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Rob Ager Nov 2015


1. False positives
2. Voices of honesty
3. Trust, confidence and physical proximity
4. Are they really listening?
5. Aggressive spirals
6. Signs of sexual attraction
7. Eye movements and visual processing
8. Truthfulness and speed of response
9. Non-verbal mouth movements
10. Persona masks

False Positives

For all manner of reasons, from general politeness to malicious deception, we human beings
frequently pretend to have emotional responses that we dont actually feel. Useful applications
of false emotion might include faking interest in something that somebody else is proud of so as
to encourage them in progressing further with their chosen activity, or giving empathy where
someone needs it more than you actually feel it. However, being on the receiving end of a false
emotional response displayed by someone else can be problematic. The negotiation of a
business contract, for example, is not a situation where you want to allow yourself to be
deceived by false emotional displays from others. In that situation false displays of friendship or
even false confidence are better being identified and perhaps countered. Dating is another area
in which being able to notice false emotional displays is very useful, not just for yourself, but
also for the person youre dating. By responding to the individuals genuine feelings rather than
their false ones, you might have a better chance of developing a worthwhile personal

Each of us, throughout our lives, learns a complex variety of techniques for displaying false
emotion in certain contexts and much of it becomes ingrained to the point we dont realise were
doing it. Be honest with yourself ... When was the last time you exaggerated your stress levels

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to get a boss off your back? When was the last time you acted enthusiastic about something
because you thought that everyone around you expected it?

The specifics of how we each exhibit false emotions and our choices of context for doing so are
incredibly varied, but there are fairly reliable patterns for detecting whether a person really feels
good or bad about something, even when they are trying to fake the opposite response.

One particular, easy to detect, indicator of a persons positive or negative emotional leaning is
the type of smile they give. False or polite smiles tend to involve a combination of the mouth
remaining closed and the eyes slightly squinted because the person is only using enough of
their facial muscles to pull up the corners of their mouth, while everything else remains loose.
These false smiles tend to be very quickly adopted then remain sort of frozen on the persons
face before the features quickly go limp again. Its almost as if they literally put a mask on for a
few seconds.

By comparison, genuine smiles that are backed up by actual positive feelings tend to involve a
much broader tightening of muscles around the cheeks and eyes. The corners of the mouth are
pulled higher and further back so that the mouth opens enough for the teeth to show. And

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sometimes the nose scrunches up a little as well. Theres also sometimes a tendency for the
eyelids to open more so that we see more of the whites.

With real smiles there is usually an accompanying change of head position. This tends to
involve the head tilting back so that more of the face, and especially the eyes, are on display.
Often this is followed by a bit of rapid head nodding if the smile involves agreeing with or highly
approving of what somebody else is saying. With false smiles the head is usually static or if
there is some head nodding it tends to involve a break in eye contact during the nodding.

Laughter is another feature of non-verbal communication in which separating out the false from
the real is quite easy. Again the false version tends to be static, as if the person is only using
what they consider to be the minimum amount of muscular effort to pull off a convincing fake
laugh. The false smile pattern mostly still applies because smiling is part of the laughter
mechanism, but there also tends to be a rigidness of movement. Real laughter usually involves
throwing the head backward and then forward. And the laughter tends to come on very
suddenly, hence the phrase, burst out laughing. The cheeks tend to flush with a bit more
colour, and then theres the vocal intonations.

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False laughs are usually monotone, while genuine ones are louder, higher pitched and tend to
last longer and wind down more slowly.

Voices of honesty

When it comes to voice intonations in relation to honesty there is a general reversal of the
intensity factors that we identified with regards to smiling in laughter. With smiles and laughs,
genuine responses are more intense, but with voice intonations it tends to be the other way
around. As a culture we pay more conscious attention to words and exaggerated gestures, so
the lies that people tell are generated on that basis. When telling a lie, people tend to
exaggerate their vocal patterns on the assumption that it will make the lie more believable. Lies
are usually told in a louder volume and sometimes the vocal, facial expression and body
language delivery is even aggressive, as if the liar is secretly telling the listener that if they
question the lie then they better get ready for a fight. Its a way of subtly bullying the listener into
false agreement.

However, if a person is being honest about some uncomfortable truth, then the volume of their
voice tends to drop way down as if they prefer to whisper the truth so that nobody else will hear
it. Their voice becomes more monotone and they tend to lower their head (a classic sign of
shame) and they usually break off eye contact. As a side note, eye contact is widely considered
a strong indicator of honesty the popular belief being that liars are uncomfortable looking you
in the eye while speaking. This is certainly true with young children and in very close proximity
eye contact. However, being that most adults are aware of this common perception of eye
contact, liars tend to use strong eye contact in order to make their lies more persuasive. Often
they overdo it.

But back to the subject of voices. I have come across some instances where a person telling a
lie is smart enough to slow down and lower their voice, but there are usually still subtleties that
indicate the falseness of expression. The emotional discomfort of telling an uncomfortable truth
usually involves several seconds of hesitance before speaking, as if the person is wrestling with
their own desire to keep the truth hidden. And Ive found it rare that even a good liar manages to
fake this hesitance unless they happen to change their mind just before speaking and switch to
a lie, but even in those instances Ive usually noticed a sudden rapid change in eye movements,
facial expressions and head position at the last minute before speaking.

An uncomfortable confession tends to also involve a deep inhalation right before the
uncomfortable truth is spoken and a deep exhalation immediately after, like the confession is
literally a big sigh of relief. A noticeable amount of facial blushing often accompanies this,
depending on how much shame the person is feeling, and is very reliable. Blushing is virtually
always involuntary. This overall combination of initial hesitance, deep inhalation, slow and low

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volumed vocal delivery, broken eye contact, blushing and deep exhalation is very difficult for a
liar to reproduce in full.

Shouted statements can be either very honest statements or outright lies and it can be difficult
to tell the two apart. The problem with interpreting shouts is that the predominant emotion,
usually anger, can fall on either side of the truth spectrum. The person can be angry because
they genuinely feel that the truth they are trying to express is being ignored. Yet at the same
time a liar will often feel angry about being cornered by cross-examination and will thus direct
that anger at the person that is not buying their lie so easily. This basic confusion makes
shouting a sort of reliable default for liars to resort to.

One way of differentiating injustice anger vs cornered liar anger is to notice the amount of
blushing and rate of breath that accompanies the shouting. Cornered liars who become angry
usually are also afraid beneath the surface and this combination of fear and anger shows itself
non-verbally. Fast, heavy breathing, physical trembling and blushing reveal the internal conflict
that the shouting of the lie is intended to mask over. Ive generally found that the more intense
the fear of discovery is the louder the liar will shout to mask their involuntary fear response.
Sometimes this will extend into aggressive posturing or even violence toward the cross-
examiner, particularly if the liar knows that the truth they are hiding will have severe
consequences for them if revealed.

