Body language has been the subject of much study and also the origin of many myths. Such as the one that says that 93% of communication is non-verbal.
Although it has become popular because many people who have read it have dedicated themselves to repeating it, the real study that initiated that belief has too many deficiencies to be taken literally, as I mentioned in the article about words that sell and convince.
However, the influence of body language on our social skills is not negligible, besides being an excellent mirror of the real emotions of our interlocutors.
Surely you know people who, despite not being especially unpleasant or unpleasant, generate distrust. You would not know what to say concretely, but they give off an aura that makes you not want to confess your real emotions.
This is because there is a contradiction between your verbal communication and your body language, as demonstrated in this study. It is even possible that you yourself are generating this contradiction without knowing it!
Other people, on the other hand, radiate a great charisma without being especially talkative. Your body expression is aligned with your verbal language and convey confidence and warmth.
With this article, I hope you understand the main concepts of body language so that you can read others better and correct the possible mistakes you may be making. Let’s go there!
What is body language?
Body language is a form of communication that uses the gestures, postures, and movements of the body and face to transmit information about the emotions and thoughts of the issuer. It is usually done unconsciously, so it is usually a very clear indicator of the emotional state of people. Along with the vocal intonation, it is part of the non-verbal communication.
The language of the body should not be taken as an absolute truth because there are many environmental factors that can influence it. That’s why you should never reach a conclusion by interpreting a single bodily sign; the key is to observe sets of signs that are consistent with each other and discard possible external causes (temperature, noise, fatigue, etc.).
That said, let’s see everything we are able to communicate with our body and face.
The keys to body language
The face is the magnifying glass of emotions, that is why it is said to be the reflection of the soul. But as in any interpretation of non-verbal language, you must be careful not to evaluate face gestures separately as they are usually part of a global emotional state and can lead to various interpretations. It is important to know the body language.
Is it true that when a child sees something that he does not like, he covers his eyes in an attempt to make that disappear from his reality? Or run to cover your mouth after telling a lie?
Well, although in adults the magnitude is much smaller, to a certain extent we are still tied to this primitive behavior. And that gives many clues because in the face you can still detect many unconscious attempts to block what we say, hear or see.
In general, when someone puts their hands to their faces it is usually the product of some negative thought such as insecurity or distrust. Here you have several concrete examples.
Covering or touching your mouth:
If it is done while speaking it may mean an attempt to hide something. If it is done while listening, it may be a sign that that person believes that something is being hidden from him.
Touching the ear:
It is the unconscious representation of the desire to block the words that are heard. If your interlocutor does it while you are speaking, it may mean that you want to stop talking. It is one the body language show in the face.
Touching the nose:
May indicate that someone is lying. When you lie, catecholamines are released, substances that inflame the internal tissue of the nose and can cause itching. It also happens when someone gets angry or annoyed.
Rubbing an eye:
It is an attempt to block what you see so you do not have to look at the face of the person you are lying to. Beware of people who touch their nose a lot and rub their eyes when talking to you 😉
Scratching the neck:
A sign of uncertainty or doubt with what one is saying.
Carrying a finger or something in your mouth: it means insecurity or the need to calm down, in an unconscious expression of returning to the safety of the mother. It is another body language shown in the face.
Understanding the meaning of the different positions that someone can take with their heads is very effective in understanding their real intentions, such as the desire to like, to cooperate or to be proud.
Pay special attention to the exaggerated postures, because they mean that the person is doing it consciously to influence you.
Lift your head and project your chin forward:
A sign that pretends to expressly communicate aggression and power.
Agree with the head: it is a gesture of contagious submission that can transmit positive sensations. It communicates interest and agreement, but if it is done several times very quickly it can communicate that enough has already been heard.
Tilting the head:
It is a sign of submission to expose the throat. If you do it while you nod when you are listening to someone, you will increase the confidence of your interlocutor towards you. In the case of women, it has also been observed that it is used to show interest in a man.
Support the face on the hands:
The face is usually exposed in order to “present it” to the speaker. Therefore, it shows attraction for the other person.
Leaning the chin on the hand:
If the palm of the hand is closed it is a sign of evaluation. If the palm of the hand is open it can mean boredom or loss of interest.
