing books on the topic, appearing on TV, and giving presentations. Phipps is one of the most acclaimed of this lot because of his simple and accessible style, one that characterises this easy-to-read, breezy, and highly “infotaining” book.

Phipps is now something of a  brand, appearing on a British TV show as the “Human Lie Detector”. He’s also a consultant to a slew of large companies, such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard. And, on the evidence of the many YouTube clips that have been uploaded, he’s an eminently telegenic guy, with an Estuary-English accent (mixed with a trace of Jamie Oliver-style  “Mockney”) and an evangelical zeal for his mission: teaching viewers and readers all about a complex patois called body language.

Body language will affect your chances of securing the job you want (or even any kind of job), prising a pay rise out of your employer, closing a deal, managing people at work, resolving a fight with your partner – indeed, every conceivable interactive situation you can imagine.

However, Body Language largely restricts itself to body language in the work place (or approaching the workplace, if you’re a job-seeker).

Part one  is comprised of three backgrounder theory-heavy chapters – “The Body of Evidence”, “The Science of Body Language”, and “Body Language Is Bigger Than You Think”. 

“Applied Body Language” makes up the second part, with chapter headings such as “Greetings”, “Meetings”, “Presentations”, “Sales And Negotiations”, and “Aggression and Confrontation”.

All the information here is presented with elegant and lucid simplicity, exemplified by Phipps’s use of the acronym, YODA. This stands for you (you have to be fully engaged), observe (notice things you didn’t before), decode (work out what it means), and adapt (change your behaviour to secure better results).

Phipps also examines the concept of “mirroring” and its cousin, “matching”. The first refers to mirroring the person you are speaking to. It sounds unsettling, but is actually a natural tendency when one is relaxed and getting on with someone.

But, as Phipps points out, the moment you are under stress or being challenged, the mirroring abruptly stops, and your movements tighten up. Your heartbeat increases, and you move into adrenaline-drenched “fight or flight” mode. Kill or be killed. Phipps then explains how we can survive it. 

He also provides satisfactory answers to the two questions he is most often asked when he’s giving presentations: How do you know when someone is physically attracted to you? How do you know when someone is lying to you?

This reviewer was not surprised to learn that Phipps is a registered Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) trainer. This system is such a powerful and widely applicable knowledge-enhancer, that it – in my professional experience – raises the game of every writer who employs NLP insights in their work, especially in instructive business titles such as this one.

In short, Phipps shows the reader how to “read” other people non-verbally and use the lessons he gives, in order to succeed in business and life. For such an apparently lightweight and relatively concise work, Body Language packs a lot of power.

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