Expert Q&A With

Christine Gagnon

Christine Gagnon is a synergologist and an expert in non-verbal communication. Frequently sought after internationally for her consultation and training, she is the president of the Nonverbal Communication Consulting Firm, an associate of Turchet and associate synergologists, an associate of Les Éditions Propulsion and President of the Association Quebecoise de Synergology.

Gagnon is affiliated with the Institute of Analytic Interviewing and trains others in Analytic Interviewing, training tailored to fit the needs of individual clients, i.e. undercover agents; case officers; homicide detectives, etc.

Christine Gagnon, holds the first diploma ever awarded in synergology and is the founder of one of the few existing enterprises in synergology offering services to the business world.

What does your website offer its visitors? provides the opportunity to learn about my consulting company and the training we offer; namely nonverbal communication training within three main areas: training courses, intervention and consulting aimed at large corporations and security organizations. We have two different types of courses: Synergology (a nonverbal communication technique course) and Analytic Interviewing training (including nonverbal communication and micro-expressions).

Tell us more about your book – ‘To Catch a Lie’

Catch A Lie

Detecting lies is an integral part of nonverbal communication. Such behavioral aspects as evasive glance, unexpected change of the subject, and confusing speech, are attributed to a liars. Seasoned liars, however, are in control of their body language and are able to conceal their true emotions and thoughts.

This book will help you decipher a variety of body language signals. One can rely on instinct but this is not sufficient. Synergology and its techniques will help you verify your instincts. With specific training, one can successfully detect a lie, especially in professions where knowing the truth is essential. Click Here for further details.

What is Synergology?

Let me just say that a synergologist is someone who uses special techniques to detect the meaning of gestures. It’s not about intuition or feelings anymore.

Synergology is a discipline within the communication domain. It is comprised of strict rules and special techniques allowing observers to analyze and gain a deeper understanding into gestures. Synergology was founded by Mr. Philippe Turchet in the 1980’s and he has been working on validating the synergology model for the last thirty years. Turchet’s book, published in 1995 entitled La Synergologie, has now taken its place among the modern scientific research works on human behavior.

The word synergology in itself means a method of interpretation of nonverbal communication. Synergology as an application in the study and understanding of body language is driven and grounded in scientific research which differentiates it from many popular body language teachings. Each identified nonverbal behaviour within the synergology database has been analyzed and has undergone a rigorous verification process.

Stages of gesture verification:

1. Synergologists collect hundreds of videos for a single gesture in order to determine the context, timing and placement of a particular gesture and whether the conditions under which the gesture occurs are replicated across different people and populations. Each gesture is examined in a number of contexts looking for either correlations, or lack thereof which is equally important to discover.

2. Once the video database has been collected, synergologists move on to the second stage of validation, which is analysis and assessing the situational environment. A rigorous review of the collected data is performed assessing the role the environment plays in the movements of the body for that particular gesture. While a certain gesture may usually be performed in a particular direction, that movement may in certain situations deviate because of environmental factors and barriers or physical obstacles. Synergology considers this important data in their assessments and have named this occurence systemic bias.

3. The last step consists of gathering relevant and supporting indicators. A critical rule within synergology is to avoid interpreting a single isolated gesture without supporting evidence. Gestures, and body language in general typically occur in clusters rather than in isolated events. The behaviours can come from movements of the head, facial expressions, hand gestures, body position changes, leg and feet and even from the elements of a person’s speech. The more indicators a synergologist can identify supporting a particular interpretation the more certain of the analysis he or she can be. Finding clusters solidifies the analysis because it provides the necessary supporting evidence for a gesture. In synergology there is a rigorous requirement of identifying a minimum of four supporting gestures in order to make an interpretation.

Currently the synergology database contains tens of thousands of video sequences in support of the research. It is through this massive collection of real life situational videos that synergologists have understood and underlined the importance of contextual embedding – in other words the meaning of the same movement may be different in different situations. It should, therefore, be made perfectly clear that it is never enough to make a judgment on one isolated gesture. Analyzing only one gesture without considering other indicators can lead an observer to an unjustified conclusion. Seeing gestures as a coordinated system of signals is what sets synergology apart from other non-verbal communication assessment techniques.

The serious and profound approach that synergology demonstrates, has made it attractive to the department of research at the university Paris X.

In 2011, a group of scientists received a grant to do more research on validating the methodology.The title of the research is “Correlation between speech and body movements” (using synergology). Among participants are neuroscientists, neuro-psycho-linguists, educators, psychologists and researchers. The objectives of the research include:

1. Continuing the exploration of the human body in terms of expression of emotions.

2. Explaining the usefulness of the findings in interpreting all aspects of human communication.

3. Addressing the interest in the research on the part of companies dealing with defense and/or security.

Who inspired you to pursue a career in non-verbal communication?

La Synergologie

Back in 1995 I saw Philippe Turchet on TV talking about his book "The Synergology." One thing in particular caught my attention. He mentioned that you are not necessarily in a closed position even if your arms are crossed on your chest. I found that very interesting: I wasn’t always in a closed position even if I my arms were crossed! Maybe I was just feeling a little bit in a cocoon, keeping my space, but not closed. I thought his interview was very interesting and I bought his book.

