Something I’ve been very interested in is the art of interpreting body language. My interest was first sparked when people told me that I was extremely expressive with my body and face, and that they could tell what mood I was in even if I wasn’t speaking. Due to the fact that I struggle with speech due to an accident when I was younger, my bodily and facial expressiveness is more exaggerated than the average person, because I have to compensate for not being able to express myself vocally. I got to thinking, if we could read the subconscious clues of the people around us, there is no end to what we could learn about them. We could spot winners from losers. Reliable, honest people would be obvious to discern from theiving, dishonest people. So, I began looking at different books and reading about it, and testing what I read in real life. What I learned about people shocked an surprised me.
Picture this scenario in your head: If you are a male, imagine you are out with a woman. Her arms are crossed on the table in front of her, her legs are crossed and are not positioned in front of her but to the side and away from the table, and she’s smiling without showing any teeth. Is she interested in you? If you are a woman, imagine the same scenario, except you are with a man. He is smiling constantly, has his legs splayed wide open and is resting in his chair in a slouched position, has both hands on the table with his palms down, and he keeps scratching his nose. What does this say to you?
I’ll go through a few body language markers that are easy enough to spot and explain how it much sense it makes if we actually stopped a moment to think about it. First, pay attention to people’s hands. People (more dominantly in America, Italy, and Spain) tend to gesture with their hands when speaking. The reason is because studies have shown people who listened to a speaker who used their hands retained almost 65% more information when compared to people who listened to a lecturer who had his hands behind his back. We identify more with a peson who’s hands we can see, because it says to us that the person has nothing to hide. Open hands convey certain messages. For instance, when a person is accused of something, they will often hold their hands up in the air with the palms exposed. This gesture is universal as nonthreatening. However, if the palm is down, it signifies that this person feels like an superior figure and is asserting his authority. How many people have seen a waiter rub his hands rapidly when he greets you at your table? This is a subconscious reminder to you that you should leave him a big tip. If he comes to your table and is rubbing his hands very slowly, asking if you liked your meal, it probably means someone has spit into your food. The fast hand rub indicates expectation, a slow hand rub signifies deciet or bad behavior.
People tend to clench their hands in frustration or anger. It’s obvious if a person has their fists clenched at their sides that they are not happy, but what if they are sitting? Same rule applies. If you are seated with a person who is either rubbing his knuckes or has both clenched together tight, this person is not in a good mood. The distance between the face and hands also seems to be directionally porportionate to the level of aggitation. It the hands are close to the face, it signifies extreme aggitation. If low, like near the hips, the person is only mildly annoyed.
Next, we’ll examine the gestures we make with our arms and legs. Everyone is aware that when a person has their arms crossed that they are pretty much cutting themselves off from the people around them, but few realize that the higher and tighter the arms are crossed on the chest, the more hostile the person is feeling. Men who cross their arms high generally do it when they are very angry, if they cross them low, it usually means they are disinterested or disbelieving. Women, however, tend to only cross their arms underneath the breast or over the nipples, and prefer to place their hands on their hips when angry or annoyed. Each of these gestures has a specific meaning. When they cross them under the breast, it means that they are cut off mentally and don’t really want to be in the conversation anymore. When they are crossed atop the nipple, it signifies that the woman is extremely uncomfortable and responds by protecting the most sensitive part of her body (The male equivalent is clasping their hands over their crotch or crossing their legs while standing). Another method of conveying an emotion of discomfort is known as “self-hugging”, in which the person wraps their arms around their torso and often will squeeze themselves. This is in direct relationship to how mothers comfort their children when they are scared, by picking them up and wrapping their arms around the child and squeezing.
Now, leg gestures are often harder to interpret simply because it is often easier to look a person in the face or at their hands than to look at their feet, and legs are often hidden when sitting. Have you ever noticed a person who jiggles their leg? How many times have you found that odd? And if you are the type to leg-jiggle, have you ever wondered why you do it? Generally, a person will jiggle their legs during times of pain or distress, and it’s rarely a physical discomfort. Studies have shown that people (predominantly women) jiggle their legs as a way of releasing stress. It has been shown that a person will jiggle their legs more during periods emotional pain rather than of physical pain, which it is less frequent.
