What’s Your Body Language IQ?

by Margie Lawson

Everyone needs to become an expert on body language. Misreading body language can lead to disgrace, disaster, and divorce.


How well do you read body language?

Take the 10 Point Quiz I created and find out!

What’s Your Body Language IQ?

  1. Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal.  T    F
  2. If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them.  T    F
  3. Some people wait a few seconds before showing a nonverbal response.  T   F
  4. Body language can only be interpreted one way.  T    F
  5. People subconsciously mirror nonverbal behavior of others.  T    F
  6. If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener believes the body language. T F
  7. Facial expressions convey 85% of the nonverbal message.  T   F
  8. People can cover up their emotions by keeping their face blank.  T   F
  9. Lips carry more nonverbal messages than eyes.  T    F
  10. When anxious, people touch their face more often.  T    F


Did you take the quiz? 


I’m waiting.

And waiting.

You really took it this time. Right?

Give yourself 10 points for each correct answer.

Ready for those answers?

1.   Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal.  T    F


It’s a monstrous percentage, which is why people should monitor their nonverbals. Let’s look at the number one phobia in the U.S., public speaking.  

If you’re nervous you may display a cluster of anxiety flags, e.g., rolling in lips, tightening mouth, evasive eye contact, halting gait, soft voice, modulated voice tones.

If your anxiety escalates, your nonverbals become more pronounced: collapsed chest, shoulders forward, respiration rapid and shallow, pupils dilated, voice pitched high, face tight.

Project more confident body language, and you’ll feel more confident. People will react positively to the new, confident you. 

Writers almost always need more subtext on their pages. Subtext shares the psychological messages behind body language.

How do you get subtext on the page?

Facial expressions. Dialogue cues. Spatial cues. Gestures.

2.   If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them.  T    F


An easy one. Vocal cues carry qualifying messages that support or discount the words. Americans are pros at sarcasm. Watch your inflection, rate of speech, volume, and tone. Be sure your vocal cues support your message—unless you’re telling a joke.

On the page, dialogue cues carry that all-critical subtext.

Don’t write overused, carry-no-power, blah-de-blah-blah dialogue tags. Share subtext and write fresh.

Taken, Rebecca Rivard, Virtual Immersion Grad

Before: “Calm down,” he said in a hard voice.

After Deep Editing: “Chill. Out.” His voice was don’t-mess-with-me mean.

Leigh Robinson, Immersion Grad (in Australia) and Multi-Virtual Immersion Grad

My voice had an unwavering, unyielding, refusing-to-be-cross-examined-by-Jacqui tone.

Trust Me, Romily Bernard, Margie-Grad

I can barely hear Lily now. She’s whispering softer than I am, probably close to tears, and I should try for comforting, but I’m barely holding down a scream.

Romily Bernard could have just written the first sentence and moved on with her story.

Look how much more interest and power she put on the page. Impressive.

3.   Some people wait a few seconds before showing a nonverbal response. T   F


Nonverbal communication is continuous. It’s on-going. It never stops.

Pauses and hesitations are not your friend on the page. Why? Nothing happens. And nothing happening is not interesting.

Writers share what happens in real life. We pause. We hesitate.

But body language is happening then. Make your scenes stronger. Nix the pause and get fresh body language on the page.

Body language is interesting if it’s written in a fresh way. And it carries psychological power too.

Rebecca Rivard could have had her POV character pause in the following example. But she wrote this fresh amplified body language piece instead.

Taken, Rebecca Rivard, Virtual Immersion Grad

I touched the switchblade in my pocket for good luck and loosened my muscles—jaw, neck, shoulders, fingers. Tension distracted you. It wasted energy, added to your mental strain. When you were tense, you made mistakes.

And mistakes could get you killed.

4.   Body language can only be interpreted one way.  T    F


An easy answer, with complex levels of application. Cognitively, people know there are multiple interpretations. Yet people interpret body language at a subconscious level and act on those feelings. 

Let’s imagine a wife asks her husband to go with her to visit her mother, and in the next nanosecond his gaze shifts away and back, he sighs, and his mouth tightens.

The wife reads his body language, assumes her husband doesn’t want to go, and reacts before he can say anything.

She says, “Forget it.  I’ll go without you.” Her tone is sharp enough to cut a diamond.

Her body language—stiff posture, flashing eyes, harsh tone—surprise her husband.  He stares at her, his mouth open (confused) or closed tight (mad). 

She turns, grabs the keys, and leaves.

The husband stands there wondering what the heck happened.

I know what happened.

Her question, asking him to go with her, triggered a thought. He remembered that the last time he drove the car it vibrated, and he wondered if the tires needed to be balanced. His split-second body language—shifting gaze, a sigh, and his mouth tightening—stemmed from thoughts about the tires.


The wife thought his body language communicated he didn’t want to go with her to visit her mother.

He has no idea why she got angry and left.

Situations like that play out too frequently with couples, friends, and coworkers. 

People misinterpret nuances of body language and react. Misreading body language creates conflict.

Having characters misread body language is an easy way to get more tension on your pages and complicate your scenes. Smart and fun too.

5.   People subconsciously mirror nonverbal behavior of others.  T    F

TRUE – and so fun!

When you’re in a restaurant, watch couples and friends. If they like each other, they both lean forward seemingly at the same time. One leads by a nanosecond. They may reach for their beverages and drink at the same time. They mirror posture, gestures, facial expressions, voice patterns. Their body language looks choreographed.

You could slip mirroring in your book a couple of times. It’s a universal truth. And universal truths cement readers in the POV character’s skin.

6.   If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener believes the body language.  T   F


When the words are incongruent with the body language and/or how the dialogue is delivered, people always believe the nonverbals. 

Every book needs body language that shows the incongruence on the face, or between facial expressions and dialogue cues, or between a face or voice and a visceral response.

You need tension on the page. Write this incongruence and share it in a fresh way.

Leigh Robinson, Multi-Virtual Immersion Grad

Jacqui’s smile was encouraging, but her eyes revealed her doubts.

Trust Me, Romily Bernard, Margie-Grad

“You’re checking my stuff?” I ask, and I sound good. I’m all light and unimpressed even though my insides are splintering.

Morianna, Corinne O’Flynn, Virtual Immersion Grad

“Thank you, Mr. Albie.” I let my tone express exactly where I wished he’d stick his chivalrous gesture.

The reader gets the incongruence in all those examples. Smart writing!

7.   Facial expressions convey 85% of the nonverbal message.  T   F


Facial expressions are key, but vocal cues (what I call dialogue cues on the page), posture, movements, spatial relationships, all contribute to the nonverbal message.

Depending on the research, faces carry 30 to 50% of the nonverbals.

Write more facial expressions and write them fresh!

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