4 years ago, I read about a very simple body language rule in Janine Driver’s book You Say More Than You Think and immediately thought I had acquired a special super power. To test it, I jumped in my car and drove to the nearest supermarket. BOOM! I felt like I was the master of body language!! Everything she outlined I saw play out before my eyes. Little did I know, I had just developed a skill that I would go on to teach hundreds of clients, many of whom would later tell me the quick tip changed their lives.
The origin of the Belly Button Rule dates back to the 1930s and since then, numerous scientists and body language experts have honed the theory. Most notably, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, professor Emeritus of Psychology and UCLA has said “the belly button rule is the most important indicator of reading a person’s intention.”
Let me break down the rule plainly:
The belly button rule (also known as BBR) means the direction of our navel reflects our true interest.
So now that you know the definition, let me give you a quick test. Look at the photo below and;
- Identify the person who has the least interest in their conversation?
- Identify the most popular person?
The answers are at the bottom of the page.
Congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming a BBR master!! Now that you know what the rule means AND how to spot it, here’s how to apply your new skill in popular situations:
Say you’re sitting at a conference table with a small group of co-workers. Once the meeting gets started, check out where their belly buttons face during most of the meeting. If you have that one co-worker who appears to be engaged in the meeting but has a navel pointed at the door, they’re most likely not interested in the conversation.
Another great use of BBR at work is to see at what point the people you’re meeting with shift the direction of their belly button. Let’s say at one point in the meeting you voice your opinion about a new sales goal and a person who had previously been focusing on you (with their navel) suddenly points their belly button in a different direction. This shift could indicate a hidden emotion, a difference in opinion or a lack of interest. All great clues to note and use to your advantage.
On a Date
You’re seated across from a man you’re meeting for coffee for the first time. He’s saying all the right things, looks like the perfect gentleman (you could definitely sop him up with a biscuit), and he even keeps good eye contact with you. However, during parts of the date, his navel shifts away from your direction. This is not cause for a red alert but it is very telling. It shows that he may be uncomfortable and want out of that particular topic of conversation. Of course, when you see a prolonged navel pointing away from you, it means your date has mentally checked out the conversation and wants to go.
Meeting a Group Socially
Knowing BBR is very powerful if you’re approaching a group or a couple already engaged in conversation. Let’s say you’re going to join the group of people talking in the photo above we used for the quiz. If you’re interested in identifying and talking with the most popular person in the group, by simply adding up who has the most navels pointed at her/him, you’ll have a good indication. Or, let’s say you’re running on CP time, you’ve arrived to the cocktail party late, and you want to quickly get in the mix (and not stand by yourself). Therefore, you’ll want to find the easiest person to chat up and that person is most likely going to be the person with their navel pointed away from the person they’re talking with – this person is looking for an out and you could be their rescue.
Lastly, remember that BBR is not simply about having more awareness. I want you to use it to also create more influence in the conversations you have. For example, BBR is a skill President Bill Clinton has down to a science and he uses it to create stronger connections. Check out any video of him engaging a crowd and you’ll see exactly what I mean. When he walks up to someone, he points his… (insert jokes here if you must) navel directly at the person he’s talking or shaking hands with. So simple yet so effective! When these same people are later surveyed or asked about President Clinton, they mostly state how they felt like he gave them his undivided attention and really connected with them. What Clinton did is something the most adept politicians and public figures learn and it’s something I encourage you to learn, as well. The next time you engage with someone (and this is especially true for my fellow introverts because we’re often thought to be aloof), make sure to keep your navel focused on the person at all times. They will feel your focus and better receive the message you’re attempting to communicate.
Get out there and get your BBR on!
Answers from Photo Quiz Above:
- Identify the person who has the least interest in their conversation? Not interested in his conversation is the gentleman in the brown jacket (second from the right). This is clear because his belly button is not only pointed away from the person he’s in conversation with, it’s also directed away from anyone in the group. His interest is to get away from the person he’s with as fast as possible.
- Identify the most popular person? The person with the most interest is the young lady in the white shirt on the left side talking with the two gentleman. This is clear because both men have pointed their navels towards her direction (opposed to at each other or away from their conversation).
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