6 Body Language Superpowers

When it comes to reading people and sending signals, what's your strength?

Posted Nov 10, 2014

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There are certain nonverbal communication (body language) skills that each of us possesses in lesser or greater amounts.

Let’s look at six different types, and the strengths and drawbacks associated with each:

  1. Emotional Expressiveness. Some people are naturally emotionally effusive. They easily convey their felt emotions through facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and body movement. The upside is that emotionally expressive people tend to be more popular, and can be the life of the party. The downside is that everyone knows what you are feeling. Importantly, emotional expressiveness is a key component of “personal charisma,” and is related to what is called “dynamic attractiveness.”
  2. Emotional Control. This is skill in monitoring and controlling the nonverbal expression of emotions and feelings, and being able to cover felt emotional states with a different, emotional “mask.” People high in emotional control are skilled emotional actors, but they may appear distant and “hard to read.” People with high levels of emotional control are like poker players—you never know what they are really feeling or thinking inside.
  3. Emotional Sensitivity. People skilled in emotional sensitivity are good at “reading” others’ nonverbal cues, and are able to easily detect others’ emotional states. As a result, those who possess a great deal of emotional sensitivity are seen as empathic; these are the persons whom others seek out when they are troubled or in pain. On the downside, possessing too much emotional sensitivity can make you prone to “emotional contagion”—feeling other people’s pain and emotional states to the extent that you become “infected” by their emotions.
  4. Social Sensitivity. This is a nonverbal skill with some elements of verbal and social competence. Social sensitivity it is the ability to “read” social situations, and to know how to behave appropriately in a wide range of social settings. It helps the skilled individual to understand the complexities of social interaction, and to anticipate others’ actions and behaviors.
  5. Skill in Deception. The ability to lie successfully partly involves being able to tell a plausible verbal lie, but also requires the ability to portray oneself as honest. Research has determined that some people are successful liars simply because they look more honest overall, regardless of whether they are lying or telling the truth. Their nonverbal behavior, which includes rapid speech, an expressive face, and fluid body movements makes certain skilled individuals better liars.
  6. Skill in Detecting Deception. A very rare nonverbal skill is the ability to detect deception. Most people cannot detect deception at better than chance levels, but a very few individuals—what Paul Ekman and his colleagues call “wizards”—are able to detect deception through careful analyses of both verbal and nonverbal cues. This skill was portrayed in the TV series Lie to Me.

For the most part, nonverbal skills are learned abilities, and can be improved through dedicated practice. Which do you possess? Here’s a link on how to assess nonverbal skill.


Ekman, P., & O’Sullivan, M. (1991). Who can catch a liar. American Psychologist, 46, 913-920.

Riggio, R.E. (1986). Assessment of basic social skills. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 649-660.

Riggio, R.E., Tucker, J.S., & Widaman, K.F. (1987). Verbal and nonverbal cues as mediators of deception ability. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 11, 126-145.