The communication through the look has much to do with the dilation or contraction of the pupil, which reacts to the internal states that we experience. For this reason, clear eyes are usually more attractive than dark eyes: because they allow showing more clearly the dilation of the pupil, a response associated with positive emotions.
When you talk you usually maintain eye contact between 40 and 60% of the time. This is because your brain is busy trying to access information (NLP postulates that depending on the type of information you are trying to recover you will look to one side, but it has already been shown that this is not true ).
In certain social situations, the lack of eye contact can be interpreted as nervousness or shyness, so simply pausing before responding will gain the necessary time to access the information without having to look away.
Looking directly into:
The eyes when you make a request is also useful to increase your persuasiveness (you can read the full study here ). But in addition there are other functions of the look:
Varying the size of the pupils:
Cannot be controlled, but the presence of dilated pupils usually means that you are seeing something that pleases, while the contracted pupils express hostility. In any case, they are very subtle variations that are often masked by environmental changes in the intensity of light. It has also been discovered that mirror neurons are responsible for the size that our pupils adjust to that of our interlocutor, in an attempt to synchronize body language to generate a greater connection.
Raise the eyebrows:
It is a social greeting that implies the absence of fear and pleasure. Do it in front of people you want to like.
To lower the head and to raise the sight: in the feminine sex, a position is considered that transmits sensuality to attract the men. In fact, many profile pictures of women on online dating sites are taken precisely from above (sometimes with the additional intention of showing cleavage). In men it is the other way around: lower shots to look taller and dominant.
Keep the look:
In the case of women, establish eye contact for 2 or 3 seconds and then look down can be an indicator of sexual interest.
To blink repetitively:
It is another way of trying to block the vision of the person in front of you, either through boredom or distrust.
Look sideways: another way to express boredom, because unconsciously you are looking for escape routes.
The smile is an inexhaustible source of meanings and emotions. You have an entire article about all the benefits of smiling as well as what is possible to communicate with her. In addition, thanks to mirror neurons, smiling is a tremendously contagious act capable of provoking very positive emotions in others.
But there is not only one, but actually, it is possible to distinguish several types of smile according to what they communicate:
In a false smile, the left side of the mouth tends to rise more because the part of the brain more specialized in emotions is in the right hemisphere, which controls mainly the left part of the body.
The natural smile (or the smile of Duchenne ) is what produces wrinkles next to the eyes, raises the cheeks and slightly lowers the eyebrows.
A tight smile, with tight lips, denotes that person does not want to share their emotions with you and is a clear sign of rejection.
The biological function of smiling is to create a social bond by promoting trust and eliminating any sense of threat. It has been proven that it also transmits submission, that is why people who want to pretend power and women who want to preserve their authority in typically masculine professional environments avoid smiling ( Welpe I. et al. ).
The arms, next to the hands, serve as support to the majority of movements that you realize. They also allow you to defend the most vulnerable areas of your body in situations of perceived insecurity.
The proprioception has taught us that the communication channel between the body and the mind is reciprocal. When you experience an emotion your body will reflect it unconsciously, but the opposite also happens: if you voluntarily adopt a position, your mind will begin to experience the associated emotion. This becomes especially evident when you cross your arms.
There are many people who believe that they sit cross-legged because they feel more comfortable. But the gestures are perceived as natural when they are aligned with the attitude of the person, and science has already shown that crossing them predisposes to a critical attitude, however comfortable the gesture may seem. Notice that when you’re having fun with friends you do not cross your arms!
This is what you communicate when you take a certain position with your arms:
Crossing the arms:
Shows disagreement and rejection. Avoid doing it unless you want to send this message to others. In a sensual context, women usually do it when they are in the presence of men who seem too aggressive or unattractive.
Cross one arm in front to hold the other arm:
Denotes lack of self-confidence to need to feel embraced.
Arms crossed with thumbs up defensive posture but at the same time wants to convey pride.
Unite the hands in front of the genitals:
In men, it provides a sense of security in situations in which vulnerability is experienced.
Join hands behind the back:
Demonstrates confidence and absence of fear by exposing weak points such as the stomach, throat, and groin. It may be useful to adopt this position in situations of insecurity to try to gain confidence.
In general, crossing one’s arms implies that one is experiencing insecurity. Hence the need to protect the body. There are many variations such as adjusting the clock, placing the bag in front of the body, or hold a bag with both hands in front of the chest, but all come to mean the same.
