The Silent Language of Leaders

Silence is Golden. Dust tape is Silver.

Communication is difficult. Sometimes the message you intend to get across is understood by others, but many times it is not. Communication consists of more than the spoken or written word—nonverbal messages are conveyed as well.

When there is a conflict between what is said verbally and what is transmitted through body language, the body is always more accurate in revealing true emotions and feelings.

Old Habits Die Hard

Babies will pucker their lips when fed food they don’t like, whether they were born in Africa or Norway. These same babies will show delight in their faces when they see their mothers. We may be older but our reactions are still very simple.

We are happy, sad, disgusted, angry, afraid, or surprised—and we show emotions through our body gestures throughout our lives.

A five-year-old child is likely to cover their mouth when they tell a lie. This gesture continues to mature throughout their adult life. Instead of covering their whole mouth, they may rub their fingers around their lips.

In the case of president Bill Clinton, one of the most telling nonverbal gestures while answering questions about Monica Lewinsky in front of a grand jury were his two front index fingers pressed together and touching the tip of his nose, effectively covering his mouth in the process.

Gestures Come In Clusters

Conversations are a string of words put together to create meaning. One word, by itself, can mean many things, or nothing. A sentence, however, expresses complete thoughts.Similarly, one gesture can mean anything—it’s only when we put them together that they have meaning. Nonverbal gestures come in clusters so it’s important to observe a person’s initial cluster of gestures to establish a norm.

It’s a serious error to interpret a solitary gesture. Scratching the head can mean confusion or it could indicate a serious case of dandruff.

Many people punctuate with constant gestures and movement while others are relatively still. They key is to notice how these gestures change during a conversation.

Women’s Intuition or Body Language?

A hunch or gut feeling that someone has not been truthful really means that the spoken word and the body language do not agree. This is the essence of intuition. Are women better at it than men? Here is one very simple explanation:

Women who have raised children are usually better at hunches than others. For the first few years, mothers rely almost exclusively on the nonverbal messages of young children. It is the way they communicate with each other.

Tips On How to Read Body Language

As an FBI counterintelligence agent, I worked closely with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit on several of my cases. Here are some tips I want to share with you on how to recognize and interpret body language:


The head shows the most expressive body language characteristics. There has been a lot of research done on reading facial features and here are some generalizations that you can rely on when trying to read a person’s face to determine whether or not they’re being sincere:

  • Contempt – lip corner tightens and lifts on one side of the face
  • Happy – a real smile will always have crow’s feet wrinkles and pushed up cheeks
  • Surprise – lasts for only a second: eyebrows raised, mouth open, eyes wide open
  • Anger – eyebrows down and together, narrowing of lips


As a general rule, breaks in eye contact are the most important non-verbal gesture. If you suspect deception in a conversation, here are some eye clues to watch for at the point at which they tell a lie:

  • Closing the eyes
  • Covering the eyes
  • Glancing at watch
  • Showing intense interest in fingernails
  • Looking out the window or at the floor
  • Avoid looking you in the eye during the moment of deception
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Raising eyebrows

Eye movements can reveal what a person is focusing on during your conversation.

  • Recalling a visual memory—eyes move upward.
  • Recalling something they heard—eyes move to the side
  • Recalling a feeling—eyes look down and to the right
  • Thinking to oneself—eyes look down and to the left


There are more connections between the brains and the hands than any other body part.

  • Palm up—nonthreatening. Even animals recognize this approach as friendly.
  • Palm down—authority. Think of the Nazi salute.
  • Pointing finger—leaves a negative feeling in most listeners
  • Squeezing thumb against the fingertips—avoids intimidating the audience
  • Shaking with two hands is meant to convey sincerity and trust. Don’t do this unless you and the other person have a strong bond of some sort. Otherwise, you end up coming across like a smarmy politician.
  • Grasping elbow with left hand—communicates depth of feeling and was commonly used by Bill Clinton with everyone.
  • Holding the shoulder with left hand—invades personal space and may result in a hug

People notice and form opinions of you based on your behavior. This includes nonverbal messages. Effective communicators realize that the intangibles we associate with positive character traits are most often expressed nonverbally.

What positive character traits do you convey nonverbally? What tips do you have for interpreting body language? What nonverbal clues do you pick up when someone is being deceitful?

LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Colin Millar on July 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Another fascinating blog, always love reading them and, I admit, then putting the techniques to practice in real life!

    I worked with one person who was absolutely brilliant at aggressive non-verbal communication. He used silence as a weapon, leaving people babbling a lot of nonsense and saying a lot more than they ever intended; intense staring making eye contact uncomfortable and his dominating conversations by using this; using metalanguage and a very selective volcabulary to lose the audience through his esoteric terminology when verbal communication was necessary.

    Strangely, there was consensus in how he made people feel but very few of his colleagues could describe ‘why’ they felt the way they did until you started dissecting and almost conducting a complete post-mortem on conversations.

    Once pointed out, people realised what he was actually doing – either intuitively or intentionally – to make them conform in his passive aggressive communication.

    I tend to believe and trust in my gut – it’s got 2 millenia or more of instinct hiding away in there and hardwired into the DNA. It’s not always right but it’s not often wrong.

    • LaRae Quy on July 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      HI Colin

      Thanks for your kind words! I’m very happy that you can put these techniques into practice. I can speak from experience – they work. I plan to write more in the future – most of my experience was identifying deception but this is also very important for business leaders – it lets you know when you’re not getting the whole story!

      I’m a big believer in hunches and gut instinct – if we can read them accurately, we have everything we need to know!

      LaRae Quy 415.609.0608 [email protected]

      Visit the website at

  2. DIANE on July 10, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Very interesting, thank you.

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