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Body Language

5 Secret Messages Your Body Language Sends

... and how to use them to your advantage.

Christian Zamfir/Shutterstock
Source: Christian Zamfir/Shutterstock

Body language, or nonverbal communication, is not a formal language like verbal communication. There are, however, subtle nonverbal cues that often occur out of our own awareness that can have a powerful impact on others.

Here are some common but lesser-known body language cues:

  1. The Eyebrow Flash.

    This is the quick raising of the eyebrows that occurs, often without our knowledge, when we see someone we recognize. But at the conscious level, we can use the eyebrow flash as a quick, subtle greeting to others. Human ethologist Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt studied the eyebrow flash and suggests that it is a universal sign of recognition.

  2. Pupil Dilation.

    A series of studies found that pictures of attractive women were rated as even more attractive if their pupils were larger. Knowledge of this effect goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptian practice of women putting poisonous belladonna in their eyes to cause their pupils to dilate.

  3. The Bowl Gesture.

    This is the gesture when our hands move symmetrically and synchronously upward, forming a sort of "bowl." The gesture can occur when a person is conveying understanding, as if saying, “I’ve got it all here before me.” It is typically viewed very positively by observers, and conveys a sense that the gesturer is wise.

  4. The “Fake,” or Non-Duchenne, Smile.

    Extensive research by Paul Ekman and his colleagues has distinguished between real smiles—indicating the sincere emotion of happiness—and feigned happiness. The key is in the eyes. A "true," or Duchenne smile, involves the eyes, specifically the narrowing at the outer corners that creates the “crow’s feet” effect. Often the fake smile is used to appease another person, communicating, “I’m smiling, but I’m not enjoying this,” or “I’m humoring you.”

  5. The Baton Gesture.

    This involves a closed-fist, with the thumb protruding on top, and is a very effective tool used in speaking that conveys emphasis in a positive way. If you view speeches by former President Bill Clinton, you'll see he makes effective and frequent use of this gesture.

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