Body language is a term used to describe a type of non-verbal communication that occurs as a result of what you unconsciously do with your body.
In many cases, body language can be a much more powerful forms of communication than the spoken word. When someone is lying to you for example, you can often tell that they are lying simply by observing their behavior.
Likewise, people can look at your body language to make inferences about you. Do you appear as a confidence person? Someone who is nervous? Friendly? Unfriendly?
Using Body Language More Effectively
Learning how to use body language more effectively can make you a more confident and credible speaker. So if you want to use body language to your advantage, have a look at the following tips:
1) Head & Face
Most people will focus on your face as their first cue to gauge your attitude, feelings and emotional state.
By positioning your body and head squarely towards the other person, you signal that you are interested in them and are giving your full attention. If however, you look for long periods to the side or turn your body away from a person, this signals disinterest and that your attention lies elsewhere.
Most people will find this frustrating and/or insulting. As a result, they will gain a negative impression of you. If you notice this type of body language in someone who you are talking to, take it as a sign to change the topic of conversation to something which they will find interesting and stimulating.
Interest can be shown by nodding the head slightly to agree with certain points, or tilting/lowering the head/eyebrows to show that you understand or are considering something. The key here is to stay relaxed, and express your emotions through an animated face.
Out of all the different facial expressions, the most important and powerful is the smile. A smile says “I like you” and conveys happiness, warmth and confidence. All key factors needed for establishing a good first impression.
The importance of facial expressions can be seen on TV and in movies. Although facial expressions in the media are often exaggerated, they still serve their purpose well by conveying a message to the viewer which words can not.
By animating your face with expressions you will be using the visual method of communication. This is said to account for 55% of the message that one conveys to another.
2) Eye Contact
Eye contact is especially important for communicating effectively in western countries, such as England and America. In these countries, prolonged and direct eye contact is favored.
Eye contact communicates interest in another person, and signals that we are giving them our full attention. When we like someone, this occurs naturally as we will tend to look at them a lot. If someone really likes you, their pupils will even become dilated.
Prolonged eye contact does not mean staring relentlessly at another person. This indicates hostility and/or some kind of obsession. Aim for around 60-70% direct eye contact.
The rest of the time, it’s perfectly acceptable to scan their face or glance momentarily to the sides. But avoid glancing down, as this signals submissiveness.
Eye contact and feelings
Eye contact is an excellent indicator of how another person feels about you. For example, if a person feels nervous around you, or does not like you, they will only look at you for about 40% of the time.
People who avoid direct eye contact are generally perceived as being dishonest, having something to hide and/or lacking in confidence/self-esteem.
So when communicating your message, try to ensure that you maintain a comfortable level of eye contact with your listener. As failure to do so will most likely result in your message being misunderstood.
Problems maintaining eye contact?
Some people avoid making direct eye contact because they feel uncomfortable looking someone in the eyes.
A good way to remedy this, is to look at the skin between the eyebrows just above the bridge of the nose. This will appear as though you are looking them directly in the eyes.
Because your eyes are such an important means of communication, you should try to ensure that your eyes look fresh, clean and healthy.
Although this may sound like a strange thing to say, the condition of your eyes can be affected by many different factors which can then affect how they appear to other people.
The white of your eyes for example, should appear a clear white color. If they have a yellowish or dull tint to them, this may indicate liver or circulatory problems as a result of using a medication or eating a poor diet.
If the whites of your eyes are not a brilliant white color, this can make you look tired, old and unhealthy. For your eyes to “sparkle” they must be healthy, so pay attention to how they look.
3) Body & Posture
An open posture means an inviting posture. It tells the other person that you are not hiding anything, you are not being defensive and that you are a warm, confident and friendly individual. To display such body language, unfold your arms, uncross your legs (if male) or move closer to the other person.
A closed posture occurs when you cross your arms or legs. People will often do this when talking about a sensitive issue that makes them feel vulnerable, or when they are trying to hide something.