The hands, together with the arms, are one of the most mobile parts of the body and therefore offer a huge record of nonverbal communication possibilities. The most common is to use them to point out certain parts of the body in order to show authority or sexuality.
They also serve to support verbal messages and give them greater strength:
There is a part of the brain called Broca’s area that is involved in the speech process. But it has been proven that it is also activated when you move your hands. This implies that gesturing is directly linked to speech. So doing it while you express yourself can even improve your verbal ability. Very useful in people who block themselves when speaking in public!
It has also been shown in a study that reinforcing with gestures a phrase gets the words to use before you get to mind, and also that your message is much more persuasive and understandable. In this research, it was found that the most persuasive gestures are those that are aligned with the verbal meaning, such as pointing back when referring to the past.
Below you will find everything that is known about the meaning of hand gestures:
Show the open palm: express sincerity and honesty, while closing the fist shows otherwise.
Hands in the pockets:
Denotes patriotism and impersonation in the conversation or situation.
Emphasize something with the hand: when someone offers two points of view with their hands. Normally the one they like most reinforces it with the dominant hand and the palm facing up.
Interlock the fingers of both hands:
Transmits a repressed, anxious or negative attitude. If your interlocutor adopts this position, break it by giving it something so that it has to hold it.
Fingers joined fingers:
Expresses confidence and security, but can be confused with arrogance. Very useful to detect if the rivals have good hands when playing poker.
Holding the other hand by the back:
It is an attempt to control oneself, therefore expressing frustration or an attempt to disguise the nervousness.
Showing the thumbs out of the pockets:
In men, it represents an attempt to demonstrate confidence and authority towards women who attract them. Although in a conflictive situation it can also be a way of transmitting aggressiveness.
Hide only the thumbs inside the pockets:
It is a position that frames and highlights the genital area. Therefore it is a sexually open attitude that men perform to show the absence of fear or sexual interest for a woman.
Bringing your hands to your hips:
Indicates a subtly aggressive attitude, since you want to increase physical presence. Many men use it both to establish superiority in their social circle and to appear more masculine in the presence of those women who attract them. The more the chest is exposed, the more aggressive it will sub-communicate.
The legs play a very interesting role in body language. Being further away from the central nervous system. Our rational mind has less control over them and allows them to express inner feelings more freely.
The farther a part of the body is from the brain. The less control you have over what it is doing.
In general, the human being is programmed to approach what he wants. And get away from what he does not want. The way someone places their legs can give you some of the most valuable clues about nonverbal communication. As it will point you to where you really want to go.
The leading foot:
The most advanced foot almost always points to where you would like to go. In a social situation with several people also points towards the person you consider most interesting or attractive. If you want someone emotionally to feel that you are giving them your full attention. Make sure your feet are facing him. In the same way, when your interlocutor points with his feet towards the door instead of towards you it is a pretty obvious signal that he wants to end the conversation.
It is a defensive and closed attitude that protects the genitals. The context of courtship can communicate sexual rejection by women towards men. In a social situation, having a person sitting with crossed arms. And legs probably means that they have withdrawn from the conversation. In fact, researchers Allan and Barbara Pease conducted an experiment that showed that people remembered fewer details of a conference. If they listened to it with their arms and legs crossed.
Sitting with one raised leg resting on the other:
Typically masculine reveals a competitive attitude or prepared to argue; it would be the sitting version of the crotch exhibition.
Legs very separate another gesture basically male that wants to transmit dominance and territoriality.
Sitting with twisted legs:
In women, it usually means a certain shyness and introversion. It is one the body language use woman.
Sitting with one leg on top of the other in parallel:
Several authors recognize that in women it can be interpreted as courtship. When trying to draw attention to the legs since in this posture they are more pressured and offer a more youthful and sensual aspect.
Learning to detect inconsistencies between verbal and body language can be very useful. What the body indicates is usually very reliable, since humans are unable to control all the signals it is emitting.
Remember that you must interpret all these bodily signals within a global context and with certain limitations. Do not draw conclusions from a single gesture. Someone could cross his arms because he is simply cold. Or because it is a movement that has mechanized and removed part of its real meaning.
I advise you to practice the positive and open gestures that I have described here to improve your confidence in yourself. And if you want to expand the information on body language. I recommend you take a look at the book from which most of the research that has led to these conclusions, The Body Language.