Communication can be fascinating. For most, the exchange of information begins and ends with words. However, there are a lot of other factors to consider. The tone of voice that a phrase is said in can completely change the meaning of the phrase. It can turn insults into jokes and jokes into insults. Another way to tell the true intentions of what someone is saying or doing is to look for body language indicators.
Body language is an interesting concept. The human body makes a lot of unconscious motions depending on the situation. Sometimes, the body language indicators are blatant and obvious. If you see someone crying, chances are they’re upset about something. Other times, body language indicators aren’t so obvious. For instance, you may completely miss someone rolling their eyes at you in derision if they aren’t facing you.
There are so many ways to interpret body language and many, many more body language indicators. Below, we’ll show you 20 of the most popular indicators. These can be important in almost any communication setting, whether it’s business, relationships, or even meeting someone new.
1. How close are they?
Physical proximity is a frequently used body language indicator that many people don’t notice. If someone is comfortable with you, they won’t mind sitting or standing near you. So an interesting way to see if someone actually thinks you’re okay is to go brush shoulders with them. If they back away, you have your answer!
2. Downcast eyes
We’ll be mentioning a lot of head and eye body language indicators because those are among the most popular and most recognizable. One that has been a trend, especially with younger people, is downcast eyes. You’ve seen this, I’ve seen this, and everyone else has too. When someone is unhappy and they try to hide it by, say, smiling, they may betray their ruse by looking downward. This can also be a sign of being uncomfortable or feeling shameful.
3. Restless hands
Have you ever seen someone drumming on a desk or a chair with their fingers? What about people playing drums on their legs? This can be a sign of impatience, restlessness, and even sometimes anger. If you’re lecturing your kids and they’re drumming their fingers on the table, chances are you may not really be getting through to them. When you’re speaking with someone and they’re doing this, it’s time to switch tactics.
4. Restless legs
This is almost exactly the same as restless hands, except it’s the legs. People may cross and uncross their legs over and over again, tap their foot, or even tap their heels. Have you ever seen someone pacing? Restless legs: they’re everywhere! Sometimes, people may have restless legs because of restless leg syndrome, and it may not be associated with a feeling. Or they may have to pee really badly.
5. Hands on the hips
Listen up guys, as this one is mostly for you. If someone has their hands on their hips, it shows they have lost all patience. They are likely also very mad. If you walk up to a boss at work or your significant other and they’re standing with their hands on their hips, you are in big trouble. In terms of body language indicators, this one is like a proverbial punch in the gut.
6. Cocking one’s head has more than one meaning
Generally, when someone cocks their head, people take that body language to mean confusion. This is not always the case. In areas where violence is prevalent, such as prison or UFC fights, people will get into each others’ faces and cock their heads as a challenge.
7. Holding your hands behind your back
Of all the body language indicators on this list, this one is the most ambiguous. People hold their hands behind their backs for a number of reasons. Watch any mafia movie and you’ll see the Don holding his hands behind his back as a sign of power. People in the military are taught to do it as a sign of respect. Sometimes, people will even do it to be cute. Usually, when this occurs, you must rely on other indicators to determine the the emotion being displayed. It is still quite popular.
8. Hands balled into fists
This is another really popular indicator. Unlike the last one, this one has pretty much one single meaning. People do it when they’re frustrated and angry. This is usually a precursor to violence, as balled up firsts often results in something getting punched or hit. If you are speaking with someone and their hands are balled up in fists, things could go very wrong very quickly.
This body language has a universal meaning but can be vastly different. When someone is touching you in a non-violent manner, it’s almost universally understood that they’re comfortable around you. However, it can manifest in different ways. Your boss may pat you on the shoulder. Your boyfriend or girlfriend may lay their head on your shoulder. If someone is touching you, it shows that they are comfortable with you.
10. Arms crossed!
People often misconstrue what crossing arms actually means. People think it means that someone is angry. In fact, it’s actually used as a defensive stance. People who have their arms crossed are unconsciously defending themselves. They may not want to talk anymore or they may be hiding something they don’t want to talk about. But crossing the arms means a person is trying to comfort themselves, meaning they’re uncomfortable.
11. Look up for joy
When an athlete wins a match, scores a point, or does something great, what is the first thing they do? Usually, it’s look straight up. This is a sign of joy, happiness, and relief. It’s true that people can look upward when they’re frustrated, but there are often other indicators that happen before that to show they are frustrated. That said, there is a reason they say “chin up!”
