“People think of ‘Lie to Me’ but it’s not the best example. If you look into it, the guy’s from a broken family and is very negative, you can see that just from the way he talks to his daughter.
“He’s obsessive but you don’t want to be looking at people’s body language all the time – that would be like being a human lie detector, you have to strike a balance.”
Over a series of modules the Berlitz course looks at basic gestures, movements and feelings. Over several years of research it’s been refined to simplify body language teaching so that it can be a useful everyday tool.
The idea is to really look at people from 180 degrees so you can establish a baseline to guage what is normal for them – for example if someone habitually finds it hard to make eye contact, then them not looking you in the face doesn’t mean anything.
“Once you’ve established the baseline, that’s when the fun begins,” says Al-Anni.
“We take our students on field trips for example to the mall, or another public place, where we’ll ask them to tell us what they see and some of the people they’re seeing will be plants.”
Students learn about eye movements, when you’re looking for split second changes it really takes some observational skills to spot them.
They also learn about hand movements and choice of words in conversation and even how to spot if someone is actually listening to you at all.
A laughing Al-Anni says: “You can see it all the time when you’re introduced to someone in, say, a receiving line situation or when you’re at a large gathering. I always say the best way to test if someone is listening is to swear. More often than not, in a situation like this, they won’t even notice!”
He goes on to explain that studying body language can be useful in various business situations. For example in human resources. “Nobody writes anything negative on their CV but, by observing body language, you can see so much more than what’s written.
“Often you will get an immediate gut feeling about someone, body language is a way of building on it.”
Another obvious use is for those who work in sales. Of whom Al-Anni says: “Absolutely everyone has something to hide, it doesn’t have to be something terrible but it could be something that will affect whether you want to buy what’s on offer, there might be a catch that’s not being made clear, our students learn how to ask the right questions and how to fully interpret the answers.”
So we’re back to Lightman and co, looking for ‘tells’. Again it’s down to establishing a baseline to see what’s normal then observing closely to see the variations and, most importantly, being able to understand what they mean.
Al-Anni claims the course can also be really helpful for parents, maybe to deal with those difficult teenage years or to spot when a youngster is being bullied.
And, of course, there’s the minefield of personal relationships. Al-Anni says the study of body language is not so much about ‘is he/she lying to me?’ but more about realising what the other person is actually saying. It’s the classic case of never believing a woman when she tells you everything is ‘fine’, although most guys know that very well without any need to study body language.
But, according to Al-Anni, 50 per cent of broken relationships start from one basic mistaken assumption, so learning to understand what’s really being said can’t be a bad thing.