Angry shouting that comes from a genuine feeling of injustice tends to involve a more subdued,
or even completely absent, fear component. There may of course be some fear in that most
people feel uncomfortable in conflict situations regardless of their conviction of their own
position, but it tends to be mild.

The verbal responses are also significant in these situations. An honest shouter tends to shout
about what they believe to be facts supporting their own position, while a dishonest shouter will
veer away from facts and instead try to proclaim the relationship between themselves and the
cross-examiner as being one of victim and perpetrator. They will draw attention primarily to
intense emotions to muddy the logical waters. However thats veering away from this articles
subject matter of non-verbal communication. So lets move on to our next topic

Trust, confidence and physical proximity

If you stepped into a room full of people who you dont know or dont know very well, where
would you likely position yourself? Would you find a spare chair amongst a small sub-group and
occupy it? Would you position that chair facing the sub-group or turned away from them? How
would your arms and legs be positioned after you sat down? Would you remain standing and, if
so, where would you stand? Would you stand at the edge of the crowd with your back to the

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wall? Would you stand out in the open where everybody could see you? Or would you stroll
around the room?

The scenario is generalized and hypothetical and your actions in a real world version would
likely be influenced by a complex myriad of factors from the nature of the gathering to the
specifics of how the room is lit and its layout, but we each have generalized patterns as to how
we position ourselves in groups. I know somebody who near-universally hates sitting with
strangers positioned behind her back. Shes also a person who is generally uncomfortable with
the idea of people gossiping behind her back. Personally, I tend to be a room stroller. I like to
wander about, taking in as much info as I can and keeping an eye open for opportunities of
worthwhile interaction, while at the same time not committing too much to one sub-group or
leaving myself trapped in a fixed scenario. I fear social confinement more than I fear gossip.

Most of us have some conscious awareness that how a person positions themselves within a
crowd says something about their confidence. Choosing to sit in the front row during a public
lecture / debate is a commitment because the individual is in the middle of the action so to
speak and cant easily fade back into crowd anonymity, especially being that speakers tend to
choose front row audience members for interaction. Others like to sit, or even stand, very close
to the exit so that they can escape the situation conveniently if it suits them.

But theres another side to this crowd interaction coin. How a person positions themselves in a
crowd isnt just about how confident they are. Its equally about how much they trust others. A
person of low confidence but high sub-group belonging trust tends to place themselves in the
middle of the crowd action among whatever sub-group they think will most accept them, while
people who are highly confident, yet dont trust others much, might be off at the sidelines.

This trust factor is important because if you are in a group situation and you are largely
disengaged with most people in the room based on choosing positions of distant proximity, you
arent just giving off a signal of low-confidence. Youre giving off a signal of mild hostility an
expression of distrust. This in turn can make others less willing to make their own attempts to
interact with you. The same also applies if you lock yourself into a sub-group and thus physically
distance yourself from everyone else.

The good news is that this is something you can exercise conscious choice in. You dont have
to run on automatic. By carefully choosing your physical position in a group situation you can
communicate both confidence and receptivity and, by turn, increase your networking
opportunities. The catch is that you need to be willing to make yourself vulnerable to rejection. If
youre in a large room full of people spend some time sitting or standing alone in a well-lit area
where others can clearly see you. Then wander about making eye contact, smiling at and
greeting people to make it clear that you are receptive to new faces and new interaction. Its
surprising how many people instantly respond to this by introducing themselves. Onlookers also
notice that you are receptively interacting with others and thus even more people will feel
comfortable enough to talk to you.

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An old friend of mine, Tony, was great at this. We used to go to house parties where we hardly
knew anybody and where there were a lot of closed sub-groups that made it clear in their body
language that newcomers werent welcome. Tony would simply stand in the middle of the room
from the moment he got there and say hello to anyone whose eye he would catch. If he heard a
snippit of a conversation hed chip in and say something. Otherwise hed throw random
comments out in the open for all to hear. It didnt matter what the content was. He might just
shout out Whos into ACDC? or make some passing comment about the decor of the room or,
if the crowd was particularly unresponsive, he would start cracking jokes about the very
existence of closed sub-groups in the room. Sometimes he would be accepted by the crowd
within just a few minutes. On really difficult occasions it might take him fifteen minutes, but it
worked near enough every time. And the key to it was that Tony would boldly announce his
receptivity to others and would risk rejection. And sometimes that rejection did happen ... briefly.
Tony would laugh it off, carry on chatting openly and the hostile parties would just give up and
engage in conversation.

The benefits of this way of interacting with new people are difficult to underestimate. You can
easily quadruple the number of people you meet by taking this approach generally. And the
more people you open up to and persuade to do likewise the more chance you have of finding
good friends, new business associates and getting dates if you happen to be single. And the
more you get in the habit of doing this the easier it becomes and the more confident you

Another aspect of this spatial proximity factor that I find interesting is the angles people sit or
stand in when engaged in conversation. I was at a short film night just last week, a very good
one actually. In between the screenings of the short films were networking breaks of around
fifteen minutes each. One woman I chatted with was asking me about my business and
explaining her own line of work. During the conversation we were stood directly facing each
other, head on and perhaps two feet apart. Yet in another conversation I had with another
woman on the same night (both were film makers) I and the woman I was chatting to were stood
at right angles to each other, both facing the same direction mutually watching the rest of the
crowd as we spoke. In other words we werent giving each other our full, undivided attention. Id
actually met that same woman before and we had done the exact same thing in a conversation
that lasted a good twenty minutes. What was clear from our interactions was that we found each
others conversation interesting, but there was also a mutual trust barrier.

Generally, this face to face vs angled-position factor I find consistent in terms of assessing trust
and receptivity. Sometimes one party faces the other full on while the other party is the one that
is half-turned away and looking at the rest of the room or out a window. How many times have
you seen this when someone is hitting on someone that isnt interested? Its usually automatic,
but I recommend you exercise some more conscious choice in it. If youre networking, whether
socially or professionally, make sure to face each person you speak to let them know they
have your full attention for the duration of the conversation. Two minutes of this can help you
connect more strongly with someone than ten minutes of side by side divided-attention chat.

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And I recommend a physical distance of two feet providing youre in a venue where you can
actually hear each other.

Another interesting dynamic Ive found in such situations is, when sitting in groups, to choose a
chair right in the middle of everybody so that you are surrounded by people and have access to
different subgroups in all directions. Its so easy to end up sat at the sidelines and only meet
four out of forty people. By sitting in the middle you can just keep turning your chair forty-five
degrees to meet some new faces. People will probably notice you doing it and thats ok. Joke
about it and tell them theyre next.

