Body language is a silent orchestra, as people constantly give clues to what they’re thinking and feeling. Non-verbal messages including body movements, facial expressions, vocal tone and volume, and other signals are collectively known as body language.
Microexpressions (brief displays of emotion on the face), hand gestures, and posture all register in the human brain almost immediately—even when a person is not consciously aware they have perceived anything. For this reason, body language can strongly color how an individual is perceived, and how he or she, in turn, interprets others’ motivation, mood, and openness. It's natural to mirror; beginning as soon as infancy, a newborn moves its body to the rhythm of the voice he hears.
Body language is a vital form of communication, but most of it happens below the level of conscious awareness. When you wait for a blind date to arrive, for instance, you may nervously tap your foot without even realizing that you’re doing it. Similarly, when you show up to meet your date, you may not consciously perceive that your date appears closed-off, but your unconscious mind may pick up on the crossed arms or averted gaze. Luckily, with knowledge and a little practice, it is possible to exert some measure of control over your own body language and to become more skilled at reading others.
The face is the first place to look, arching eyebrows might indicate an invitation of sorts, and smiling is another indication that the person welcomes you. And is the person standing or sitting close to you? If so, then there is interest. Plus, open arms are just that: Open.
If a person repeatedly touches your arm, places a light hand on your shoulder, or knocks elbows with you, the person is attracted to you and is demonstrating this with increased touch. People interested in each other smile more, and their mouths may even be slightly open. Engaging in eye contact is another indication. A person who leans towards you or mirrors your body language is also demonstrating interest.
A common form of body language is mirroring another person’s gestures and mannerisms; mirroring also includes mimicking another person’s speech patterns and even attitudes. This is a method of building rapport with others. We learn through imitating others, and it is mostly an unconscious action.
When you want to persuade or influence a person, mirroring can be an effective way to build rapport. Salespeople who use this with prospective clients pay close attention to them and they listen, observe, mimic with positive results.
People who are attracted to one another indeed copy each other’s movements and mannerisms. In fact, many animals mirror as well. That is why cats circle each other, and why chimpanzees stare at each other before intercourse.
If you tilt your head while looking at a baby, the baby relaxes. Why is that? The same applies to couples who are in love, tilting the head exposes the neck, and perhaps shows vulnerability. The person with a tilted head is perceived as more interested, attentive, caring, and having less of an agenda.
Eye blocking, or covering your eyes, expresses emotions such as frustration and worry. And sometimes the eyelids shut to show determination, while sometimes the eyelids flutter to show that you have screwed up and feel embarrassed.
When you’re stressed out, touching or stroking the neck signals a pacifying behavior. We all rub our necks at the back, the sides, and also under the chin. The fleshy area under the chin has nerve endings and stroking it lowers heart rate and calms us.
The hands reveal a lot about a person. When you feel confident, the space between your fingers grows, but that space lessens when you feel insecure. And while rubbing the hands conveys stress, steepling the fingers means that a person feels confident.
In many cultures, a light touch on the arm conveys harmony and trust. In one study, people in the UK, the US, France, and Puerto Rico were observed while sitting at a coffee shop. The British and the Americans hardly touched, and the French and the Puerto Ricans freely touched in togetherness.
To make others feel comfortable while standing, crossing your legs will show you are interested in what the other person has to say. It also means, “Take your time.” The standing crossed legs will help you say that you are comfortable with the other person.
Fidgety hands mean anxiousness or even boredom and keeping your arms akimbo may telegraph arrogance. Crossing the arms and legs is, no doubt, a closed position. Whereas sitting with open arms invites the other person in. If you are sitting and want to appear neutral, it’s best to hold your hands on your lap, just like the Queen of England.
Shake hands firmly while making eye contact, but do not squeeze the person’s hand—your goal is to make someone feel comfortable, not to assert dominance. It is important to be sensitive to cultural norms: if you receive a weak handshake, it may be that the person comes from a background in which a gentle handshake is the norm.
Most people think that crossed arms are a sign of aggression or refusal to cooperate. In fact, crossed arms can signal many other things, including anxiety, self-restraint, and even interest, if the person crossing their arms is mirroring someone who is doing the same.
For the most part, yes. All primates demonstrate behaviors including the freeze response and various self-soothing behaviors, such as touching the neck or twirling the hair in humans. We know that many non-verbal behaviors are innate because even blind children engage in them. Still, some behaviors are mysteries.
In males, wide shoulders and narrow hips are associated with strength and vitality; this is reflected in everything from the form of Greek statues to padded shoulders in men's suit jackets. How one hold's one's shoulders conveys dominance and relative status within a hierarchy.
Freezing in place, rocking back and forth, and contorting into a fetal position are all known as "reserved behaviors," as they are used only when a person experiences extreme stress. Facial expressions alone can signal this state, such as pursing or sucking in the lips, often seen when a person is upset or feels contrite.
As social animals, we evolved to display emotions, thoughts, and intentions, all of which are processed by the brain's limbic system. Because these reactions precede and at times even override conscious deliberation, body language is uniquely capable of revealing how a person feels--but only if another person is schooled in what these gestures indicate.