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What Does Your Body Language Say About You? How To Read Signs and Recognize Gestures

Art by LaetitziaAs we all know, communication is essential in society. Advancements in technology have transformed the way that we correspond with others in the modern world.  Because of the constant buzz in our technological world, it's easy to forget how important communicating face-to-face is. When conversing old-school style, it's not only speech we verbalize that matters, but what our nonverbal gestures articulate as well.

Body language is truly a language of its own. We all have quirks and habits that are uniquely our own. What does your body language say about you? And what can you learn about others by becoming aware of what some of the signs mean?
I thought it would be fun to list some of the well-known signs that body language experts study and recognize. It is said that when talking to a person the information that we receive can be broken down as:

  • 10% from what the person actually says
  • 40% from the tone and speed of voice
  • 50% is from their body language.

  • Lowering one's head can signal a lack of confidence. If someone lowers their head when complimented, they may be shy or timid
  •  Touching or tugging at one's ear can indicate indecisiveness
  • Sincere smiles encompass the whole face (noticeable in the eyes)
  • A false smile usually only engages the lips
  • Tilting one's head can symbolize interest in something or someone
  • Overly tilted heads can be a sign of sympathy
  • Closing of eyes or pinching at the bridge of one's nose is often done when making a negative evaluation
  • When a listener nods, this is usually a positive message and relays that they are interested and paying attention
  • However, excessive nodding can imply that the listener has lost interest but doesn't want to be rude
  • Touching/rubbing one's nose may indicate doubtfulness or rejection of an idea
  • Sticking out one's chin toward another may show defiance
  • Resting a hand on one's cheek is often done if they are thinking or pondering; and stroking the chin can mean the person is trying to make a decision

  • Pushing back one's shoulders can demonstrate power and courage
  • Open arms means one is comfortable with being approached and willing to talk/communicate
  • Folded arms show that there is a sort of barricade between them and other people (or their surroundings) and indicate dissatisfaction
  • Resting one's arms behind their neck shows that they are open to what is being discussed and interested in listening more
  • Pointing one's finger can be construed as aggression or assertiveness
  • Touching the front of the neck can show that someone is interested and concerned about what another is saying
  • Hand movements that are upward & outward signify positive and open messages
  • Palms that are faced outwards towards another indicate one's wish to stop and not approach
  • If one's fingers are interlaced or if the finger tips are pressed together, it usually shows that a person is thinking and evaluating
  • If offering ideas to other people, many times the sides of one's palms are close together, with fingers extended

  • Putting your hands on your hips can show eagerness and readiness (also, at times, aggression)
  • Hips pushed forward, while leaning back can show that one feels powerful (also can be a suggestive gesture)
  • A wide stance - where one's feet are positioned far apart - signifies more power and dominance
  • When one sits with legs open and part, they might feel secure in their surroundings
  • Crossed legs can mean several things: relaxed/comfortable, or defensive - depending on how tense the leg muscles are
  • When you cross your legs towards another person, you are showing more interest in them than when they are crossed away in the other direction
  • A confident and powerful position is the "Figure of Four Cross" when one's ankle is atop the other leg's knee and the top leg is pointed sideways
  • Bouncing your foot if your legs are crossed can show that you are bored or losing patience

  • The lowering of the eyes can convey fear, guilt or submission
  • Lowered eyebrows and squinted eyes illustrate an attempt at understanding what is being said or going on
  • A lack of confidence or apprehensiveness can be displayed when you don't look another person in the eyes
  • One tends to blink more often if nervous or trying to evaluate someone else
  • If you look directly into another person's eyes you are displaying self-assurance
  • Wide eyes show more of an interest in a subject or person
  • If you are irritated with a comment made by another during a conversation, a common movement is to take a quick glance sideways
  • Staring at someone can be an aggressive gesture or suggest that the one staring feels dominant
  • Recalling a memory is usually done by looking up and to the right
  • Looking directly upwards can indicate that one is thinking
  • Eye contact is normally broken if someone feels insulted by another


Reader Comments (26)

I love this! This is like a science class right in the comforts of my home. And with a bad ass teacher!

Good stuff Jinxi!

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTiger

that's why "Lie to Me" is so interesting...

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGrigori

This stuff is pretty self-explanatory, and obvious.