And one more spatial dynamic I find interesting and useful is height position. Ive found very
frequently that lowering my height position so that a person Im chatting to is slightly above me
tends to put them at ease. If someone is sat in a chair and Im standing then kneeling down to a
position of the same or slightly lower eye level puts them at ease. In a standing conversation
with someone shorter than me I often find that sitting on a stool to lower my height to theirs puts
them at ease. This may seem silly, but try it. Sit cross legged on the floor while chatting with
someone who is directly in front of you in a chair and notice how comfortable they feel with this
unusual gesture. The psychology is very basic. In conflict we like to tower over others
physically, but with trusted friends were happy to lie or sit in a lower, physically vulnerable

Are they really listening?

For a host of reasons a great deal of human speech falls, unknown to the speaker, on deaf
ears. When hearing others speak what we consider to be boring, uninteresting or predictable
opinions we frequently pretend to listen so as not to offend the speaker and so as not to come
off as rude or ignorant in ourselves. However its quite a counter-productive habit in some ways.
It prevents others from receiving the honest feedback that would help them realise that they
arent relating well to others. It also means that sometimes we trap ourselves in extended and
time-consuming listening acts that leave us feeling resentful of the speaker. Ever had the
experience of pretending to listen to someone who goes on and on and on despite you giving off
multiple non-verbal hints that you dont want to listen any longer? It can be really frustrating.

As with virtually any other false non-verbal response, the act of pretending to be genuinely
listening to someone usually carries with it conflicting feelings and thus conflicting details in the
Im really listening act. As a speaker, its important to be aware of these conflicting non-verbal
messages so that you dont waste your time talking to no avail and so that you can draw out of
the listener whatever it is that they are really thinking that conflicts with what youre saying.

The false elements of the Im really listening act tend to be the most exaggerated elements. For
example, head nodding is a very easy way of faking receptivity to what someone is saying. That

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doesnt mean all head nodding is to be taken as a false response, but its worth being aware
that its not a reliable indicator of whether someone is really listening to and considering what
youre saying. Its too easy to fake. However there are subtleties to head nodding that can be
more reliable indicators. Very fast short nods, for example, Ive frequently found to be a strong
indication that the listener is impatiently waiting for you to finish speaking. This might be
because they already get the general gist without needing you to elaborate further or because
they want to shift their attention to something else they consider more important. Slower and
longer head nods, on the other hand, indicate more patience from the listener, but it doesnt
guarantee they are really considering your expressed opinions.

Another factor in assessing if head nodding is an indication of genuine listening is to notice what
the listener is also doing with their eyes, mouth and the tension in their forehead. When
processing information internally, peoples eyes tend to disconnect from the external world.
They begin looking at things they are visualizing internally and so, from the outside, it seems
like they are looking randomly into empty spaces in front and around them. If they are looking
elsewhere at some other real world object or person while nodding in response to what youre
saying, then its almost certainly a fake nod. However, if theyre looking you in the eye while
nodding then it can go either way. It may mean theyre receptive, but that your information isnt
exactly new or challenging to them. This is where the mouth and forehead tension becomes
important. A deep frown with the head tilted forward tends to indicate that they are considering
your information, but are either in disagreement with it or the information itself is raising a
secondary concern for them.

However, a lighter frown that involves the head titled more upward and the mouth slightly open
is a very strong indication that the person is receptive to what you are communicating, that the
information has come as a surprise to them and that they are genuinely thinking about how your
information fits into or even alters their existing perceptions.

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Another factor is sideways head tilting. We literally tilt our heads to hear interesting and
significant sounds and voices more clearly and so its a good indication that someone is
interested in hearing you out in full, not that theyll necessarily agree with what you say. This
can involve turning one ear toward the speaker or just tilting the head sideways so that one ear
is raised.

Try paying attention to these subtleties when talking to people. If you pick up signs of non-
interest then change the subject until they are interested or politely and jokingly ask the person
outright if theyre not interested. Theyll usually be a little stunned by this, but will often come
clean as to what is distracting them. You may think that pulling someone up for not listening is
rude, but if youre pleasantly mannered it actually has a very positive effect. It lets the other
person know that you are receptive to their actual feelings and how those feelings are subtly
expressed. They also will respect you more for not demanding that they listen to things they
dont want to hear.

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Aggressive spirals

Have you ever watched two people get into a fight over a trivial issue? Given my inner city
background, which sometimes involved living in slum-like areas, Ive both witnessed lots of petty
fights and been involved in a few myself. Later, working in probation and with the homeless, I
witnessed many more violent and near-violent altercations.

In almost all of the examples Ive been witness to, fights have involved a build up of emotional
intensity created through cyclic communication. A typical scenario might go something like this.

1. Person A says something mildly hostile to person B.

2. B feels offended. Retorts verbally, but with a greater volume and intensity of voice tone.
3. A matches Bs non-verbal aggression in their own retort, but steps forward and invades
Bs personal space.
4. B feels physically threatened, but is consciously preoccupied with the verbal exchange.
Heart rate begins to increase and muscular intension increase due to subconscious
anticipation of a fight.
5. B physically backs off, but tries to compensate for their fear display by significantly
raising their voice, frowning more intensely and staring A in the eye while delivering their
next verbal retort.
6. A notices the fear response of B moving away, but also is affronted by the significant
changes in voice and facial expression intensity from B.
7. A begins to feel nervous in combination with own feelings of aggression. Heart rate,
muscular tension and breathing begin to increase.
8. Not wanting to further invade Bs physical space for fear of a physically violent backlash,
A compensates by pointing finger at B while delivering next verbal retort and
simultaneously matching the aggressive volume, tone and frowning that B had
9. B notices that A is hesitant in upping their own level of aggression in terms of body
space. Own level of fear starts to turn into aggressive confidence. Delivers next verbal
retort while pointing finger back at A in a stiff poking gesture, though without any actual
10. A realizes subconsciously that this is as much a battle of aggressive body language as it
is words. Pushes Bs raised finger-pointing hand aside while delivering verbal retort.
11. The conflict has now escalated to physical contact. B drops the topic of verbal
discussion and instead verbally threatens physical retaliation due to having been
touched aggressively.
12. A also drops the topic of conversation and makes own verbal threat of violence. Sensing
that the situation is either physically dominate or risk a variety of social and personal
consequences associated with backing down to a fight, A becomes very physically
tense. Adrenaline kicking in strongly. Verbally challenges B to follow up on verbal threat
even though B was only giving a warning for A to cease physical aggression.

