How body language can give you the upper hand at work - or on a date

17 September 2017 - 00:00 By Shanthini Naidoo
Don't make assumptions about reading body language with just one indicator.
Don't make assumptions about reading body language with just one indicator.
Image: Gilan Gork's 'Persuasion Games'.

Body language is the silent way we say everything, and if we are conscious of it, it could swing things in our favour, says Gilan Gork, mentalist and body-language expert.

Gork, who coaches corporations in "persuasion games", says that every time "two humans interact it is an act of influence, and creating influence is what I teach people".

"The art of reading body is helpful in business, maybe in dating, lie-detection, even just everyday human interaction," he says.

"We give off clues that show what we are thinking and feeling all the time. There is a way to use it - and to manipulate it, especially in business."


Gork says manipulating influence can be good or bad depending on how you use it. Confidence is one of the aims.

"It comes down to intention. If you consider a mother manipulating her child to look the right way before crossing, that is a positive impact. It helps people to overcome fear and anxiety when presenting and speaking, make the butterflies fly in formation. Body language is how we feel but it can change how we feel."

If you smile and nod while asking someone to do something, they will generally agree with you

Even if it feels fake and cheesy, if you smile and nod while asking someone to do something, (try it), they will generally agree with you and feel more positive and co-operative.

"It can make the person feel far less inclined to say 'no'. Smiling is contagious. Before the end of your sentence they will be nodding too, and then you ask, "Does that sound fair enough? You should get a 'yes'," he laughs.


An example of co-ordinating a meeting, or date, he says is to work out where, and how, people sit.

"The reason people stand at the head of a table is because it is a power position. If they put their hands on their hips, it is a power pose, making themselves look bigger and more in control - power wings, we call them.

"And the seated version with hands behind the head, is an indicator that the person feels like they know everything or feels smarter, arrogance."

If you sat at the end of the table, back against a wall, it puts you in a position of strength. "Usually, the most powerful person will not sit with their back to the door, especially men, because it is a vulnerable position. It goes back to anticipating an 'attack' from behind."

Sitting at a table across from each other can indicate combat mode. Better to use the table corners.

"The corner seating position acts as a barrier, but it is collaborative, for a presentation for instance. You speak, then hand over your book or place it between you and the person can choose to take it or not."

How to gauge if your date is interested? Push something into their half of the table and note their reaction.

"We have personal space and when you speak at a table, the table is an extension of yourself. If you look slightly harassed on a date and I want to see how comfortable you are, I will put something of mine in your space, and if you move it back in a short while, it is a non-verbal sign of a lack of interest. Pull it towards yourself and it is a non-verbal green light."


Don't make assumptions about reading body language with just one indicator. Folded arms do not indicate a lack of interest; what if the person is just cold?

The key is to look for a set of gestures, usually three.

Look for gestures that back up the impression. Folded arms, plus arms and legs crossed and leaning backward would mean a lack of interest.

Consider context. What is being said and in what situation and environment. Is the room chilly?

Ask if this is a confirmation of bias - reinforcing what you want to believe.


Again, look for a set of gestures, not just one. Breaking eye contact can indicate lying - or shyness. Are verbal and non-verbal language in harmony? Give a person five seconds for a reaction. In that time, what happened? Look for a macro gesture:

  • Covering the mouth halfway or entirely could indicate a lie.
  • Rubbing or touching the nose is an indicator of fight or flight mode. It makes soft tissue expand and tingles your nostrils - your nose literally grows when you lie.
  • Rubbing the eyes is a way to block out a negative feeling.
  • Covering the ears is a way to physically block out the lie.
  • Blinking and eye-contact breaks are an additional sign.
  • Rubbing the neck. If a person is in high stress mode they become hot and flustered. This is a pacifying and soothing movement.

Look out for all of these, or a few. Remember, it is a set of gestures.