How to Read Body Language Like an Expert: 10+ Powerful Tips
Body language constitutes a large part of human communication. In fact, research shows that 55 percent of communication is based on body language, the nonverbal messages people convey through postures and body movements.
Each one of us communicates to the world, sometimes subconsciously, through our body language.
When you meet someone, you can’t read their minds to know how they feel or think about you or what you are saying. But reading their body language is one tool that can help give you insight.
When it comes to reading body language, there are no absolutes. It’s unwise to judge the meaning of a single gesture. Ideally, you should look for a cluster of gestures to interpret body language.
So, take time to observe people – their postures, gestures and facial expressions – and get to know their baseline behaviors before judging their body language.
Here are some basic cues you can watch for to read a person’s body language and understand a bit about how they are feeling and thinking. And, equally as important, what your body language may be telling others.
- Crossed arms and legs signal resistance. In some cultures, women are expected to sit with their legs crossed as a matter of etiquette. But oftentimes, crossed arms and legs are conveying a message.
Crossed arms and legs suggest that the person is not open to what you are saying. It shows a defensive attitude. Crossed legs may also mean that the person is nervous, withdrawn or preparing to face a perceived threat.
Crossed legs with the feet pointing toward an exit or moving in a kicking motion suggests boredom.
On the other hand, splaying the legs carelessly out in front of the body may make a person look either sloppy or simply relaxed.
- Gesturing while speaking shows warmth and energy. People who use gestures while speaking seem energetic, agreeable and warm, whereas those who do not are seen as logical and analytical. Open arms show honesty and allegiance. It also indicates openness to new ideas. Palms facing down and clenched fists show a strong position.
Whichever the case, using gestures in moderation is important so as not to end up appearing unbelievable and less powerful.
- Raised arms show excitement and happiness. When people are happy and excited, they tend to raise their arms, chin, head and even their legs and feet. When people feel on top of the world, they sprawl out. Their arms tend to move away from their bodies. They take up more space.
- Hands on hips display authority and superiority. When a person puts their hands on their hips, it shows assertiveness and taking control of the situation.
Sometimes, it can also be a position of readiness.
- Shifting weight from one foot to the other shows anxiety. Constantly transferring one’s weight from one foot to the other, or rocking forward and backward, indicates that the person is anxious and upset. It is a representation of one’s state of mind. When the mind is fluctuating between many unsettling thoughts, a person will be constantly moving their body.
- Fidgeting shows discomfort and restlessness. Making small movements with one’s body reflects discomfort and a wandering mind. To release tension, people will tap their feet, heels or fingernails; slide in and out of their shoes; move their feet up and down, and similar types of movements.
Fidgeting can indicate that a person is uncomfortable and ready to take flight (as in the fight-or-flight response).
- Clasped hands with interwoven fingers indicate anxiety and frustration. This is a self-pacifying gesture.
When a person is nervous or uncomfortable, they tend to do this to reassure themselves.
- Genuine smiles light up the eyes. A genuine smile creates wrinkles at the corners of the eyes and mouth. Sometimes even the head, eyebrows and eyelids turn upward.
- If you have your doubts whether a smile is genuine, look for these cues and you’ll know.
Raised eyebrows are a sign of discomfort. Three emotions are the main reasons that can cause people to raise their eyebrows – worry, fear and surprise.
If someone is having a casual conversation with you and has his eyebrows raised, there is something else on his mind. It is next to impossible to raise your eyebrows during a casual and relaxed conversation.
- Massaging one’s forehead or rubbing one’s legs show uneasiness. Hugging one’s sides, massaging the forehead, playing with the earlobes or rubbing the legs are soothing actions to counter feelings of uneasiness.
11. Good posture projects confidence. An erect body posture as well as open and expansive gestures shows confidence and power. Standing straight with open arms and shoulders back is a powerful position. As the person seems to take up more space, they appear more powerful. Good posture commands respect.
Whereas slouching or crossing the arms across the body or holding something in front of the body as a shield makes a person look nervous, scared or intimidated. The person appears to take up less space and therefore projects less power.
- Torso turned away shows disinterest. The trunk area contains vital organs and it’s one of those parts of the body that a person doesn’t have conscious control over. So, if someone turns their torso away from you, they could be unconsciously saying they want to leave.
When people see someone they dislike approaching them, they may turn away from them and avoid eye contact.
- Clenched jaws and a tightened neck is a sign of stress. A clenched jaw, tightened neck and furrowed brow signal stress.
Some people also start touching their neck when tensed.
- Hands behind the back show confidence. Usually when a person has their hands behind their back, it shows confidence. But if a hand is gripping the other wrist or arm, it signals nervousness.
Pocketed hands signal that the person is hiding something or is uncomfortable around people.