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13. B doesnt want to fight, but also anticipates social and personal consequences of
backing down to an aggressor. Compensates by stepping very close into As personal
space, looking A straight in the eye, gritting own teeth and clenching fists at sides as if
ready to fight.
14. A physically pushes B back several feet as a warning.
15. Each party now thinks that the other is the aggressor who must be stopped.
16. Having been physically shoved, B now feels justified in throwing the first punch and does
17. A boxing match ensues, at least one party is physically hurt and the original verbal
disagreement is largely forgotten.

That may seem like a long-winded aggressive spiral, but that sequence of events can occur
quickly within the space of a minute, giving the impression that a fight happened suddenly and
without provocation. The example given is a fairly extreme, yet simplistic one. Most aggressive
spiral communication is more drawn out and more complex. And most dont actually result in
violence or even an openly spoken threat.

The key point Im putting to you in outlining these aggressive spirals is that most human conflict
involves the willing participation of two parties. If one party refuses to engage in their share of
the escalation of aggression then the other party, in almost every instance, will find it difficult to
build up the motivation or sense of internal justification for increasing their own level of

Altering your own behaviour to prevent an aggression spiral between yourself and someone
else doesnt have to involve you refusing to stand your ground in defence of your own interests.
It doesnt mean you have to surrender to the will of the other. In fact it can be the opposite. Like
a Judo expert, you can gently redirect the other partys aggressive behaviour in a direction that
is deflates the confict.

One of the funniest examples I ever saw of someone breaking an aggression spiral was an
international drug trafficker turned drug addict who I worked with in a probation hostel. This guy
(Ill refer to him as Phil to protect his identity) had severely damaged his own health through
injections of substances to the point that he was on crutches, so he was unable to physically
defend himself any more when in conflicts with others about drugs or money. One day, Phil was
challenged and threatened in the street by a common drug dealer he owed money too. The
dealer told Phil, Im going to fuck you! Here in Liverpool, that term used from man to man
means pretty much the same as Im going to beat the shit out of you! Phils response was one
Id never seen before in a fight situation. He turned around, dropped his pants, revealing his
bare backside, bent over and jokingly said, You want to fuck me. Go ahead. Come on. Fuck me
in my disabled ass. The dealer wasnt used to anything other than a straight fight or flight
response. He was taken so utterly by surprise that he simply turned and walked away,
grumbling a few attempts at verbal intimidation as he left. Phil walked away from the situation
without a scratch.

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I wouldnt advise you to engage in indecent exposure in such a situation. Rather that was an
example of the many options you have for handling aggressive spiral scenarios. There are
milder forms of intervention you can use that are actually more effective generally because they
play on the non-verbal subconscious elements of aggressive spiral communication. The fact
that such aggression feedback loops tend to occur automatically and almost independently of
the verbal altercation means that the aggressor is often defenceless against a non-verbal
pattern break.

A personal example that simply illustrates the breaking of automated aggressive spiral
behaviour patterns involved a good-sized aggressive dog that wandered out of an open gate,
threatening to attack me. I was simply walking by on the other side of the street. The dog was
trotting toward me across the road at a brisk, but slightly hesitant pace and barking very loudly.
Its tail wasnt wagging so I knew it wasnt a friendly bark. The slight hesitance in the dogs
approach, plus its lack of teeth baring and growls, indicated to me that it was in the process of
deciding whether to become more aggressive, which of course was dependent on my response.
If Id have backed away or ran then the dog would have been upped in its confidence and it
would more than likely give chase and deliver the bite. So, having nowhere immediately safe to
get to, I simply turned and faced the dog in a casual but firm manner. Making no other major
movements, I made strong eye contact, raised my hand and pointed my finger firmly at the dog,
knowing this was a near universal body language signal known to all domesticated dogs as a
sign that their owner is cross and that the dog better back down because it has misbehaved. I
was also aware that the barking component of communication was likely the part the dog was
most conscious of, so I was best dealing with the subconscious element of proximity and
stance. My body language was not what it was expecting. Before I could even say a word the
dogs pace significantly slowed and it started to alter its path as if about to start circling me in
consideration of biting me from behind. Its bark also became lower in volume. It was afraid
because I appeared to be as unaffected by its threats as a tree stump. Seeing the dogs clear
switch toward fear I brought in a verbal component, keeping my voice firm but calm and only at
about the same volume as the dogs barking. Maintaining eye contact and making sure my
pointing finger followed the dog so that it always had to look past my finger to my eyes (as if I
was looking down the barrel of a gun ) I firmly said, Go on. Get back in there. This was a
phrase I was pretty sure any domesticated dog would have heard many times from a cross
owner who it feared. Almost immediately the dog did a u-turn and began trotting back toward
the garden it had wondered out from, but it was still looking back and barking, but without the
initial confidence. I made sure to remain in position, still pointing and staring. As the dog got
further away I raised my voice to a near shout, I said get in there! Go on! The dog went back in
its owners garden and I walked away only after it had stopped looking back at me and stopped

The key aspect of that example is that I neither engaged in an escalating loop of increasingly
aggressive signals, nor did I give off any signal that the dogs own aggression was having any
kind of intimidating effect. It absolutely worked in a situation that had strong potential to become
violent. And I mention that example because it sums up, without distracting content of argument
features, how powerful the non-verbal component is for diffusing potential aggression. It also

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presents the strategy of adopting the mannerisms of a psychological archetype that the
aggressor habitually would lose confidence with. So with a human to human scenario adopting
the common mannerisms of a police officer on the verge of arresting someone might make your
typical street thug think twice about picking a fight. If you did it really well you might even make
them think youre an off-duty officer without verbally making such a claim.

The simple fact is that everybody fears someone and who they fear will usually have some
particular manner of communicating that you can adopt in order to subconsciously thwart them if
they happen to be getting aggressive. Some people hate cops, but instead fear people with
certain types of accents. Though Im not an aggressive person myself, my home city is known
for being rough and we have a very distinct accent, easy to recognise elsewhere in the country.
So, even though my Liverpudlian accent is mild, when I lived in Manchester I was less likely to
be on the receiving end of street violence because my accent automatically triggered slight
hesitance in most who heard me speak. Ironically, here in Liverpool a person who speaks
strong, confident Queens English probably wouldnt be attacked because most of the street
thugs have a bit of an intellectual inferiority complex toward such people. Theyre tough minded
in altercations with everyday people on their own economic level, but lots of them get very
nervous in job interviews, talking to police or any other situations involving people in high paying
jobs or positions of perceived legal authority. The threat of being dragged in front of a court
where they have to fight an enemy with words rather than fists terrifies them.

