The sub-title to this book, “How to Succeed in every Business and Social Encounter”, tells us much about its contents; and — need I say it? — the author is American. Whether it is because they inhabit a relatively new country, or because the pioneering spirit is deeply imprinted in their souls, I think of Americans as optimists. there is no problem which life can throw at you which cannot be solved.
Ms Reiman, famous exponent of the Reiman Rapport Method, exemplifies this breed, with her blonde hair, lithe figure and gleaming white teeth. I would not mention teeth, outside a discussion of Dracula, except that she does. One of her solemn admonitions is to “flash a smile” and apparently this cannot be done unless you have had your teeth bleached. Indeed, she laments that “having yellow teeth is like dying a slow social death”.
Being British – “we who have lost an empire but haven’t (yet) found a role” – I was prepared to be a little dismissive of Ms Reiman and her powers, but I have to confess I was rather intrigued by her thesis: that “93% of interpersonal communication is non-verbal”, meaning that facial and body language, as well as touch, pitch of voice and body space, the “personal zone” around each person, account for all but 7 percent of communication.
There is no way one can prove this assertion, yet intuitively and from experience, we know that body language plays a vital part in revealing our emotions to others and theirs to us. Writers have always recognised this. Who has not watched Lady Macbeth wringing her hands or read of Karenin cracking his knuckles without instinctively sensing their inner unhappiness. Shakespeare, master of such knowledge, observes of Cressida, “There’s language in her eye… her wanton spirits look out at every joint and motive of her body”.
Ms Reiman does not reveal whether she has read Shakespeare. What she has done is to codify several body movements in order to teach the reader how to avoid give-away negative signals in social interactions and to replace them with positive ones, such as relaxing your face, practising a firm handshake and varying your vocal pitch. This may not make you a “master communicator” as she claims, but given the glowing testimonials she has received from those whose lives she has apparently transformed, they will improve your interview or selling technique.
Much of what she says is common sense. Invading someone’s personal space, slumping in a chair, not meeting the gaze of the other person or staring at them too hard will not aid and abet a relaxed encounter. Indeed, what she calls a “stalker stare” – making too much eye contact – can be positively unnerving. A friend of mine felt so intimidated by someone staring hard at her as she approached her own front door that she walked straight past it so as not to let him know where she lived. It is also threatening when someone stands too close to you, a trick well-known to film villains menacing their victim.
Ms Reiman also provides an interesting chapter on how to detect lies. Again, it is the “micro-expressions”, as she calls them, that generally provide an intuitive sense of deception, such as blinking that is more rapid than normal, odd pauses, breathing differently, avoiding eye contact and clearing the throat. Bill Clinton’s reference to Monica Lewinsky as “that woman” has been endlessly analysed in this context. The author gives a further example of such “language distancing” in quoting the words of O.J. Simpson: “When claiming his innocence in the murder of his wife, Nicole, O.J. Simpson wrote, ‘I loved Nicole. I could never do such a thing’. This is a far cry from saying, ‘I did not kill Nicole.’”
The author avoids discussing what to Shakespeare would have been the supreme clue: the language of the eyes. This is a large lacuna, but perhaps the fleeting, unspoken messages transmitted by the eyes are too subtle for her analysis. Desmond Morris, author of the 1960s bestseller The Naked Ape, is often cited, for after all, “we share many of our emotions with the apes from whom we are descended”. To learn that the eyes are the windows that reveal the soul would be a step too far. Instead, in order to have a happy life we should studiously avoid blighted people (like Lady Macbeth) and work on “surrounding yourself with happy people.”
It is pleasing to know that Ms Reiman herself is constantly surrounded by happy people – her husband, her three children (“made up of unconditional compassion, love, goodness, honesty, determination and beauty”) and all the friends and colleagues in her fulsome list of acknowledgments – even if the rest of us necessarily live our lives in a more mundane register.
Francis Phillips writes from Bucks, in the UK.