Ladies, you’ve probably noticed that men always tend to sit with their legs wide open. Ever wonder why? Well, your first guess would be the right one. Sitting with their legs open is a man’s subconscious need to assert his masculinity. Men release the most pheromones from the two places on their bodies where they sweat the most, which is the armpits and crotch. This is the reason they will sit with their hands behind their head, too. This is a man’s way of marking his territory. You’ll often not see two men sitting this way in each other’s presence; they generally only do it around women. In a man’s company, they generally do the “crotch hand grasp”. The crotch hand grasp means insecurity in mixed company, but in the company of other males it is much like a warning. In direct, but opposite, relation to that, women do something known as “leg twining”, in which they will sit on one leg which will be pointed backward underneath them. The reason women can do this is largely due to the width of their pelvus, which is much wider than a males due to childbearing. Men cannot do this with their legs, so it’s a very obvious display of femininity, even if it doesn’t seem so.
Men tend to express discomfort or insecurity more with the lower half of their body in comparison to women, who express it more with the upper half. A very distinct male insecurity gesture in crossing their legs while standing. This is a motion to protect the most sensitive part of their body. If you see a man standing on a wall in this position, it’s very likely he doesn’t want to be there. Now, keeping that in mind, pay attention to how a man will stand. If he stands with his legs open, his foot will point in the direction that has his interested. If a man is attracted to a woman with whom he is speaking or is at least standing in close proximity, his foot will point toward her. If he is uncomfortable and wishes to leave, his foot will point toward the door while simultaneously, and subconsciously, inching toward the exit.
Now, we move on to the face. I know you’re thinking that this part should be easy, but don’t get ahead of yourself. First, we’ll start with gestures that indicate dishonesty, the first of which is compulsive face touching. If you ever watched the footage of Ex-President Bill Clinton denying his involvement with presidential secretary Monica Lewinsky, take a very close look at his behavior. You’ll notice he tends to touch his nose and mouth a lot. He also blinks rapidly and swallows too often. The reason behind facial touching stems from childhood. When a child tells a lie, the will hold their hands over their mouth, literally trying to stop the lie from escaping their lips. When we grow older, this is still the case. We are physically, and subconsciously, attempting to stem our own dishonesty by “playing” with our face. It is also shown that other indicators of deciet are pupil-dilation (which is why it’s often hard to look others in the eyes while lying), sweat, an enlargening of the tongue and tickling of the throat (which causes the liar to swallow, cough, and clear their throat frequently), and excessive hand motion. “Speak no evil.”
Let’s look at conversational cues. Have you ever shown someone pictures of your child and their response is to say “She’s beautiful,” and at the same time they rub the corner of their eye? This is an indication that they really dislike what they are looking at. This is another gesture that originates from childhood. When a child observes something that scares him or that he doesn’t like, he will cover his eyes. “See no evil.” What about if you are in a conversation with another person and they keep playing with their earring or tugging on their earlobe. This is basically saying to you, “I’m not listening.” This is an indicator that they either completely disagree with what you are saying, or they are completey disinterested. Again, a childhood behavior carried over into adulthood. If a child hears something they do not like they will attempt to block out the sound by covering their ears. “Hear no evil.” In contrast, if a person is extremely interested in the conversation, they will lean their elbows on the table and rest their head on the flats of their hands toward you. This is called the “face platter.” This can also indicate attraction, especially when combined with a sidelong glance and raised eyebrows.
Chin stroking is a common conversational cue, and most people would attribute it to thinking or evaluation. You’d be right, but pay attention. If the person is leaning toward you, they are favorable to what you are saying, but if they lean backwards, you are losing them fast.
Also remember to look for language clusters. Say you are talking to a man who is trying to sell you his car. He keeps motioning toward the car with is hand palm down, steps into your personal space frequently, and keeps rubbing his mouth. This man is a liar, and a pushy one. Or, say you’ve gone in for a job interview. While speaking to the interviewer, she has her legs and arms crossed, though she’s facing you her body is pointed away, she is leaning back in her chair and stroking her chin. You probably aren’t going to get that job.
Now, examining the information, how would you answer the scenario questions above?
For homework, go to work or school, or some crowded place where it is necessary to speak with people, get into a conversation with someone, and observe their behavior. You’d be surprised what you can learn about people by paying attention.