The way you stand and walk is important. An upright stance for example, can convey pride, motivation, confidence, strength and power.
Conversely, slumped shoulders with a head looking towards the floor can convey a sense of uncertainty, uneasiness, weakness and a lack of confidence/self-esteem.
Try to keep your head raised squarely, as though it were being held upwards with a fine thread. But don’t raise your chin up at too much of an angle, because if your nose is pointing upwards then you may be perceived as a “snob”. Someone who looks down on others.
Finally, do not slouch, avoid excessive fidgeting and try not to appear too rigid or stiff. These can all communicate defensiveness, impatience, boredom and nervousness.
When walking, walk at a reasonably brisk pace. But try not to appear as though you are in a mad rush to get somewhere, as that can signal a loss of control.
People who walk rapidly and swing their arms slightly at their sides, are generally perceived to be more goal motivated and confident individuals. People who slowly stumble around however, are usually perceived as being lost, helpless, in pain or daydreaming.
Moving closer to another person sends a powerful message that you are interested in them. Either, casually, romantically or both. It also conveys the message that you are comfortable around that person, are comfortable with yourself, and are giving them your full attention.
If someone leans or moves closer to you for example, that’s a good sign that they enjoy your company and agree with your message. In other words, you have created rapport and that person likes you. Once someone likes you, it then becomes much easier to communicate with them effectively.
Another way that closeness can be achieved is by removing physical objects between you and the other person, such as a desk or a chair. Be careful when using this technique though, as if you move close too soon, the other person could turn defensive if they feel that you are violating their personal space.
Remember, people who like and feel comfortable around each other will naturally tend to be physically close to one another. But people who strongly dislike each other, will try to stay as far away as possible.
Use this as a rough indicator of how comfortable a person feels around you. If they seem to move towards you in any way, such as stepping or leaning closer, then they probably feel comfortable being around you.
But if they move back in any way, such as by turning their head or by leaning their body back, then they probably feel uncomfortable around you.
Touch is a good way of becoming more intimate with someone, either on a causal or romantic basis. Touch makes you feel closer and establishes a physical link with a person.
In western cultures, the most acceptable form of touch is a handshake or brief hug. Both of these gestures convey friendliness and warmth, and are crucial in establishing rapport.
When shaking a hand, keep the handshake brief, yet firm. Hold it for a few seconds, apply moderate pressure and then release. A limp handshake suggests disinterest, and/or a lack of dominance/power. An overly firm handshake conveys hostility.
Touch & status
Touch can act as a symbol of status. Generally speaking, higher status people are more likely to touch and lower status people are more likely to be touched.
In England for example, you are not supposed to touch the Queen. If she wants to touch you, she will extend her hand towards you. Only then are you permitted to touch the Queen by lightly holding her hand until she releases. This is considered proper etiquette for the entire Royal Family.
If a member of the public touches a member of the Royal Family inappropriately, it’s not uncommon for the incident to make the national news. This occurred for example, when “Spice Girl” Geri Halliwell squeezed Prince Charles’s bottom.
Use touch to establish rapport with another person, but be very careful who you touch and what you touch.
Touching someone on the back, arm or shoulder for example, is generally considered to be acceptable behavior. Touching someone’s private parts or bottom however, is not acceptable and may be considered sexual harassment.
As a general rule, you can touch a member of the same-sex more than you can a member of the opposite sex. Also, the better you know someone, the more you can touch them.
We live in an increasingly image conscious world. As a result, the way you look and the way the things you own look, can convey a powerful message about who you are and what you stand for.
For example, the clothes we wear play a big role in determining how we are perceived by others. This is true for all ages, although perhaps is most noticeable in our teenage years of life.
Teenagers are very “clothe conscious”, and if they can, prefer to wear expensive designer label outfits. Why? Because their peer group demands it!
