Management Skills

Annual Conference: Body-language expert Scott Rouse explains how to read others and make a good impression

Monday’s keynote presentation in Nashville provided an in-depth look at the science of the nonverbal cues that we convey subconsciously.

June 26, 2023 10:13 pm

People who know how to read body language can gain a significant advantage in their interpersonal relations, an expert said during Monday’s keynote session at HFMA’s Annual Conference.

Scott Rouse, a behavior analyst and body-language expert who works with law-enforcement agencies and major corporations, said awareness of body language is key to quickly establishing connections and relationships that “have depth to them, last longer … and you build trust instantly when you meet people.”  

Body-language expert Scott Rouse uses hand gestures to make a point during his keynote presentation Monday at HFMA’s Annual Conference. (Photo by Michael Chorvat)

He began his presentation by telling attendees, “I can make anybody like me. Not just like me. I can make them absolutely love me and think within five, 10 minutes [that] they’ve met a kindred spirit.”

That type of connection is vital in settings such as the law-enforcement interrogations in which Rouse participates.  

Of suspects, he said, “I get them to like me, and I get them to think that I’m interested in them and I’m there for them.”

Evaluating another person’s state of mind

“Most of the information you [typically] have about body language is incorrect or incomplete,” Rouse said.

For example, seeing someone with their arms crossed is thought to indicate they’re turned off or not impressed by the situation in front of them. But Rouse said some people with their arms crossed may be relaxed and easygoing, as is indicated if their shoulders are relaxed and their arms are crossed in a lower position. Meanwhile, chances are someone with tense shoulders and their arms higher up is feeling defensive and in a negative frame of mind.

“There are no absolutes [with] language,” Rouse said. “There’s not one thing that will tell you somebody’s lying. There’s not one thing that will tell you that somebody’s telling the truth.”

But body language can provide crucial insights into another person’s state of mind, including their comfort level. Key indicators called adaptors refer to small, repetitive movements like quickly touching your face or rubbing your head when you’re feeling nervous or uncomfortable.

“We call those self-soothing behaviors because they’re trying to relax and trying to comfort themselves as the discomfort gets worse as the conversation goes along and the situation advances,” Rouse said.

An astute reader of body language would recognize a need to switch topics in that situation. Conversely, if you’re looking to glean uncomfortable information, you would know you’re on the right track.

Other key visual cues

Pursed lips are another sign that the person finds a subject or a particular piece of information disagreeable. More specifically, lips that are pursed to the side mean the person sees a different outcome to what’s being presented. In a meeting, an appropriate response is to ask the person what should be done differently or what other ideas make sense.

Blink rate and eye contact are another important area to understand.

“Everyone thinks when you break eye contact, you’re lying,” Rouse said. “It’s actually just the opposite of that.”

People look away when they’re thinking or trying to remember something, even something factual.

Instead, “The person who keeps looking at you, most likely they know you think breaking eye contact means they’re lying,” Rouse said. “If I’m talking to somebody who’s done something they shouldn’t have done and they lock eyes with me as they’re telling me something, I know something’s up. Then I ask other questions around that to make sure I’m right about that.”

How to make a strong impression

Paying attention to your own body language when interacting with others also is vital.

“All you’ve got to do is really look like you’re listening to them,” Rouse said.

“It’s so easy as you’ve got the person in front of you to be [going], ‘Yeah, I know what you’re saying.’ And be looking around and doing stuff or looking at your phone. Everybody understands there’s a lot going on. But if you want that person to really connect with you, don’t look at anybody but them. Anything else going on? Don’t let it distract you.”

There’s also a trick to get other people to intently listen to you. Rouse said using hand gestures, or illustrators, to emphasize certain facts or ideas is effective, and intermittently (and subtly) pulling your hands toward you while you speak engages the other person in your talking points.

If you use that trick, “No matter what you say, you can just repeat it and keep repeating it over and over, and they will listen to everything you say,” Rouse said. “It opens up those little pathways in your mind to communicate and to talk. And when you do that to other people, it helps their brain open up, and they want to talk, too. So, you can make that conversation last longer and be worth more.”


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