The general key I find is that in responding to your aggressor you should respond from a
mindset of inner calm and self-assurance. Let that calmness show itself in how casual your
response is and in how you take your time to say your piece instead of matching the increasing
pace of your aggressor. Let the person know non-verbally that their aggression is about as
worthy of your attention as a gust of leaves blowing across the street. Talk softly so that they
have to stop shouting and listen carefully to hear what youre saying even lower it down to the
level of a whisper if need be. Smile and make slow, graceful hand gestures as you speak, as if
waving a magicians wand in a hypnotic gesture. Seriously, these techniques work far more
often than not and the more subtle you are with it and the more aspects of your non-verbal
communication you are working with at once, the less likely the aggressor is able to notice and
consciously resist it. And when you get into the habit of using such strategies it gets easier to do
and it becomes amusing to see aggressors suddenly deflated in their efforts.

This isnt limited to violent situations either. A lot of low level human conflict in relationships or
business transactions or public debates and campaigns follow similar non-verbal spirals of
aggression and can also be interrupted easily.

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Signs of sexual attraction

Switching to a more pleasant aspect of human communication lets explore the non-verbal
signals that can let you know a person is sexually attracted to you (and as a straight male, my
emphasis here is on how men can tell if women are attracted). This was something I always had
difficulty gauging in my early twenties and friends would often point out that Id missed
opportunities with women on account of it. But one day a female friend and I were discussing
attitudes to dating. She told me that she hated it if men openly told her in words that they
wanted to date her because it takes all the mystery out of it. That info clicked with me instantly
because I had a habit of just asking girls out verbally once I realised I liked them and thought I
had a fifty / fifty chance of them saying Yes. I decided to try not openly stating my attraction to
women for a while, to not ask them out for a date, and to deliberately only communicate my
attraction non-verbally with smiles, eye contact, voice tones, body language and so on. As a
result of this new approach I noticed that more women I interacted with gradually became
attracted to me and expressed it in very obvious ways, sometimes even verbally. A lot of the
time they would ask me for my number rather than me having to ask them. And ever since then
the time Ive spent as a single guy in between relationships (probably four relationships since
learning that lesson) hasnt been more than three months in one spell, and usually a lot less
than that.

It took me a while to figure out why this unspoken attraction approach worked and I had to quiz
a few female friends about it to learn about the hidden thought process. There are two basic
facets to it. The first is that most women, even those of average looks, are so used to being hit
on by men in all kinds of scenarios that it becomes boring to them. Theres no challenge
because men make it so obvious that she is the one in a position of sexual power. So when a
woman meets a man who is giving a mixed signal non-verbal hints of attraction, yet makes no
obvious or verbal effort to hit on them it really gets their attention. The mere curiosity of
wanting to know whether that guy is actually attracted to them or can be made to be attracted
gets them excited, even if they arent physically attracted to that particular man themselves.

The second facet of womens desire not to be hit on verbally by men (or in some obvious way
such as physical groping) is that women dont want to be stalked. They dont want to lead a guy
on who is desperate for a girlfriend (or just regular sex) in case he then hassles her with endless
phone calls, text messages, knocking on her door, following her around and just generally
making a nuisance of himself demanding the woman reciprocate his desires. For that reason,
a man who is desperately trying to get a date is a turn off, but a man who expresses a certain
amount of attraction, but also has an attitude of near indifference is a turn on. She respects him
for being less of a slave to his hormonal desires. She fears him less because he isnt giving any
signs of being the barnacle-type who shell spend months beating off with a stick. She figures
that because he isnt desperately seeking a woman to fill some emotional gap in his own life
then he must be a stable, happy guy in himself and therefore probably has a few interesting
things going on. And she figures that because he isnt desperate then he must be used to

Rob Ager 2015 Page 15

finding it easy to attract women and therefore must have some other desirable traits hidden
beneath his exterior perhaps high intelligence, strong empathy or something more carnal.

A lot of men speak about their confusion and annoyance with women giving mixed messages.
They complain that women say they dont want this or that, but then go after that thing anyway
or complain that they havent acquired it. And it can be disheartening for men because it can
make women appear to be very manipulative or dishonest. But I gradually came to the
conclusion that most of the time women dont like to be trapped, especially in unhappy
relationships, so it makes them less willing to fully commit to something until theyre certain its
what they want. To that effect, they prefer to hang out with a guy as friends for a little while so
they can find out more about how he thinks and relates, reassure themselves hes not the
stalking type or (if shes a gold digger) find out how much money he has. The not officially a
date phase tends to be short, sometimes just one or two social engagements with plenty of
conversation, though it can drag out to months if shes really testing the guy or has her desires
complicated by other males who are interested in her. But from the mans point of view its
essential to just comfortably be there in the limbo land of friend vs date obscurity while she gets
a better idea of who he is and whether she is interested in taking the relationship further. And
any sensible man ought to take the same get to know you first attitude (women can turn out to
be stalkers too!).

But lets get down to non-verbal communication specifics. A woman who is in the same room as
you, but who you havent met, typically tries to make fleeting eye contact with men she is
interested in, even if that interest is just the desire for a social chat and nothing more. If shes
confident then she will hold eye contact for a few seconds if the man looks back and often will
smile too. If she darts her eyes away upon eye contact then its more likely a sign that she finds
him interesting, but isnt sure if he is trustworthy enough to interact with or is lacking in
confidence of her own attraction. The physical proximity factor comes into play of course.
Women tend to position themselves so that the men they find most interesting in the room have
an opportunity to approach and speak to them or theyll try to engage in conversation with
someone who clearly knows a man she wants to talk to, thus increasing the chances of an

Those are strategies that can work well for men as well by the way, but be aware that women
will often see through them so you need to do something different. One approach I used from
time to time that earned me a lot of introductions to women is that I would position myself close
to the woman in the room I most wanted to get to know, but would talk to anyone except her.
The more people I spoke to, aside from her, the greater the chance that she would actually
introduce herself to me. The strategy is simple, but the effects I think are more complex.
Standing near the woman invites interaction, yet talking to everyone except her lets her know
that youre certainly not desperate. It also lets her know that youre socially capable. In the
cases of women who were very physically attractive, I used to raise the stakes by standing
almost rudely with my back to her and Id even make eye contact or pass comments to people
she was in conversation with, while ignoring her. The logic of this was that really good looking
women are used to finding near enough all men a push over psychologically. All they have to do

Rob Ager 2015 Page 16

is act mildly receptive to conversation and most men are begging at their knees. So when they
encounter a man who appears to barely even notice them it really get their attention and makes
them curious. Im not joking. Ive had some very attractive women approach me specifically
because I acted like they werent there yet was being sociable with everyone else.

A follow up approach is to be initially receptive to conversation with a woman youve only just
met, but keep the interaction short and sweet. Just cracking a quick joke or two and stating
some interesting inference about who you are and what you do before then disappearing to the
bar or to talk to someone else can work magic. Again, youre reassuring her that youre not
desperately trying to get her into bed or find a girlfriend and shell respect that and feel even
more comfortable if you approach her again later (or she might approach you, wanting to pick
up the conversation that was cut short).

