Can Putin's Body Language Reveal His Plans?


U.S. military officials have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to study the body language of foreign leaders in an attempt to predict their future behaviors, according to recent reports. As Russian troops continue to occupy parts of Ukraine and Crimea, Putin is now a major focus of this kind of attention.

Those efforts may be misguided. An ex-KGB Colonel, Putin was trained to deceive. And as a world leader, he is careful about the messages he conveys.

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"Politicians are performers," said Joe Navarro, a nonverbal communication expert, former FBI agent and author of "What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People."

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"They've already talked to attorneys and other advisers about what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. Rarely are you listening to what they have to say. You're listening to the performance."

Body language -- known to experts as nonverbals -- includes everything about the way people communicate aside from the words they use.

Nonverbals account for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of the messages people send. And while that percentage varies tremendously in different situations, all sorts of things affect the way people interpret each others' words, including how they move, speak, smell, dress, wear their hair and even use sunglasses. Pauses, loud exhales, direct eye contact and the speed and volume of speech matter, too

"It's an extremely large amount of information we're transmitting and subconsciously picking up on," Navarro said. "Communication is complex and context-driven and can change in an instant."

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In criminal cases, nonverbal cues can help officials figure out if a suspect is worthy of further investigation. Studies show, for example, that certain behaviors reliably signal psychological discomfort.

When stressed, people may, for example, lower their chins, squint their eyes, touch their necks and hair, ventilate their shirts, and swallow hard.

Those behaviors don't necessarily prove guilt and it can take sleuthing to uncover their cause, Navarro added, offering the example of a woman who seemed extremely uncomfortable during questioning, only to reveal that she was worried that time was running out on her parking meter. Still, nonverbals can be telling.

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