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If you’ve ever said, “It’s easy for me to read their body language,” you may want to think again. Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D, the author of more than 100 books, book chapters, and research articles in the areas of leadership, assessment centers, organizational psychology and social psychology, says there are many misconceptions about nonverbal communication. Here are just a few research-based findings about nonverbal communication:

  • Body language is actually not a “language.” Nonverbal communication can be very tricky. The meaning of a particular nonverbal cue, such as a certain gesture or eye movement, can depend on the context, the individual, and the relationship between the “sender” of the cue and the recipient.
  • Certain facial expressions have universal meaning. There is good evidence that the basic facial expressions – anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise, fear – are displayed similarly across cultures. We can recognize a happy face in just about anyone in the world. The problem is that it is very difficult, without proper training, to distinguish a “genuine” display of happiness from a “fake,” or posed, smile.
  • Lie detection is almost impossible. There is a belief that we can tell if a person is lying through body language – that a liar “can’t look you in the eye,” or displays nervous gestures. But it is nearly impossible to accurately detect lies simply through reading someone’s body language. There is some research that suggests that there are a few, rare individuals who are able to detect deception at levels above chance, but even these people aren’t all that accurate (this research was the basis for the TV show Lie to Me, although the show suggested incorrectly that these deception detectors were almost infallible).

So, do you still think you understand body language? It’s very likely that your next hire could look you squarely in the eye and say, “This is my dream job. I’ve always wanted to work for a company like this,” when what they really mean is, “This will keep me busy till the job I really want comes along.”

Predictive analytics is a far more reliable tool than instincts or body language when making a hiring decision. In fact, according to Saar Bitner, the VP of marketing at SiSense, a business analytics software that lets non-techies easily analyze and visualize big data sets from multiple sources, says that new business intelligence (BI) technologies propose a better way to make important business decisions without betting the farm by using a hybrid approach: take all facts, statistics, and numbers into account, and only after empowering yourself with that knowledge, determine what your gut tells you.

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