top of page
  • Writer's pictureAndy Murphy

Nonverbal Communication Hacks

Tips for understanding nonverbal communication

Strong communications skills will help you at home and work. Plus, they can keep you from being the target of a criminal. Since this is The Secure Dad, we’ll focus on hacks that will help keep us and our family safe.

It’s important to note that nonverbal communication is very specific for that situation and that moment in time. So you need to have a greater understanding of the moment. And that leads us to our first nonverbal communication hack.

Be Fully Present

For you to be preceptive of the nonverbal element in human communication you have to be present in the moment. I think we all understand now that communication is verbal and nonverbal so we have to commit our ears and our eyes to what’s going on.

If we’re face-first in our phones, we’re not going to get the full intent of what’s being said to us. If it’s a homeless man trying to get change from me at the gas pump or I’m at home my son is asking permission to hang out with a friend, in both of those situations, need to see and hear what’s going on. And we can’t do that if you’re not paying attention.

Eye Contact

One of the more important parts of nonverbal communication is eye contact. In Gavin de Becker’s, The Gift of Fear, he talks about how important it is to make quick eye contact with a potential threat. This was the first time in my life that I heard that.

I thought I should pay attention to the threat, but not look at them. Then when they got close, I’d spring into action like some well-experienced former spy in an action movie. In real life, that would not have gone well.

De Becker says that we should make quick eye contact to communicate with the potential threat that they are seen. Not only do we visually perceive them, but we also see their intention as well. And this is quick eye contact, not a loving stare into their souls.

When predators find their targets they enter into a stalker mindset. Stalkers create a plan based on what they want to do and how they want it to go. When we, the target, break that stalker expectation, they can lose the element of surprise and the upper hand all at once. This might be enough to dissuade a predator from attacking.

Eye contact can also be used to convey honesty. We normally associate someone not being able to look you in the eye as a sign of discomfort, stress, or fear. The opposite is true in that we associate eye contact with honesty.

I hesitate to tell you this because liars can look you in the eye and say whatever they need to get out of a situation. So I wouldn’t live and die by this social understanding.

Where The Lies Come From

While some people do find it easy to lie, eye contact may be a hard indicator as we just discussed. It takes quite of bit of work to get the brain to get your body to go along with a lie. For normal well-adjusted people lying is not natural.

When the brain lies, it has to conceive the lie, then repress its honest nonverbal cues, and then create lying nonverbal cues. And it’s really hard to do for mentally healthy people.

Since lies come from the brain, it can send those lying signals faster to the eyes, nose, mouth, and face because they are so close to the brain. Meaning if you’re looking at someone’s face to gauge honestly, you might be fooled.

However, the further a body part is from the brain the harder it is for that part to act out the lie. That means that the feet can be more honest than the mouth.

Honest Feet

That’s because the feet broadcast what we are interested in. Have you ever had a conversation with a group of people in a parking lot and everyone is in that friend circle, facing in at each other? That’s because everyone in that group wants to be there and wants to talk. Their feet are pointed in, which is the direction of everyone else.

Have you ever tried to talk to a co-worker who doesn’t face you while you talk? It’s because their feet are pointed at where they want to go which is not talking with you. They don’t want to give your their full attention, so they don’t. A good way to judge a person’s interest is to see where their feet are pointed.

Shouldering the Burden of Safety

In general, when criminals look for targets they look for people they can overpower easily. People who are not confident are often chosen as targets. One of the biggest indicators of confidence is the shoulders.

Think about Superman. I bet you pictured him standing still, feet spread apart with his fists on his hips with his cape blowing in the wind. How is the man of steel’s shoulders? They’re up like he’s trying to make himself look bigger, right?

When we are confident we tend to exaggerate to raise our shoulders. If we are not confident, then we slump our shoulders and look like a better target for criminals.

Breaking Bullies

My dad taught me something like this in middle school. He told me that bullies pick on kids who don’t look confident and he demonstrated how that looked. And it made sense to me, with his shoulders slumped and his head down, he looked like an easy target.

He told me to keep my head and shoulders up to keep anyone from bothering me. And I never had a problem with being picked on because when I walked the halls my head and shoulders were up. I didn’t understand the nonverbal cues behind this at the time, I just knew it made sense.

Primal Bullying Prevention

So parents, if you want to help your kids from being bullied at school, tell them to practice these three nonverbal cues in the halls:

  • Like my dad taught me, first keep your head up. That way you can see what’s going on and who’s passing by.

  • Second, keep those shoulders up like you are trying to make yourself look bigger. Don’t over-exaggerate it, cause you’ll look weird.

  • To get a good idea of how to do it, slump your shoulders and drop your head. Then simultaneously roll your shoulders back to a natural position while raising your head. That’s where you want to be. And it feels better too.

  • And finally, let’s add quick eye contact to finish it off. If your kids spots a potential bully in the hall, have them make quick eye contact. They meet eyes and then smoothly break that eye contact.

It’s not a fast flinch away that makes them look like a scared rabbit, but a smooth transition away. Just a simple acknowledgment that the bully is seen, but not challenged. This way your kids can convey confidence and communicate with bullies on a primal level that says, I’m not an easy target.

These nonverbal hacks will help you live a more confident life because you'll know what to look for to judge a person's intention and honesty.


Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

Get Updates from Andy
bottom of page