Getting women to be interested in conversation with you is one thing, but figuring out whether
they are sexually or intimately attracted is another. Fortunately there are lots of tell-tale signs,
some obvious and some very subtle. A woman who makes a lot of physical contact with you is
an obvious sign of physical attraction. She might stroke your arm affectionately in response to
something you say (be aware that it can also just be a sign of empathy if youre talking about
some bad experience youve had). If she gently pushes or pokes you when you crack a joke
then its probably a sign that she at least partially desires intimate contact. But generally
speaking, physical contact is a very good sign.

Another quite obvious sign of attraction is when a woman plays with her hair while laughing or
smiling and shell usually do this while looking at the man she desires. Leaning toward you a
great deal is also a sign of the desire for physical contact.

Speech patterns are also important. If she is speaking in an expressionless monotone then
theres a good chance she isnt stimulated by your presence or your conversation, just as if her
eyes are darting all around the room at other people then shes simply not very engaged with
you. However, undistracted eye contact and a voice that is either higher pitched (indicating
enthusiasm) or slow and soft (indicating sensuality) are good signs. And an especially good sign
is if she responds to fixed close up eye contact with a broad smile.

These are general indications that a woman is intimately or sexually attracted to a man, at least
subconsciously, but it doesnt mean she will sleep with him or wants to go out with him. Sexual
attraction is present in many interactions where there is no realistic chance of anything more
than conversation or friendship (one party might be married for example), but its good to be
aware of these things so that if you are single then you are able to quickly identify which single
women around you are personally worth you trying to get dates with. It can save a lot of wasted
effort and help avoid missing opportunities.

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Eye movements and visual processing

Now for a little NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I mentioned in an earlier part of this article
that when people are internally processing information they tend to look into empty spaces
around them as if some invisible object can be secretly seen by them, but they also have a habit
of shifting their eyes in specific directions based on different types of internal processing. These
are known as eye accessing cues.

There are various subtleties in eye accessing cues so Ill just introduce you to one of the most
noticeable, and therefore immediately useful, aspects of it visual processing. The processing
of visual information causes people to look into the upper corners of their field of vision. You can
verify this with just about any person you happen to be around today. Ask them some question
that requires specific visual processing and watch their eye movement responses before they
answer verbally. Ask them what the weather was like when they got out of bed this morning. To
answer they have to visually remember what they saw when they looked out the window. Ask
them whether they think you should dye your hair. To answer they have to visualize you in a
way theyve not seen you before. I can pretty much guarantee that the dominant eye
movements associated with answering these questions will be to the upper left and right.

If you do happen to ask someone the two particular questions Ive proposed then you may also
notice that their eyes most likely move to their upper left (your upper right if youre facing them)
to answer the first question about weather and move to their upper right regarding the hair dye
question. And youll find that pattern consistent if you keep alternately asking visual memory vs
visual imaginary questions. Ive no idea why we do this, but Ive tested it a lot and its very
reliable. Most people look to their upper left to recall visual memory information (images theyve
actually seen externally before) and look to their upper right to visualize something new that
they havent seen before as if theyre internally photo shopping a new image from parts of
their visual memories.

When youre testing these visual processing questions its important that there be a clear
distinction between the requirement of visual memory and the formation of new internal
imagery. If you ask someone to remember something they have already strongly visualized in
the past then youre basically making a combined internal processing requirement of them to
remember something they never actually saw externally to begin with. I tend to find that such
questions cause the eyes to look dead ahead and slightly upward. The persons expression
becomes slightly glazed and the eyes defocused and sometimes theres fast, but slight, twitches
to the upper left and right as if a synthesis between visual memory and visually constructed
processing is occurring.

Before we move on, a short side note the vast majority of people fall into this pattern of upper
left eye movements equalling internal visual memory and upper right movements equalling
visual constructed, but a very small number of people have their eye accessing cues swapped

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the other way around. You can easily notice this reversal though if you test it with a handful of
visual questions.

So, interesting stuff huh? Yes, and it is actually very useful in certain situations. When I used to
run self-help groups and private one to one sessions in personal development Id often
encounter situations where people were able to tell me that something was bothering them, but
they were either unable or unwilling to verbally specify what it was. So sometimes Id just ask
them to quietly think about the thing that was bothering them and not try to describe it yet. If
they moved their eyes to their upper left more than their right during that process then I would
sometimes just say to them, I get the impression its some past experience that is bothering
you. That in turn would often draw out a verbal description of the memory or at least an
acknowledgement that a memory was indeed the problem.

For your own personal use visual eye accessing cues are a very good way to find out if
somebody is lying to you. If somebody makes up an event in their mind and then verbally
describes it as a supposedly real past event then a couple of specific visual questions about that
supposed memory will result in visual constructed (upper right) eye movements. Constructed
memories are low on detail so the person has to construct new details if questioned effectively.

There are other aspects to eye accessing cues such as people tending to look down and to their
left to process strong emotions or imagined sensory sensations. Ask someone with a lot of hair
to imagine what it would feel like be like to be bald and their eyes will look down-left, not up. And
when it comes to internal dialogue people for some reason tend to look to their lower right.
Again these patterns can give you extra insights when interacting with others. You gain
additional clues as to what is going on in their minds that isnt being verbalized.

Truthfulness and speed of response

A very consistent facet of communication is that responding truthfully to a question requires far
less internal processing than telling a lie and the basic reason is that lies have to be internally
constructed before they can be told.

There is an exception to this in that if a person is asked to talk about something abstract that is
difficult for them to describe then they may have to spend some time conjuring up the
appropriate words to speak, but there are usually clear indications that they are simply
searching for words. They usually announce verbally that they are searching for the right words
and will often make circular hand gestures with their hand(s) as if literally trying to push words
out of their torso and out of their throat.

When a person is hesitant of announcing their true thoughts and feelings or is actively
constructing a lie they tend to take at least a couple of seconds longer, sometimes even more. If

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they know they are under suspicion of lying then they will often seek incidental ways of delaying
their answer a way to acquire some breathing space while they internally construct and test a
new lie. These distraction and delay tactics can involve changing the subject verbally, physically
engaging in some alternate activity like checking the time or looking at the text messages on
their phone or pretending to be offended or angered by the question.