This one is pretty obvious but we are talking about popular body language indicators. When someone widens their eyes or raises their eye brows, they’re most often surprised or shocked at something. There really aren’t any other reasons why someone widens their eyes. So this one is not only really popular, but really obvious and easy to spot!
13. Looking around for something better to do
People can express boredom in a lot of ways. Many times they aren’t trying to but it just kind of slips out in various ways. One such way is looking around when they’re bored. If you’re talking to someone and they keep looking around, they’re looking for something else to do besides talk to you. This is almost always a bad sign, especially when you’re out talking to someone at the bar or, even worse, when you’re in a board meeting at the office and the people in the room are doing it.
Do note that since smartphones are now a popular thing, people may now grab their phone and check their social networking sites or email while you’re talking to them. This means pretty much the same thing.
14. The Stomp
This one is mostly something kids do but adults are prone to stomping around too. It’s usually done as an expression of anger, and that’s how most people associate it. There is a second reason people stomp though and that is to be intimidating. Stomping toward someone can be used as a tool to frighten someone or even animals. How often have owners stomped near their dogs to scare them away?
15. Clearing your throat
People clear their throat for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you may be ill and you have some stuff stuck back there. However, in a perfectly normal social situation, people often clear their throats when they’re nervous or anxious. If you’re watching a stand up comic and no one is laughing at their jokes, you’ll often see them cough or clear their throat into the mic. It has a second use where people use it to show irritation. More often than not, though, they’re using it to show that they are uncomfortable in some capacity.
16. Jutting out your chest means something
This is one that human beings borrow from other animals on the Earth. Jutting out one’s chest is a sign of dominance and attraction. Men may jut out their chests when they’re trying to be intimidating or look strong. This is often used as body language when they meet a woman they like. Women, you’re guilty of this too, as you may jut out your chest to better show off your attributes.
In terms of frequency, they flip flop. Men often jut their chest more as an intimidation signal and less often when showing attraction. Women use it more frequently to show attraction and less frequently to show intimidation. Both genders do use it for both.
17. Watch how you walk
Body language doesn’t just take place when you’re sitting or standing still. Watching how people walk is often one of the most obvious, albeit lesser known, body language indicators. People who walk briskly and with a purpose look more confident. Someone who is running is obviously in a hurry to get somewhere (or get away from somewhere). Bad posture while walking can show depression, while over-dramatic use of your limbs can show that you’re furious.
18. Closing your eyes
Thanks to today’s sitcoms, closing your eyes have become a very popular body language indicator. People usually use it to show frustration, irritation, and impatience, much like they’re regrouping in their minds to try to deal with a problem again. Watch out, though! Due to its overuse in comedy scenarios, people may be trying to use it as a tool of comedy. Usually you can tell the difference.
19. Rubbing your eyes can send mixed messages
If you’re speaking with someone and they remove their glasses, pinch the bridge of their nose, and rub their eyes, they are probably not happy with something you just said. In general use, this body language is used to convey feelings of being tired. This is usually done from a young age, as kids rub their eyes when they’re tired all the time. In adulthood, people who are not happy with something will often use that body language to show it.
So who remembers high school? In high school, most people were either staring or being stared at, so pretty much everyone is familiar with the stare. Believe it or not, there are two reasons why people stare. Attraction is the main one, as a man or woman may frequently gaze at someone they’re attracted to. However, a lesser known second reason people stare is for dominance. If you’re staring down someone and they’re staring back, the first to break the stare is considered to be the less dominant one.
Body language wrap up
Doing just 20 of these was difficult. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of body language indicators out there. The head, eyes, posture, torso, arms, legs, hands, and feet, as well as walking, talking with your hands, and pretty much every motion your body makes has the potential to convey an emotion. The biggest problem is that most people don’t know that body language can be so sensitive.
What’s even more amazing about body language is its use. You can use body language to see if someone you’re attracted to is attracted to you too. In many cases, especially at job interviews, potential employers can analyze your body language to see if you’re confident in yourself. At the risk of sounding cliché, everyone everywhere uses body language to show their true feelings. Once you learn what to look for, actions can literally speak louder than words.
Of course, we're talking about listening with your eyes. It's equally important to listen with your ears too, or you can still miss what's really going on. Check out: Active Listening – How to Truly ListenFeatured photo credit: A beautiful Chinese girl hearing the voice via Shutterstock