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Top 20 Body Language Indicators

Top 20 Body Language Indicators

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.

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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.

9. Touching

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.

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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!”

Check out Frank Lampard celebrating.

12. Surprise!

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.

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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.

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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.

20. Staring

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.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

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People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

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What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

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Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

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When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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