Mouth Turns Down
A mouth is one of those interactive signals that tells us what is going on with the person in the moment. When it comes to mouths we are all wired alike. If we are suspicious, mistrusting or non accepting of what we are hearing the muscles at the corners of the mouth tighten and pull the corners down. While there are many people, including myself, whose mouth seems to always turn down, it will turn down even more when I am listening to something I don't believe.
Even if your mouth is normally straight, it will turn down under certain circumstances. By the first grade we learned to draw a sad person by giving them a mouth that turned down. Unfortunately, that piece of education is not the whole story. The mouth turns down when we are not wanting to accept what we were hearing. Of course when things are not the way we want them to be it can be a source of sadness.Think of the child at the grocery checkout counter who has just heard that he or she cannot have the toy or candy they want.
If we are speaking to someone and we suddenly see their mouth turn down it indicates that they are in some way not accepting what we are saying. My response to seeing their mouth suddenly turn down is," You seem to be having a problem with what I just said." They are often shocked that I knew before they said a word.
On the other hand, if a person's mouth turns down just before they start talking, it indicates that they have no confidence about what they are saying. In the picture above, if the next words coming out of this person's mouth were, "We are only developing nuclear energy for peaceful
purposes." My response in that situation would be to say,"Really? Are you sure?"This is one of the classic indicators for spotting deception.
Hand over Mouth
A challenge with reading unconscious gestures is that there can be more than one reason why the person made the gesture. Perhaps the person in this picture was just about to cough and was just covering his mouth. I always look at gestures in their context to see what else was going on at that moment and to see if the gesture is appropriate.
When I practiced law I learned that when someone was listening with their hand over their mouth, as in this picture, it most often meant that the person was critically evaluating or possibly withholding acceptance of what they were hearing. On an unconscious level it was almost like they wanted to put their hand over whoever's mouth was moving.
If I looked at the jury box and saw three or more people with their hand in some way over their mouth, I knew they were not buying the testimony they were hearing, or they were not trusting what the examining lawyer was saying. Since the jury normally votes against the side that they think is lying, this piece of non verbal communication was often predictive of the jury's final verdict.
Hand Covers Mouth... Do-Over
A hand that suddenly covers a mouth is also one of those interactive signals that speak louder than words. A few weeks ago I had to slam on my brakes when another driver pulled out into traffic without looking. His immediate response when he saw me sliding to a stop was to cover his mouth with this hand as in this picture. This sudden gesture is one of shock and an unconscious desire that things would be somehow different than they are. If a hand covers the mouth immediately after the person speaks, it may mean that they want to take back what they just said. You may as well have heard them say "Oops, I didn't mean to say that." I can't stress enough that when you notice one of these signals, the meaning can be over determined. You can't just assume the meaning, you have to check with them.You have to communicate and draw the person out.
You may recall that the stock market had a series of exceptional up and down days recently. The situation made the world news every night. The picture here was commonly seen by anyone viewing their TV, surfing the Internet or reading the newspaper. Even a person who was not in touch with the fluctuating market could look at a person doing what this man is doing and know that he is witnessing something shocking. Anyone of us might make this gesture if we're seeing a horrible accident or some other unfortunate occurrence.
Auto Pilot vs. Conscious Awareness
The complex and fast paced world we live in today would have completely overwhelmed our great grandparents. We have survived by evolving a cultural ability to multi-task. It is a common sight to see someone driving a car, listening to the radio or I-pod and texting or talking on their phone all at the same time.
This amazing juggling act can only be accomplished by selectively switching our split attention from one brief focus to the next while the other activities are put on temporary auto pilot. If we really watched ourselves we would discover an enormous amount of time that we are operating on auto pilot. It certainly helps us accomplish many tasks at once but it also dulls our awareness of others. We miss the nuances and hidden signals that reveal so much more about the other person.
We recently gave an all day seminar to members of TALI, Texas Association of Licensed Investigators. They are a wonderful group of private eyes, and corporate investigators. The focus of the seminar was to teach them to spot all those subtle interactive signals that we so often miss.
These unconscious signals reveal deeper insights into the subject's truthfulness, hidden agendas, and feelings than their spoken words. In fact, when we pay attention, their actions really are speaking louder than their words. By bringing their non verbal signals up to our own awareness, we are able to more accurately hear what they are really saying. We are sharing some of those insights with you in the next series of newsletters.