At that time I had an advertizing agency and quite often I had to make presentations on publications to my clients and I thought it would be interesting to know what’s happening in front of me while I am presenting. Who is listening and who is not, who is thinking of something totally different while nodding to me yes-yes! Who is in a bad mood; who is distracted and not paying attention anymore and at what point did I “lose” them?

So, I took Philippe Turchet’s training course, a total of 300 hours on non-verbal communication. I have to tell you that his training went much further than just crossed arms. By the end of the course I opened a second enterprise called “NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION CONSULTING FIRM”. It was at that exact moment that the Canadian Armed Forces contacted us and showed great interest in my programme. I’ve been working with them for 6 years now. My clients are the Quebec Bar, police officers, investigators, Businessmen, HR workers, psychologists and social workers. Add to that Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, CSST (only French abbreviation exists), and a number of ministries.

Another great influence was Paul Ekman and his research. I spoke with him and learned a lot about micro-expressions.

What can your training program offer its clients?

Synergology is an advance technique of reading nonverbal communication. It helps clients to decode the unspoken, not only should we "observe", but we must also have the means necessary to capture and interpret, on the spot, facial expressions and gestures.

The aim of our training is to equip the client to:

  • Identify and understand signs of doubt, flight, closure, aggression and stress in order to anticipate reactions.
  • Understand signs of approval and openness to go further into the intervention.
  • Recognize signs of deception.
  • Learn how to formulate questions and when to ask them. Prepare, plan and conduct an effective, structured interview, without contaminating the subject.
  • Understand and read another person's nonverbal communication and identify masked signs of emotions. Detecting lies.

We also offer training in relation to:

  • The Cognitive Interview.
  • The PEACE Model.
  • Personality Disorders.
  • Microexpressions and FACS program.
  • The Middle East.
  • Intelligence (Turning information into intelligence).

Which body language gestures are considered universal across all cultures?

Head Scratch Gesture

(Photo Credit: Dennis Vu Photography for Unleashed Media)

Culture transforms us every day and it has an impact on how we conduct ourselves, on our behavior. There is a certain percentage of gestures that are completely unknown from a country to another, those are cultural gestures. We must "learn" these gestures because this is the only way we will understand some of their behavior.

On the other side, universal body language was gradually established between the emergence of bipedalism and the emergence of language. This time period is so extended that the essence of body language has had time to become a component of genetic constitution of our human evolution.

Let me give you an example. Where do you scratch yourself when you ask yourself a question? On the head, exactly! We don’t scratch our belly when we deal with a question, just on the head, forehead of chin usually. It’s everywhere the same place. Same thing for openness and closeness gestures, etc.

So there is a greater majority of gestures that are universal and some are cultural. What make the difference between universal gestures? The amplitude, controlling gestures and frequency make the difference but it is always the same gestures that are made.

What research has been done on eye movements (up/left up/right) in relation to deception?

Synergology updated observations state: generally, a North American will look to the left when speaking of the past, and to the right when speaking of the future. A “red flag” can be detected by the direction of the glance and its correlation with the speech. If inconsistency is found, other indicators must be verified immediately.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes, there are two important exceptions that Synergology highlights and should be considered in the analysis of the movement of the eyes.

1. Obstruction of the glance:

Consider the following situation. A person is talking to you about something that happened yesterday. However, his eyes are in the ‘future area’. Rather than passing judgement immediately, try to find the reason for this strange behaviour. Check if there is an obstruction on this person’s right such as another person, a source of light; an open space; windows. Large spaces, such as the sea, tend to attract the gaze. The person talking about his past will find it difficult to concentrate if there are such obstructions in that area. Therefore, his glance will drift elsewhere.

Synergology believes that the search for ideas or terminology requires concentration. The person will tend to look away from possible distractions in order to able to concentrate. Objects and especially people may be considered obstructions of the glance because their presence in the view requires immediate analysis (the other person’s facial expressions, for example), which are distractions. It is difficult to concentrate on two things at the same time.

2. The Arabic culture:

Analysis of non-verbal communication may differ from culture to culture. In Arabic languages one reads from right to left. These cultural differences influence the analysis of the movement of the eye. In the cultures where they read form right to left, the ‘future’ and the ‘past areas’ are the opposite of those of North Americans. Before drawing any conclusions, one must check whether the observed irregularities were caused by any of the above exceptions. If so, one should continue searching for other indicators. If this is not the case, before assuming there is lie, one must see if more indicators are present and accumulate at least four of them. They could include hiding of the hands, leaning backwards, the raising of the right eyebrow, or the right rotation of the head. One “flag” as the eye movements is not enough.

If the person is counting in his head, he/she will start looking from the left toward the right (is that person write from left to right).

What have you got planned for the rest of 2012?

My plan for the rest of 2012 is to promote the Analytic Interviewing training around Canada and continue to deliver synergology courses, conference presentation an communications consulting to my clients.

Learn More

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