Joe Navarro: Building Harmony Through Seating Arrangements

As one of the original founding members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program, Joe Navarro mastered the ability to read nonverbal body language. When he retired in 2003, he discovered his expertise and skills could be taught, to benefit everyone from professional poker players to executives who wanted an extra edge. Since then, he has authored numerous books, including the classic What Every BODY Is Saying.

When Navarro sat down with Tahl Raz, co-author of Never Eat Alone, he shared some insider observations about where and how to stand to appear less threatening.

Walk up to somebody and stand right in front of them. If we were to put meters on you, we would see that your blood pressure goes up – and yet we know that if you were to stand at an angle to that person, your blood pressure would go down and you’d actually feel better about talking to this person. So, the angle is important to helping someone relax.

The distance is too. My distance and space at which I like to communicate is probably different than yours, just from social and family background reasons. So, when we achieve harmony there, at a space and angel where I feel comfortable, we’re already affecting how much face time we get. You want the person to leave the meeting and say, “Boy, you know I really like this guy. I’m not sure why, but I like him.” And maybe it all had to do with the fact that you weren’t standing directly in front of him, but the fact that you were at an angle.

Here’s another one—head tilt. Most schools teach the smile, the smile, you’ve got to smile. Yes, everybody smiles, we got it. But it’s beyond that. One of the things we find in studies of babies is that around 3 weeks to 5 weeks, they already recognize head tilt. Head tilt is probably one of the most powerful indicators that we are empathetic, that we are listening. Think of a child approaching the parent, and the father is there always with that stiff, straight neck – versus when the father stands at an angle and tilts his head down and says, “Hey, what’s going on?” Completely different dynamic.

These are little experiments that you can go out and try, and just ask, “How do you feel about that?” And they’ll tell you. I’ve seen people blunder this over and over. They go to a meeting, they meet with somebody for the first time, and they get right in front of them, eye to eye. We forget we are primates. We are primates. We are susceptible to the same things that affect a primate – and this is very challenging, direct face-to-face. I often say that when the diplomats go to the White House and sit across from each other, they don’t get anything done. But then they go to Camp David where they can sit side-by-side, and then they get things done.


It’s that ability to let down, to emphasize with body language anything that contributes to harmony.

So, as much as we encourage face-to-face communication, side-by-side might be even better! For more interesting information about nonverbal messages, read the entire Social Capitalist transcript: Social Capitalist – Joe Navarro. Click here for the audio recording.

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