These designer label clothes convey a certain message; “you are cool, and you have style”. As a result, teenagers often judge others by what they wear, even going so far as to make fun of or ridicule a person for wearing the “wrong” clothes.
As adults, we are also judged by the clothes we wear due to the message that they convey. For example, wearing the right clothes can allow you to communicate authority, competence and professionalism. Such people could include judges, doctors, business professionals, police and military personnel.
The moment we see these people, or more specifically, see what they are wearing, our perception of them is immediately altered. We now see them as members of authority who we should respect and obey, and so change our behavior accordingly.
Using Body Language To Make Good First Impressions
Research has shown that it takes about two minutes for someone to decide whether they like you or not, and about four minutes for this impression to lock in.
Should you make a bad first impression, it can take 6-8 future meetings to overcome that impression. This is why making a good first impression is so important, as you don’t often get 6-8 more attempts to change a person’s mind.
In order to form an impression of another person, we perform the following actions:
- Scan their face and eyes
- Look at their body
- Examine what they are wearing
- Listen to their tone of voice
- Shake hands if appropriate
- Listen to their words
You should remember this little sequence of events, because each sequence provides a key opportunity for making a good first impression. So let’s break these sequences down, and look at the different forms of communication associated with each.
To start with, the other person will first look at your face and eyes. So if you have messy hair, a dirty face, shifty eyes and generally look unhappy/unfriendly, people are likely to gain a negative first impression of you.
To make a good first impression, always ensure that you look clean and presentable. Look the person in their eyes and smile. This will convey the message that you are a warm, open and confident person.
The next thing that a person will do, is to look at your body and the clothes you are wearing. When people look at your body, they look for things such as your overall weight, build and clothing style.
Generally speaking, fat or obese people are perceived as being lazy, unattractive, unhealthy and undisciplined, whereas muscular/well toned people are perceived as powerful, dominant and commanding respect. For women, being thin is ok. But for men, a thin or slender build can convey weakness.
Another part of your body that is noted during a first impression, are your hands. Are your hands fidgeting nervously/uncomfortably? Or do they rest casually/confidently by your sides?
Your posture is another important factor. Do you slouch? Or do you stand up straight? Slouching can convey weakness, whilst an erect posture conveys confidence and power.
Finally, the clothes you wear will also communicate a message about you. Designer clothes for example, can communicate sophistication, style and wealth. Shabby clothes however, can send a message that you don’t care for your appearance, have no fashion sense and are probably not a very wealthy person.
After soaking in your visual components, the next important factor in making a good first impression is your voice and the words you use. This will usually occur by politely introducing yourself. Normally, the person who introduces themselves first will be seen as the more dominant and confident person.
Whilst this introduction may vary depending on your culture, introductions are usually carried out with a brief yet moderately firm handshake. At the same time, you should also look the other person in the eye, smile and say “hello” with an additional remark.
If you just say “hello” without making a further short statement, this may kill the flow of your conversation. To fuel the conversation you can use compliments. Everyone likes to feel important, and by complimenting them you will fulfill this need.
You can then further extend the conversation by finding out what the person likes to talk about, or in other words, their interests. If you talk about things they are not interested in, your conversation will not last very long.
This warm, open and non hostile introduction will convey the message that you are a likable, nice and confident person.
First impressions can be misleading!
Whilst first impressions are extremely important, they should not be relied solely upon to form an absolute judgment of a person, as often, first impressions can be misleading.
Adolf Hitler for example, was initially not taken seriously by British Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, due to his “silly” mustache, slick hair and thin/weak appearance. Similarly, Bill Gates was equally underestimated by his early competitors due to his “geeky” looks.
You should therefore be very careful in forming a concrete judgment of someone based solely on their looks. As sometimes, people can be very different from the way they appear. So remember, never judge a book by its cover!
Finally, a word of warning. Don’t become discouraged if someone doesn’t react favorably to your efforts at making a good first impression.
