Nonverbal cues ain’t what they used to be.
Once upon a time (unless you were Mr. Oblivious), a little common sense would tell you that a yawning, wristwatch-obsessed listener was bored or that a jittery teenager had probably been caught red-handed at something.
Back in my factory days, we amateurs could even surmise that one co-worker had a casual attitude about authority when he would plop his manure-caked boots on the desk while chatting with his brother-in-law the supervisor.
Not so in 2018. Now the world revolves around a cottage industry of “body language experts” (“earning” an average salary of $65,000 a year, according to the Indeed job site) who pontificate about every handshake, neck tilt, nose scratch and extra inch of stance width.
I suppose there is a legitimate need for thoughtful examination of nonverbal cues when a police detective is struggling to establish the veracity of a murder witness or when the board of directors must choose the absolute best candidate for CEO; but so much of the body language expert business nowadays is keyed toward titillation of couch potatoes who, ironically, display no, well, BODY MOVEMENT.
Too many body language experts prostitute themselves by embarrassing movie stars who are on a goodwill tour to salvage their marriage, or by fueling some partisan political agenda. (“See? While he’s ‘absent-mindedly’ drumming his fingertips, the index finger is definitely giving a Nazi salute and the other fingers are goose-stepping right along!”)
We used to aspire to the maxim “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Now it’s “Don’t reveal your estimation of a man’s character to millions of Americans until you’ve glanced at his 8×10 glossies as you hop a plane to appear on ‘Ellen.’”
Can anyone explain to me how you go about hiring a body language expert? How can an employer negotiate with a person who can (allegedly) tell when he’s bluffing about how much he can afford to pay and how many other candidates are clamoring for the job? (“Take my office! And my chauffeur! I’ll tell Jeremy in Payroll to let you name your own salary. Just stop looking at me!”)
Don’t even get me started on what body language expert CONVENTIONS must be like. So no one inadvertently divulges any secret fears or jealousies to their peers, the attendees are probably pushed around on gurneys while straitjacketed and wearing Hannibal Lecter masks.
How do you test the EFFECTIVENESS of these Sherlock Holmes wannabes in assessing rolled eyes, folded arms and the other cues? (“My highly paid consultant said you look so tense you could rip the arm off the first person who – ARRGGGHHH!”)
I resent the weasel words that experts get to hide behind: “usually,” “typically,” “most likely.” Then there are the “or” situations. (“That pat on the back means the governor is being affectionate OR manipulative.”) Great: the president’s furrowed brow means he’s definitely either thinking about golf OR planning to blow Luxembourg off the map.
Unless a body language expert acknowledges all the factors that could cloud his judgment, he could make disastrous recommendations. For instance, I defy anyone to get through all the allergy-induced tics and mannerisms that my son displays.
“You’re blinking that the Vietcong are torturing you with manure-caked boots? We’ll strafe the building and send in Special Forces for a rescue!”
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Opinions expressed in this column represent those of the author only and do not necessarily represent those of the newspaper.