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlangly

I am a psychologist, and I can definately verify the credibility of this post...
@ langly: Hindsight is always 20/20.

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiberati

Some are indeed obvious, others I did not really know. Indeed Grigori, Lie to me is interesting, but it doesn't really teach as much as it is a soap opera... shame :(

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVictor

Great article!The information you have given is so much interesting and must be known to everybody.Its fantastic.Keep posting such more articles.I will look around for more such articles.Thanks for sharing.


December 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterginko

"Wide eyes show more of an interest in a subject or person"

It is the pupil that dilates not widening of the eye.

Otherwise a very interesting article.

December 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Actually.. It is the widening of the eye also.. pupil is more along the lines of intense concentration where widening of the eye may show interest.

January 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFloy

Not to be take 100%l iterally but good indicators. Thanks for the article. On a personal note, if I may, try to be the one who when boring people, they think its their fault.

Take good care and get as much joy as you can everyday.

January 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Baldchemist

It's very interesting that half of the information we received is from body language...
Nice post, thank you.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThailand Breeze

As good as this may be, this is definitely taken in the context of a particular culture. Eye contact, specifically, means very different things depending on the cultural heritage of the person. Lack of eye contact, for example, is a sign of respect in some instances, whereas eye contact is aggressive and disrespectful. Keep this in mind.

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterK

Pretty detailed explanation. I agree with K than it really depends on the culture and cultural heritage to understand someone "clearly". Different countries, different group of people or different tribes have very different approach to communicate and to live in their own environment.
We all have to respect that and base our opinion according to it.
Anyway, it was a very interesting article and thanks for sharing the information.

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSelf-Esteeem Dude

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMortgage modification

Life is so rich that we have to appreciate diversity. We can not live in a closed world. If we live in a culture we learn its signs. If you live in different cultures you will be able to tolerate difference to an even greater extent. That is why people are fighting with each other because they do not have the same meaning for certain things.

Well this is definitely true, but I think it should be added that this is only true in Western cultures. Some find it downright rude to look into another's eyes. Something to think about :)

May 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenno

You all realize, I hope, that because this information is available to nearly everyone, people can fake their body language (I fake "sincere" smiles all the time), which renders all this information useless.

Have a nice day! :)

May 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

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June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNaptár készítés

The food you eat can have a profound effect on your mood. For example, foods with selenium, such as Brazil nuts, help against depression. Foods rich in vitamin C, on the other hand, can help alleviate stress. The next time you’re feeling down, try snacking on these foods. You might just feel a little lighter afterwards.

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEredetvizsga Budapest

A good nine out of ten bad things I’ve worried about never happened. A good nine out of ten bad things that did happen never occurred to me to worry about.

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSzőnyegtisztító

This article is pretty basic, but I liked it.
These things help assure me that I am being as friendly/approachable as possible when I'm at work!

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSharayah

Quick question: do these body expressions translate differently in other languages, or are the motions universal in every country?

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJobgoblyn

Very interesting, people offer more than words about how they are feeling and what they imply.
Simple but usual, things like this inspired me to start writing a blog, so thank you.

July 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack Clearman

This of course, is a very appealing area. However none of these signals alone are definitive proof of "leakage" - Betrayed inner thoughts. It's the cumulative signals you pick up on, that allow you to gauge someones state.

Also, you can only make assumptions on what you actually detect, which can mean it's a bit like throwing a dart and drawing a dart board around it.

This is wonderful to know, and is interesting what you can gather from someone by really observing them.

* As a side note, the "eye accessing cue" (Recalling a memory is usually done by looking up and to the right) is incorrect. Typically the remembered thought is up and to the left. As if looking back in time. A constructed thought - possibly a lie - is up and to the right. or can be done straight forward.

Again, knowing one sign alone is not enough. Don't break up with your boy/girl friend because they simply have an itchy nose or sun in the eyes, which has wrongly been misconstrued as blocking a lie.

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Michael Cooper

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July 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterÉpületgépészet

You are, in a vast proportion, what you eat. Trying a new diet would often be the only needed change for a dramatic boost of your health and energy. Don’t necessarily have to be raw food, or even vegetarian, whatever works for you.

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSzőnyegtisztító
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