Sometimes, a person is having a bad day, or they might be naturally suspicious of new people as a result of bad experiences in the past. So if you don’t get the reaction you expected, don’t take it personally and just move on.
Lying Body Language
Whether you like it or not, lying is something that virtually everyone has done, and will do, at some point in their life.
Some of the most common reasons why people lie are:
- They are having an affair.
- They have something to hide.
- They don’t want you to know about something they did.
- They are cheating you.
- They think you are gullible.
Lying simply means concealing the truth. So if you want to detect a lie, you need to know what signs to look out for. Below are listed some of the things that you should pay attention to.
1) Avoiding Eye Contact
When someone is lying to you, they will tend to avoid making direct eye contact. They may look to the sides, or to the ground, because looking you directly in the eye causes them anxiety and feelings of unease at the prospect of you discovering the lie.
Some liars however, may be able to look you directly in the eye and comfortably lie to your face.
2) Reduced Blinking
Liars tend to blink far less frequently than normal because they are trying to control their facial expressions. You should spot this quite easily as it will look unnatural.
3) Avoiding Closeness
Close proximity makes the liar feel as though they are under close examination. As a result, they may try to avoid getting close to you and will prefer to speak at a distance.
Some liars may even try to hide behind a desk or some other physical object, as this helps to reduce the anxiety and pressure that they are feeling.
4) Fake Smile
A smile is an excellent way to determine whether someone is lying to you, because a convincing fake smile is extremely difficult to do if you know what to look out for.
When we produce a genuine smile, the muscles beneath our eyes create small skin wrinkles and our eyes convey a sense of happiness and delight.
Forced smiles do not alter these muscles, and usually distort one side of the face making the smile look irregular. Forced smiles appear in conflict with the eyes, which themselves will appear dull or lifeless.
In addition, a forced smile tends to appear much more rapidly than a genuine smile, and is held for longer before fading away irregularly. Watching the smile fade is an easy way to determine if a smile is real, as fake smiles look extremely unnatural when they fade.
Because of this, the liar may look down when they fade the smile, as they know it was fake and so it feels uncomfortable for them when they end it.
5) Vague Language
A common indicator of deception is the deliberate avoidance of factual statements, and instead, speaking in very vague or general terms. The reasons for this are obvious. Less facts means less margin for error, and therefore, less chance of being caught out.
If you suspect that someone is lying to you because they are using lots of generalizations rather than facts, question them for further detail. Often, the liar will pause, and their rate of speech will slow down as they try to think up a good response.
If they refuse to be factual by not directly and specifically answering your question, there’s a good chance that they are lying or trying to conceal something.
6) Being Too Specific
The opposite to generalization is being too specific, or answering a question in far greater detail than was needed.
This is an attempt to convince the other person by bombarding them with facts and details, and is often done when the liar suspects that the other person is suspicious of them.
7) To be Honest I…
Liars are inclined to use phrases such as “to be honest” or “to tell you the truth” as a means of validating a statement they make. In addition to this, the liar may appear hesitant in speech, with frequent pauses as they try to think up an appropriate and convincing response.
If they are unable to, they may try to change the subject entirely or simply mumble to themselves.
Exaggeration is another common trait of liars. This simply involves overstating something to make it sound more credible and believable. This is especially true when things involve numbers, such time, money or people.
Exaggeration can occur in both directions, so it’s possible for someone to exaggerate a larger or smaller number for example.
If you listen to a liar long enough, you will often find contradictions in their speech. They may, for example, tell you something one time but then tell you something completely different later on.
Liars may also make subconscious slips, where they say one thing but meant to say something else.
Another common clue to deception involves making a depersonalized a response, such as by talking about what other people think of the issue at hand. Liars also tend to depersonalize their answers by avoiding the pronouns “I” and “we”.
Body Language Signs of a Liar
Some of the most common signs to look out for when you suspect that someone may be lying to you are:
- Avoids eye contact.
