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Super Bowl body language

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This article is being written before the Super Bowl, but you won’t read it until after the game, so even though you didn’t see the game or have no interest at all in football, keep reading, because the subject today goes well beyond football.

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The subject is body language, but football can be used to illustrate some of the points to be made. If, for example, you watched the game, but tuned in late, you can tell which team is ahead by studying the expressions on both sides of the field. The team with heads down or staring into the distance is not only behind, but behind by more than one touchdown. On the other side of the field, the players and coaches are carrying their heads higher, they’re leaning forward and they’re focused on the action. If you’re watching basketball, this exercise is even more accurate, because you get better close-ups of the bench and nobody’s wearing a helmet.

Announcers are quick to point out that when the defense is on the field with their hands on their hips, it means they’ve been on the field a long time and they’re winded. Usually, they’re behind. What they don’t tell you is that the offense has been on the field the same amount of time so they should be winded too — but they aren’t, because they’re ahead.

One reason for the grim looks is the caps. Each team has a huge box of caps that say “Super Bowl Champs 2014” in team colors. The winners will open their box and pass out the caps within 60 seconds of the final whistle. All the winning players will be wearing one of those caps. Just watch. The losers won’t even open their box (collectors’ items immediately). When you’re behind by two touchdowns, you’re scowling because you’ll never get to wear one of those winner’s caps.

Close watchers of baseball will tell you that some pitchers inadvertently telegraph when they’re about to throw a curve ball, by the way they touch their cap before a pitch. If a batter knows a curve ball is coming, he is more likely to hit it. But if he gets a false signal, he’ll probably strike out. Baseball is filled with more mystery and guess work than any other game.

Anybody who has ever had a mother knew that when mom stood facing you with hands on her hips, she was sending a message and it wasn’t that she was winded. It meant you were in big trouble and about to hear your first, middle and last names at the beginning of her blast. If her arms were straight down at her sides, not bent at the elbows, and her hands in fists, it was even worse. If she stopped short and stared at you, but was squinting, that squint would tell you there’s a problem, but it’s not as serious as the hands on hips or arms solid and fists clenched postures.

Pay attention, this is important even if you’re not a kid anymore. If your boss strikes any of the three “mother’ poses described above, you’re certainly not going to get a raise, rather you’re probably about to be fired.

There are other hints about less serious situations. If you’re talking to somebody and they’re standing half-way turned in the other direction, or looking over your shoulder or checking their watch — pay attention to the eyes. They’re not looking at you because they’re not really listening, they’re bored and they want to go somewhere else and talk to somebody more interesting. Sorry, that’s just the way it works.

But sometimes the signals can mislead you. Trial lawyers pay close attention to the body language of jurors. Are they being persuaded by your case or not? It is usually thought that when a juror sits with his or her arms crossed, they disagree with what they’re hearing. In one case, this gentlemen on the jury listened to the entire plaintiff’s case with his arms crossed. The plaintiff’s young lawyer thought he’d lost the juror and the case. But when the verdict was announced, the guy with his arms folded had not only voted for the plaintiff, he was the foreman of the jury. After the verdict, the plaintiff’s lawyer asked him about his folded arms. The guy chuckled and pointed to his pot belly. “You see this? It’s a comfortable place to rest my arms while I’m sitting and listening.”

So the moral of the story is this. Pay attention — body language may give you a message when there are no words, or tell you more than words, or warn you of the lightening and thunder about to follow, or completely mislead you. So don’t bet on the game or the verdict. The only signals you can absolutely count on with certainty are the ones your mom is sending. Never disregard a declaration of war from somebody who loves you.

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