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15 Tricks To Read Body Languages

15 Tricks To Read Body Languages

How to interpret people’s body language (kinesics) is a minefield. Let me give you an example. My first landlady in Naples used to beckon to me with her palm facing downwards. I misinterpreted this as being a dismissal. But it was an invitation to approach her because she wanted to give me a coffee. I was expecting a beckoning palm-up signal. I had to rewire my brain to get used to these Neapolitan gestures!

Apart from cultural differences, there are all sorts of traps that can be misleading and it is wise to be cautious. We do need to be able to read people’s body language because it will help us in personal and professional relationships. Not to mention parenting, family relationships, which politician to vote for, and dating.

We know the human species (that’s you and me!) use sophisticated techniques to pretend, deceive, lie, convince, manipulate, charm and mesmerize. Body language is just one of the techniques used. Studies by Albert Mehrabian (UCLA) show that we convey a message by relying on words (7%), tone of voice (38%), while the non-verbal communication makes up all the rest (55%).

So, here are 15 tricks to read these signals. Try to think of these as not individual signals but rather as a group of indicators which will give you a more reliable reading. Don’t worry; you’re in very good company. The study of non-verbal communication has been around for a long time. Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin and Desmond Morris (author of “The Naked Ape” and “Manwatching”) were just a few of the people who were fascinated by body language.

1. Eye contact

If the person makes eye contact, it is usually a sign of willingness to engage, make friends, or even more. But intense staring can be interpreted as curiosity, aggression or hostility. We have a saying in our family which we use at the beach for people who stare for too long:

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“Try taking a photograph – it lasts longer” – Anon

2. Eye movement

When talking to people, notice their eye direction. If they are consistently moving towards the right, it may be a sign that they are inventing, lying or simply being creative. If they are generally looking left, it could be a sign they are remembering facts.

3. Smiling

Again, mixed signals. In order to judge the genuineness of the smile, look at the crows’ feet surrounding the eyes. If these are involved, it is usually a genuine gesture of friendliness, kindness or gratitude. These are now called ‘joy lines’ which is an improvement on ‘crows’ feet.’ If it is a twisted smile, there may be an element of sarcasm. A tight-lipped smile may be a signal of mistrust or dislike.

4. Shaking hands

Most people interpret a limp or unenthusiastic handshake as negative. As the handshake is an important sign of friendship or trust, it is usually a key indicator. But bear in mind that musicians, surgeons and arthritis sufferers will be extra cautious to avoid using a bone crusher. A firm handshake is usually reassuring, although this too can be faked.

5. Crossing arms

Crossing arms is usually a sign of defensiveness, but not always. It are often a sign the person is cold or feeling uncomfortable in a situation where he or she has no idea of what to do with his or her arms.

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Job interviewers are trained to watch for crossed arms when asking about a particular point on the candidate’s curriculum vitae (CV). It could be a warning signal that something is being hidden.

But when you are in front of a person with crossed arms with a frown and clenched fists, then this may not only be defensive but hostile!

6. Open leg cross

If you look at the video of Lance Armstrong talking with Oprah Winfrey in the video below, you will notice body language which reveals a certain aggressiveness in the open leg cross seating position. At times, he displays arrogance, defiance and narrows his eyes in anger which are all very revealing about what he really thinks, rather than his actual words.

7. Who’s lying?

Now, it is extremely difficult to tell whether a person is lying and there have been many attempts at lie detectors when body language lets the investigators down. Often, touching the nose is interpreted as lying or an exaggeration and is based on the Pinocchio story where the wooden puppet grows a longer and longer nose with each lie he tells.

8. Dating and mating

It is fascinating to observe both female and male behavior when sending signals which indicate sexual attraction. Despite the evolutionary process which has taken millions of years, the human species is not yet using subtle body language here.

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The female will be using lip moistening, preening and flicking of hair as well as self touching to indicate that she wants these actions reciprocated.

The male may use hands in pockets with thumbs out which are pointing to the genitals. There may be an exaggerated stance to increase height, chest width and so on.

9. Personal space

Have you ever noticed on a crowded bus how people seek out the maximum personal space and try to preserve this as best they can? This is the defense mechanism from our anthropological past in which we defend our territory or our lair. This is mentioned by Edward T. Hall’s Book, “The Silent Language.” There are certain limits in personal space to be observed too when meeting colleagues and we instinctively respect these, although cultural differences may vary.

10. Posture

Notice how colleagues enter the office. Look at how they hold themselves and how they move. An erect and poised posture is often a sign they are confident, self-assured, assertive and successful. Angry people are usually much more tense. Depressed people or those with low self-esteem are often stooped or hunched.

11. Lips

Holding back information, anxiety and even seeking attention are all revealed in certain lip movements. Pursed lips are usually a sign of hesitation or doubt. Watch this short video to find out more.

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12. Finger pointing

Back to our anthropological roots again. Did you know when a person starts to point a finger at an object or a person, this is subconsciously seen as a weapon with which he or she beats you. Watch out for the finger-pointers.

13. Politicians and body language

Politicians would do well to study body language. When they read their notes, they bow their heads and this is a sign of submission which is negative. Those who approach the stage by waving to the audience are sending signals they are friendly and they have social proof. This simple act is establishing a bond. Those who smile too often may convey signs of a walkover and being too nice.

14. The jaw

According to ancient Chinese medicine, our faces reveal not only our personalities but also what illnesses we might have. They see the jaw as being the roots of a tree. If a person has a strong jaw, that may reveal a very rigid person. If you watch carefully, you may find that the person juts out their jaw to emphasize a point. This means he or she really believes in his or her values and will not easily be deterred. You can read more on this fascinating aspect of body language in Jean Haner’s book called, “The Wisdom of Your Face.”

15. The secret to interpreting body language realistically

The most important thing to remember about body language is to consider the following:

  • Think about the context and the relationship with the person.
  • Never judge a single move as definitive. Look for patterns and consistency.
  • Be aware of cultural differences especially if you are doing business abroad.
  • Look at the environment the person operates in and take that into consideration.

Have you found that observing body language has helped you in your work and in personal relationships? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: A truly disturbing dead clown /TheeErin via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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