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It isn’t often that I find a business book that I can whole-heartedly recommend. That’s because most business books are riddled with positive thinking about how success can be achieved if you think strategically and work hard. Hey, if you’re going to go to all that trouble, who needs a book?

“Louder Than Words” by ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro is based on suspicion, paranoia and the totally admirable philosophy that if you are sufficiently sneaky you can get an advantage over the other guy. That’s my kind of author.

The promise in “Louder Than Words” is focused on mastering arcane learning techniques that let you recognize and capitalize on certain non-verbal clues. As result, you have the power to manipulate bosses, business associates, hiring managers, clients and maybe even spouses, bending them to your will like so many plastic coffee stirrers. As Special Agent (RET.) Navarro puts it, ” imagine knowing what others are thinking, feeling, or intending. Imagine being about to powerfully persuade and influence others. Imagine identifying, without being told, points of concern and contention. Imagine being able to enhance how others perceive you, conveying confidence, authority, and empathy.”

Hey, the last time I was so excited about gaining insights was when I ordered a pair of “X-Ray Specs” from the inside back cover of an Archie comic book.

Sad to report, the X-Ray Specs didn’t perform exactly as I had expected, and neither did “Louder Than Words.” Still, I did manage to gather some tips that could prove useful, and if you could see me now — lying on the divan with my toes pointed upward and my hands interlaced behind my head, you would know that all my non-verbal clues are screaming — I want to share. [Of course, a totally-verbal clue, a persistent snore, would suggest that I am asleep, but don’t stress. Lots of FBI profilers have made the same mistake.]

The key to Navarro’s method is the recognition of “non-verbal clues.” These subconscious expressions of body movement, if identified, provide your X-ray view into the hidden intentions of your co-workers, your boss, or any other criminals you are trying to bring to justice.

But it’s not only individual acts of expression that you can read like a book (once you read this book.) Non-verbal messages can be decoded by studying subtle clues like the colors of the rug in the office of the HR executive when you are brought in for pilfering office supplies, or the way the company security guard buttons his holster when he arrives at your desk to escort you from the building.

If you’re in the job market, ex-Agent Navarro offers a list of non-verbal clues to help you make a “thin-slice assessment” on your first visit to a company. One “influential element” is “the type of reading material you are offered.”  I agree. If the reception room reading is limited to back copies of “Guns & Ammo” and “Soldier of Fortune,” prepare yourself for a fairly aggressive corporate culture, especially if you are applying for the job of nursery school teacher.

By far the most detailed information in “Louder Than Words” is reserved for analyzing body movements. Biting your lip or clearing your throat are “tells” for lying. Sitting with your legs splayed is a “territorial display. It can mean, ‘I am in charge here,” or ‘this is my turf; I am not afraid.'” You can see how helpful this could be in a job interview when the hiring manager invites you to lay your body across their splayed legs. The way I read it, this means, “I am not afraid, but you should be.”

If that same interviewer “shifts his stance so one or both feet point away from you, this is a powerful intention cue that he would like to leave.” I agree, but keep selling yourself anyway — in this economy, the only intention cue that matters is when the interviewer runs screaming out the door.

There are dozens of useful tips in this book to turn your work life into your own personal episode of CSI, so study up and you can start conniving your way up the corporate ladder. Or, forget it, and just keep charging ahead blindly. Navarro writes extensively about “the beauty dividend,” the power of good looks to push attractive people ahead in business. So forget that I am biting my lip and clearing my throat. Someone as strikingly beautiful as you is heading straight for the top.


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