A behavior expert reveals 3 body language mistakes that make you look like a liar — within the first 5 minutes

Body language

Is your body language helping or hurting you?

What most people fail to realize is that how we communicate nonverbally often speaks louder than words. As humans, it's natural for us to subconsciously try to read and decode the people around us.

Based on my years of research in trying to crack the code of human behavior (i.e., what drives our behaviors, why we act the way we do, how we can predict and change behaviors), I've found that there are three common body language mistakes people make that cause others to perceive them as a dishonest or untrustworthy person.

1. Hiding hands

Research has found that we have dedicated regions in the brain that instantly recognize and observe the hands of those we communicate with. What you do with your hands is critical when it comes to first impressions. It also plays a major role in how much influence you're able to have over others.

If your hands are hidden under a table or stiffly placed inside your pockets, it can be challenging for the other person to process your intention. This can make you come across as dishonest or uncomfortably searching for distractions.

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Also, beware the fist. Studies have found that a clenched fist is a negative nonverbal cue. Researchers at the American Psychological Association found that humans tend to close their fists when they feel threatened or sense conflict. (Imagine a woman clutching her purse or a man grabbing the arms of his chair.)

Action tip: Always keep your hands visible, relaxed and expressive. Many experts suggest keeping your hands open, with your palms at a 45-degree angle. This communicates to the other person that you are open and honest. When communicating a large concept (in a keynote or meeting, for instance), use hand gestures that reach beyond the outline of your body to show authority and certainty. It will also help you to explain your ideas more robustly.

2. Self-soothing gestures

Do you subconsciously touch your necklace? Bite your nails? Play with your hair? These little actions are called "self-soothing" gestures.

It's reminiscent of when we were babies and our parents would gently rub our backs or heads to calm us. As adults, we still engage in these behaviors as a way to lower our anxiety. In situations where we feel nervous or anxious, for example, we might do things like:

  • Rub the back of our arms
  • Wring our hands
  • Crack our knuckles
  • Bite the insides of our cheeks

While these behaviors may be a result of habit, perhaps of boredom, as a nervous tick or a way to release extra energy, they still encode nervousness, low self-esteem, doubt or worst of all, deceit.

Action tip: Before any event or conversation that might make you feel nervous or uncomfortable, self-soothe yourself in private. Shake it out by listening to your favorite song or go into the restroom and slowly rub the back of your neck and arms. These activities will instill calmness before you make an entrance.

3. Faking happiness

Are you really happy your colleague got promoted? Are you really overjoyed about your in-law's visit next month?

Often, we pretend to be happy as a social lubricant. We attempt to hide fear, sadness, jealousy or any other negative emotion behind feigned happiness.

Here's the wild part: Fake happiness and real happiness look different on the face. Facial expressions, also known as "microexpressions," are the window to the soul. When someone is genuinely happy, their checks and the wrinkles on the sides of their eyes (crow's feet) appear engaged and lifted.

Can you spot the difference below?

(Credit: Science of People)

The expressions on the left reveal fake happiness. The side eye muscles are less engaged, and jaws are less visible.

Fake smiles can be spotted a mile way. At Science of People, the human behavior research lab that I lead, we put fake smiles to the test through our virtual "Body Language Quiz." In one question, we showed participants a genuine smile hidden among three fake smiles. About 87 percent of participants were able to spot the genuine smile.

Action Step: Don't try to fake it 'til you make it. Honor your authentic emotions and don't hide behind fake happiness. If you're not happy about something, it's better to let the other person know, rather than try to "indirectly" lie about it through microexpressions. The other person will instantly be able to tell exactly how you feel.

Vanessa Van Edwards is the national best-selling author of "Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People." She is lead investigator at the human behavior research lab, Science of People, and corporate workshops around the world on science-based soft skills. Follow her on Twitter @vvanedwards.

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