- Pupils dilate and blinking reduces.
- Does little smiling.
- False smiles that linger longer and end abruptly/unnaturally.
- Smile appears forced.
- Eyes seem vacant.
- Gestures and words don’t match.
- Uses fewer arm and hand movements to illustrate points.
- Uses increased self-touching of nose, chin, and mouth.
- Raises voice pitch.
- Increase pauses and hesitations.
- Has slower speech.
- Avoids making factual statements.
- Uses generalizations instead of specifics.
- Words seem forced.
- Takes longer to answer questions.
- Uses briefer answers than normal.
- Has more um’s and uh’s.
- Is inclined to mumble and speak inexpressively.
- Statements sound like questions.
- Avoids using pronouns I and we.
- Implies rather than gives an answer.
- Avoids direct answers.
- Uses phrases such as “to be perfectly honest,” and “to tell you the truth.”
- Claims sound too good to be true.
- Reasoning sounds implausible.
- Numbers mentioned are rounded and sound the same or are multiples of each other.
- Is prone to verbal outbursts which leak information.
- Has verbal slips of the tongue.
Summary of Body Language Gestures
The following is a summary of the key body language gestures that have been discussed so far. These gestures can help you to better understand another person, but should never be used in isolation.
A single gesture for example, such as the scratching of one’s nose, could indicate that a person is lying to you. But it could also mean that they just have an itchy nose. So to gain the most accurate reading of another person, try to pick up on as many signals as you can.
- Warm smile
- Unfolded arms
- Uncrossed legs
- Leaning forward
- Relaxed body
- Direct eye contact with pupils dilated
- Open palms
- Unbutton or remove coat
- Hands to chest for men
- Furrowed brow
- Sustained eye contact with contracted pupils (stare)
- Pointing your glasses at someone
- Clenched fists
- Arms spread out while hands grip the table
- Leg over arm of chair
- Squinting eyes
- Downward turned eyebrows
- Pointed index finger
- Strong palm down thrusting or knuckled crunching handshake
- Hands on hips when standing
- Moving in on the other persons personal space
- Palms down
- Straddling chair – sitting with chair back serving as a shield
- Feet on desk
- Physical elevation above the other person
- Strident loud voice
- Leaning back in chair with both hands supporting head
- Strong palm down or knuckle crunching handshake
- Leg over arm of chair
- Using desk as physical barrier
- Little eye contact
- Corners of lips turned down
- Rigid body
- Clenched hands
- Palms to back of neck
- Tightly crossed arms
- Tightly pursed lips
- Head down
- Tightly crossed legs or ankles
- Scratching ear lobes or side of neck
- Blank stare
- Lack of eye blinking
- Head in palm of hand
- Repetitive finger or foot tapping
- Little eye contact
- Drooping eyes
- Crossed legs
- Steepling (joining fingers like a church steeple)
- Feet on desk
- Leaning back with hands joined behind back of head
- Proud, erect stance with hands joined behind back
- Head up
- Stretched legs
- Physically elevating oneself
- Leaning back in chair
- Continuous eye contact
- Chin forward
- Good eye contact
- Seated, leaning forward with hands on mid-thighs or knees
- Lively facial expression
- Standing with coat open and pushed back with hands on hips (for men)
- Alert facial expression
- Close proximity
- Sitting on edge of chair
- Nodding in agreement
- Staring into space
- Running fingers through hair
- Kicking at ground or imaginary object
- Short in-and-out breaths
- Wringing of hands
- Tightly closed lips
- Rubbing back of neck
- Deep breaths
- Tightly clutched hands
- Weak, clammy handshake
- Constant throat clearing
- Hands covering mouth while speaking
- Poor eye contact
- Nervous laughter
- Tapping fingers on table
- Crossed arms and legs
- Fidgeting in chair
- Fiddling with objects or clothing
- Biting or picking fingernails or cuticles
Reviewed – 30th March 2016