A delayed response doesnt always mean that the answer given is a lie. It may simply mean that
the person was assessing whether it is in their own interests to give you the information you
asked for an important and useful defence mechanism between people who dont have an
established long term relationship. But I find that the longer someone delays answering a
question the more likely the answer is to be either an outright lie or a deliberately deceptive half-

One of the most consistent scenarios of delays as indicators of lying is in written

communications with companies and governmental bodies. Im very good at submitting written
complaints to organisations when theyve engaged in some misconduct and there have been
times in which such organisations have delayed delivering a final response for months. They
keep trying to buy themselves time by saying things like the person handling my complaint had
to go on holiday for a couple of weeks, it took three weeks to get an answer from some other
internal department that was actually in the same building, a piece of paperwork has been
misplaced etc. The first and foremost task of most complaints departments is to avoid admitting
any wrongdoing by the company, no matter how strong the evidence to the contrary. If they
cant lie about it then they will delay, delay, delay in the hope the complainant loses motivation.

Sometimes you need to break through these avoidance tactics used by dishonest parties. With
an organisation you can literally set out a time frame of your own and tell them that you expect
them to stick to it or you can, in advance of submitting your complaint, ask them for a
breakdown of their complaints procedure, including time frames (and then cite that procedure in
response to their delays later). With an individual it can be quite effective to just outright demand
an instant reply, especially when its clear already that there is a strong mistrust in the
conversation. Just calmly, but firmly tell them to spit out a straight answer without delay. They
might still lie anyway, but the lie is more likely to be poorly thought out and thus easier to tear
down, but often people just crack and speak the hard truth when put on the spot.

In some instances the truth will not be spoken even if you apply pressure for a quick answer.
Sometimes the person will just state that they dont want to tell you the truth or they will break
off the entire discussion. That may seem like a bad result, but if means you arent successfully
lied to or dont end up wasting time trying to acquire a truth that will remain hidden then its a
good thing.

There is another complication to lying though, and its one that people and organisations use
regularly. When a party has carefully prepared and rehearsed a lie in advance then they are
much more likely to be able to give fast answers, as if telling the truth. We see this all the time in
political debates on TV. The politicians have usually been told in advance of the live debate

Rob Ager 2015 Page 20

what questions they will (and wont!) be asked or have even stipulated the question parameters
as a condition for appearing on the show. This combines with the fact that politicians spend a lot
of time constructing and rehearsing generic ways of answering the most likely generic questions
that theyre likely to encounter in public debates. They tend to avoid, at all costs, public debates
in which the questions and topics to be raised are not known in advance.

Individuals arent usually as good as politicians at creating a backlog of generic lies to hide
certain truths about their own activities and motives, but they can still be incredibly good at it. If
theyre well practiced then they will be confident and convincing even under intense scrutiny
from a distrusting party. The key to breaking them down is to deliver questions that fall outside
of the generic ones they are prepared for. Ask for some specific detail that hardly anyone would
think to ask and watch them suddenly start delaying answers, stuttering, frantically engaging in
eye accessing cues as they fight to create a new lie, blushing facially and even trembling in their
hands and voice. Even the best liars tend to crumble in this way if questioned cleverly enough.
Ive seen a corrupt salesman fall apart like this when cross-referenced in a court room ... and it
was very enjoyable to watch.

There is a powerful default tactic that many politicians and, from time to time, individuals use
when cornered. They stop answering the detailed questions that are being asked and just
repeat the most generic catch all lies that they have already practiced endlessly. The answer
will tend to have a near wholesale lack of factual detail and will simply be a statement of good
intention. A classic one heard a lot in the media goes something like this, We take this issue
very seriously, but are unable to comment as we are in the process of internally investigating
the matter. We put the needs of the public first and if we find that one of our staff has failed to
comply with our strict performance criteria or values then those staff members will be robustly
disciplined. Avoidance of detailed fact, assertion of positive intention. When answers this vague
are given in the face of specific publicly available evidence of corruption then its very often an
indication of an internal cover up in the making.

At the individual level liars will sometimes make similar assertions about their own apparent
good nature, while avoiding answering questions about the details of their actions, but they also
are more likely to resort to attacking the identity of the questioner. So its important, as the
interrogator, to be calm and non-aggressive in how you deliver your questions. It denies them
the opportunity to play victim. At the same time you need to calmly maintain composure if the
liar tries to attack you mentally and turn the conversation into an identity based conflict.

Non-verbal mouth movements

Aside from talking, the mouth can be very active during communication and can reveal a lot
about what a person is thinking. The tightening of the mouth with the lips pulling inward to make

Rob Ager 2015 Page 21

a very straight line, combined with the slight scrunching of the chin muscles, tends to indicate
some sort of disapproval.

Its almost like the opposite of a kissing gesture and suggests that the person wants to voice
their disapproval of something and is holding the words tightly in. On the other hand, the bearing
of clenched teeth is a common sign of anger or hostility common to many animals including

The tightened mouth example is easier to miss because it has varying degrees of intensity.
Sometimes the face can be very calm overall, yet the straight mouth line expression is there.
And it doesnt necessarily mean they disapprove of the person theyre listening to. The
information being conveyed to them may be raising some other possibility that they disapprove

A variation is when someone opens their jaw yet stretches their lips so that the mouth remains
shut. More often than not, the person combines this expression with the raising of the hand to
cover the mouth. Or the mouth and eyes will be stretched open and the hand covers the mouth.
Its a very well known expression of emotional shock or surprise. The person is preventing
themselves from letting out some huge vocal gasp or scream. I mention it because its an easy
to relate to variation on the more subtle tight lipped expressions that are harder to notice.

Another type of mouth movement worth being aware of is when a listeners mouth is slightly
open. Unless theyre a mouth breather due to sinus problems, this is usually an indication that
the listener has something to say and is waiting for a gap in the speakers communication. Its
worth being aware of if youre in some sort of informal meeting and want to communicate that
youre a good listener as well as a good talker. If youre talking and someone has their mouth
open as if about to speak, ask them what they would like to say.

Sometimes people do this open mouth expression when theyre not even in conversation
externally. Theyre talking to themselves internally. And the jaw line and lips will often engage in
very slight, but rapid, movements the body mimicking the act of talking as words are being

Rob Ager 2015 Page 22

spoken in the mind. As an external observer, these are indications of conscious processing of
verbal information.

Persona masks

Most of us have learned from very early in life to adopt certain artificial personality traits as a
mechanism for both defence and as a strategy for getting what we want from others. Some
people pretend, on an ongoing daily basis and in the majority of their interactions with others, to
be tougher than they are to intimidate the world into giving them what they want. Others do the
opposite, playing helpless to win sympathetic favours or avoid responsibilities expected of
everyone else. Some people pretend to be aggressively volatile, constantly reminding others
that to cross them risks an explosive emotional response. And some people pretend to be a lot
smarter or dumber than they really are.

