Secrets of body language in pharmaceutical practice (By Oladipupo Macjob)


The ability to successfully read concealed emotions through an individual’s body language is very important in all aspects of life. The skill has a wide application “from the board room to the bar-room to the bedroom”. Especially for anyone involved in a business dealing with people, such as Pharmacy, a sound knowledge of body language skills is a major advantage.

Community pharmacy practice

If there was ever a time you recorded incalculable losses in your premises, due to the pilfering habits of your staff (the presence of CCTV machines notwithstanding), then understanding of body language skills – as we shall be exploring in the next few months– will be of great value to you.

If you have ever been bothered about why a competing pharmacy has been doing better, despite your longstanding heritage in a locality, it could be that the owner has tapped into some essentials in body language, while your customer relationship method has been purely transactional.

Pharmaceutical marketing

Do you know how powerful it is to be able to say for sure that a particular customer (say, a doctor) isn’t prescribing your brand just by applying the knowledge of statement analysis? Wouldn’t it be nice if, as a medical representative, you can read the micro-expressions of the customer that keeps pretending to add value to your business, whereas you cannot track any significant benefit commensurate to your investment?

Industrial pharmacy

As a pharmacist in the quality assurance department, having an eye for details is non-negotiable, otherwise the company stands the risk of losing so much money, should it be found wanting in adhering to compliance rules. The Thalidomide experience of the 1960s was a tragic one. If only someone had paid more attention to details. How about getting hold of an art that can help boost your awareness and sensitivity above mediocre levels?

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Pharmaceutical journalism

One key area in body language is deception detection whose foundation is rooted in paying keen attention to details. This ability is important in any journalist. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a tool kit with which you analyse statements (both written and verbal) adequately and then ask questions that help you uncover the real facts beneath a matter, which had hitherto been hidden?

Interpreting non-verbal signals

Your nonverbal signals express your emotional state. Your posture, whether walking, standing, or sitting can indicate if you are confident, relaxed, bored, or defensive. Facial expressions can show if you are happy, surprised, fearful, or disgusted, without even saying a word. Hand and leg movements can communicate nervousness, indecisiveness, and defensiveness.

The reason these non-verbal cues can show deception is because when a person knowingly tells a lie, it creates some degree of stress within, as a result of the build-up of stress hormone (cortisol) in the body. This stress will usually surface in the form of a body movement. This is similar to the principles that govern a polygraph test.

One major aspect of nonverbal communication is micro-expression detection. Micro-expressions are involuntary facial expressions caused by emotions. These tiny expressions can occur as fast as 1/15 of a second. While people may be able to fake some facial expressions, it is very difficult to control micro-expressions.

Human brain and limitations

Despite how powerful the human brain is, it has its own limitations. One major limitation is information assumption, also known as inattentive blindness. This inattentive blindness, for instance, is the reason a surgeon could forget a surgical tool inside the abdominal region of a patient who has just undergone surgery.

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A student with a track record of diligence who attempted five questions, when, unknown to him, he was expected to answer six, simply suffered from inattentive blindness. If this happens regularly, you may call it carelessness; but if it does once in a blue moon, it is called inattentive blindness.

Unfortunately, no human brain has immunity against this phenomenon – not even those who are extra careful in the way they do things. The frequency can only be reduced to the barest minimum. Part of the essence of body language analysis is to help sharpen your skill in accurately deciphering non-verbal cues which cannot be easily picked up by an average person because of the limitations of the brain – and to come up with a mitigation plan that is deemed appropriate.

Detecting deception

Below are two key deception detection techniques:

  1. Baseline discovery

The baseline of an individual refers to the default behaviour of a person. If you must decipher micro-expressions and body language gestures accurately, you must be able to identify what the baseline of the person in question is. For example, if a person is fond of folding his arms across his chest in most situations, it might be an error for anyone with a certain level of knowledge of body language to assume that the person is being defensive or not open to ideas, even though this gesture naturally suggests this.

Finding out the baseline helps you calibrate the individual and sieve gestures for proper interpretations. This means that, for anyone that is fond of doing a particular thing greater percentage of the time, the day you observe a deviation from that baseline behaviour it suggests that there is something wrong. This is called the probing point in body language. By asking the right questions, you can get to the knowledge of the truth.

  1. Illustrators and manipulators

Illustrators are gestures that prove you are telling the truth. Manipulators are gestures indicative of deception. Anytime you observe that manipulators increase and illustrators decrease, then it’s a good sign of deception. However, this does not mean that the manifestation of one or two of these gestures automatically shows that a lie is somewhere around the corner. Deception detection demands a little more than just surface read of gestures.

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Examples of manipulators are: lip-biting, mouth twitches, “hard swallow”, sweating even in cool weather, eye block, lip compress (showing a restrained emotional state), eye rub, increase in blinking rate, concealment of hands and fingers, throat clearing, scratching the back of the neck, hands touching the face, nose touch, earlobe rub, picking up of imaginary lint, etc. When a suspect is under pressure, the level of cortisol (stress hormone), increases in his body and a good number of these manipulators are involuntarily exhibited by him, which serve as indicators of deception, provided the baseline has been identified.

The nose, for example, contains erectile tissues which dilate when blood flows through them. This often occurs during excitement, pressure or anxiety and there usually is a response from the body of the individual by touching the nose. The reason you don’t touch your nose always is because you don’t have this process taking place all the time. Anything that puts you under pressure could cause you to touch the nose.


The next edition will be a build-up on this. Remember, whether you are speaking or not, your body keeps speaking.


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