We each essentially try to act like the character that we believe is most likely to do well in the
world and we habitually advertise ourselves as being that character. This lifelong acting
performance in turn affects our non-verbal communication habits. Phony tough guys try to adopt
a shoulders hunched, fists clenched, permanent scowl for example. Or the fake intellectual, who
usually tries to hide all emotional responses other than self-assurance, will adopt thoughtful
looking poses not unlike the self-promoting portraits of nobility we find in museums. Such men
liked to be painted surrounded by their study instruments with a hand on their chin and an
inquisitive frown as if contemplating the very nature of the universe, like a God. The learned
helplessness crowd adopt their own mannerisms and voice tones in order to portray false
weakness, a constant signal that others need to come to their rescue.

These persona masks, which are often so habitually worn that the wearer has consciously
become convinced of their own lie, also manifest strongly in visual ways. Just as warriors of the
past would cover themselves in war paint, wear visible trophies of defeated enemies and
proudly display their battle scars, a person today who wants to permanently advertise to the
world their own cynicism, anger and detachment (and yes the last trait conflicts somewhat with
the first two) might permanently wear goth clothing and jewellery and have an equivalent goth
hair cut. Personally I listen to plenty of heavy music, as do some of my friends, but have never
felt the desire to get even a small tattoo or piercing. I like the music, but presently have no use
for the image. Instead I tend to keep my image mostly non-descript (jeans and t-shirt, average
length hair, occasionally unshaven) because I like to be able to dip in and out of any social
grouping I want to at any point. So it could be said to be a mask I wear.

Im probably not telling you anything you didnt already know so far in this chapter, but I have
noticed something interesting and useful about these generalized persona masks. People tend
to just accept each others fake personas, even if they dont believe them. Because such traits
are considered to be intrinsic parts of a persons identity, thus affecting most of their interactions

Rob Ager 2015 Page 23

and some of their core life decisions, it is generally assumed that to challenge the artificiality of
those traits would be perhaps intensely rude and might trigger a strong negative response.
There is some truth to that of course. Ask an intensely image proud gym freak who uses
expensive face washes three times a day if they think theyre being shallow and theres a good
chance it wont be appreciated. But some people also take advantage of the no-go topic of their
own false persona. Knowing that others are unlikely to verbally challenge their act, they
sometimes ham it up even more to mask over some other part of themselves that they dont
want others to see. An example might be someone who tries to portray themselves as a
comedian, treating every situation like a stand-up performance. They may feel uncomfortable
expressing some of their other thoughts and emotions, so they try to generate an atmosphere of
permanent laughter where ever they go, even if it involves cruelly making other people the butt
of vindictive jokes. Of course theyll claim its all in jest if challenged.

Faced with such persona acts that are inhibitive of good communication or are even destructive,
Ive found on many occasions that verbalising my awareness of those traits brings the act
crashing down. Instead of assuming the big act is a volatile issue, I treat it like Im just pointing
out some minor issue like commenting on the weather. In a strange example, a girlfriend of
mine introduced me to a male friend of hers from London. The guy was pleasant enough to chat
to, but all he talked about was his confused sexual orientation. He kept shifting back and forth
between gay and straight relationships. After about twenty minutes of repetitive discussion I
just blurted out, So youre bisexual then? He acted confused as if hed never thought of that,
which was ridiculously implausible. So I followed up in the friendliest manner I could muster, I
really dont believe youre not aware that youre bisexual. Can I ask a no nonsense question?
Do you talk about your supposedly confused sexuality all the time because you dont know what
else to talk to people about? After a smile and a moment of embarrassed consideration he
admitted it was the case. We then began discussing other aspects of his life and it was clear
that this was less comfortable for him than his sexual orientation safe-zone topic, but hopefully a
positive process was started.

In other situations involving potential violence, particularly those I encountered in probation and
homeless hostels, I found it very useful to just calmly draw attention to the artificial tough guy
non-verbals and the artificial persona itself. A guy would start getting aggressive and in
response Id verbally state something like, Youre raising your voice, youre stepping toward me
aggressively, youre pointing at me and I think youre just doing it because you think that by
portraying yourself as a bit of a psycho whos gonna hit me you can intimidate me into giving
what you want, which goes against what Im paid to do here. A lot of the time I wouldnt even
need to say anything more than this. Simply bringing into full conscious and verbal attention the
aspects of their fake persona that normally went unchallenged would be so out of the ordinary
for them that they couldnt figure out what to do next. So the aggressive act would fall apart.
Theyd either walk away or switch to more amicable discussion of whatever the subject matter
happened to be. And it usually ensured that they didnt bother putting on the act with me again.

Rob Ager 2015 Page 24

Often these kinds of challenges to fake personas actually earn respect from the person on the
receiving end, especially if the challenge helped them to learn something useful about their own
communication habits.

Another approach is to just treat the act like its not even there. This can work really well with
learned helplessness. Imagine a scenario in which a person is pathetically trying to acquire
unwarranted sympathy for weaknesses they dont actually have. Instead of pandering to it you
can ask them to do something unrelated that requires self-sufficiency ask them to help you
shift a heavy item of furniture, ask them to open the window or go make you a coffee. It doesnt
matter what the activity is as long as it makes them capably carry out some arbitrary task. Its
hard for a person to play the victim if theyre being practically effective in the moment.

If someone is dressed like a hard core punk and lounging about like they dont give a fuck what
anyone thinks then telling them how much you love their outfit and style, rather than
uncomfortably saying nothing, will confuse them and sabotage their expectations of intimidating

Ive found this to be very amusing with doctor and lawyer types too people who often believe
that their academic or job stature, plush suits and cold professional manner will overpower the
will of their perceived underlings. Theyre often accustomed to psychologically dominating
people in this respect. In situations where I am meeting with such people for whatever reason,
Ive usually done some background research on whatever the topic of discussion is going to be.
Merely announcing some well articulated facts that they thought only a professional would
know tends to break the boring expert always knows best pattern. Sometimes it gets their back
up and they start repeatedly referring to me as Mr Ager (its always fascinated me why people
do this to try and impose their authority) raising their hand in a blocking gesture to try and stop
me from saying my piece or simply talking over me. In those situations I tend to do the exact
same thing back and tell them that its unprofessional to interrupt or ignore important
information (the word unprofessional is very powerful against such types because it hits
straight at their artificial persona mask). Citing the research of other experts in support of your
own opinion is also a powerful way of getting them to listen. This stuff even works if youre just
dressed in jeans and a t-shirt (my uniform). Ive had debates and negotiations with some very
hard-nosed business types in person and over the phone and gotten some very powerful results
in my favour. Its easy to do once you realise the suits and the cold manners are all an act.
Deep down those people are the same as everyone else.

To summarize, a lot of people non-verbally communicate the persona mask that they think gives
them influence over others. You can ignore the mask, directly challenge it verbally or non-
verbally or you can do the standard thing of playing along with it. Which option is best depends
on the situation, but always remember that you have the option to break the lets pretend mould.

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