Body language has always been a fascinating concept. Every single person out there wants to know what it takes to read people, even if they’re not saying anything.
Sometimes it’s hard to trust the knowledge you have on this topic. So, you start doubting yourself and you lose track of the body language you’re observing. Your brain gets overstimulated, so you give up on it.
However, there are a couple of basic things that you can learn to understand the things that the person in front of you isn’t even saying. Is he lying? Is he interested in you? Do his movements mean that he’s jealous?
There are so many things that you can read in someone’s body language, and people try to learn and practice this art their entire lives. You can’t expect to learn everything in one sitting, but I’ll make sure to give you all the information you need for now.
The science behind body language
Body language is also known as the “words that we don’t speak.” It’s the unspoken part of communication that will let everyone know our true thoughts and emotions, even if we don’t want to reveal them.
When you learn how to read all of these little movements, you’ll be able to understand the entire message that someone is trying to convey. This is quite important because only 7% of a message is said through words. The other 93% is said through nonverbal communication.
So many people in this world have tried to master this art. However, this concept was taken from Mehrabian’s Communication Model, which says that nonverbal communication is much more important than the words that we speak. He also emphasizes that even the slightest change in tone can tell us a lot about a person.
He found that body language is a universal thing. We’ve never been taught how to communicate with our bodies, but our emotions and thoughts are seen in every single movement.
Of course, there are some differences, which means that it’s not applicable in every case around the world. However, it’s important to note that everyone has the same need to move their lips into a smile when they’re happy, that their nostrils flutter when they’re about to cry, or that their forehead scrunches when they’re mad.
How to read body language
Now that you understand what body language is, it’s time to talk about the small changes that you’ll see in someone’s face as they’re trying to communicate their thoughts and emotions with you.
I thought it would be easier to categorize everything by body parts so that you can pay attention to one thing at a time before you try to understand the entire body.
1. Smile and lips
The mouth says a lot about how someone’s feeling. For example, someone could be biting their lips out of habit, but it’s also possible that they’re doing this out of discomfort or nervousness.
Pursed lips or any sort of tightening of the lips could be an indicator of disapproval or disgust. But, you see, the easiest way to see disgust in someone’s face is when you see that their lips are turning downward, and the middle of their lips is turning to the nose as if they’re trying to hide their nostrils from something awful.
The easiest thing to recognize is someone else’s smile. It simply makes you feel welcomed and happy when you see someone smile. However, a fake smile never reaches the eyes. So when someone is smiling at you and they are only smiling with their lips, you’ll know that it’s not genuine.
A smirk can be a microexpression because people are usually able to stop themselves before they fully smirk. Most of the time, a smirk is an indicator of contempt and disdain.
Body language can also be connected to the tone of voice. It’s a slight change in voice that tells us more than the words ever could. So, it’s important to listen to the way things are said and the tone that’s being used.
For example, a higher voice is a sign that someone is interested in us romantically. If you’ve ever heard someone’s voice raise as soon as you walk into the room, it’s a clear sign that they’re interested.
The tone of your voice can indicate many different things, like happiness, sarcasm, anger, sadness, affection, and confidence.
When someone lowers their voice while talking, they’re trying to make you listen better. People usually do this as an intimidation tactic to show the other person that they’re not in the mood for jokes.
People would say that the eyes are the gateways to someone’s soul. They always knew that you can read everything you need in someone’s eyes.
When someone’s blinking a lot, for example, it’s probably obvious right away. Can you remember the last time you were blinking rapidly? You were probably under some sort of stress or discomfort.
That’s why people blink a lot at certain moments as they’re trying to re-focus their eyes on the task at hand and to get out of their head.
Something that’s less obvious is the dilation of pupils. You have to be really close to someone to be able to read this. Body language isn’t always obvious unless you’re in close proximity to someone.
When you’re romantically attracted to someone, your pupils will dilate. Dilation happens as a direct response to the arousal in your nervous system.
However, you may also notice dilated pupils when someone is angry or afraid. You can probably see it more obviously in cats when they’re scared.
If you’re in front of someone you don’t like, your pupils will automatically contract and become smaller. That’s because your brain is telling your eyes that there’s nothing to see.
Also, your gaze will follow what you’re interested in. If someone averts their gaze from you and doesn’t keep eye contact, they’re probably not interested in the conversation.
However, sometimes it can also mean that someone’s uncomfortable because they’re interested in you. But in this case, their eyes will probably be averted towards the floor or their feet.
Another thing that you’ll see people do often is cover their eyes, or they’ll start rubbing their eyes. This happens when someone is irritated, disgusted, or simply disagrees with what you’re saying.
When someone’s rubbing their eyes before speaking, it’s because they’re fighting with what to do or what to say. Body language will tell you more than you want to know, as you can see.
Okay, so you probably know that someone’s not comfortable in a situation, or they’re trying to protect themselves, when they’re crossing their arms over their chest.
People do this to seem bigger and to protect their vital organs. So, whenever they feel vulnerable or exposed, you’ll see them making this move.
The same can be said when someone’s holding an object in front of their chest. It’s a way to shield themselves from the person in front of them.
A sense of protection can also be felt when someone puts their hands on the table. This body language sign tells you that the other person is creating a distance between you.
However, an open stance can also be seen in the movement of someone’s arms. For example, when someone’s using one arm to hold the other one behind their back. In this case, their body language is saying that they’re interested in the topic, or that they want to seem non-threatening.
You probably know a couple of people who always listen to you by putting their elbows on the table and leaning their head on their arms. It’s actually a way to pretend that they’re interested when they’re bored.
We tend to rest our face on our arms when we’re sleepy. So, don’t fall for the cuteness of this move!
Read more: Defensive Body Language: 8 Nonverbal Cues
People who use their hands to gesture wildly while they’re arguing are probably not even thinking about it. They’re doing this to create more space between them and the other person.
So, when you’re arguing, and you’re throwing your hands around, you simply want to seem more intimidating than anything. You don’t want the other person to look anywhere else, or to take you for granted, so you start throwing hands around.
Open palms while talking are an obvious sign that someone’s welcoming of the conversation. But when someone’s holding their hand, it’s usually a self-soothing gesture, because they don’t feel safe.
People who keep their hands in their lap are quite reserved, while people who hold their hands on the table are very open.
Other gestures actually depend on the region where you’re from. For example, in the English-speaking world, the “OK” sign is known and everyone understands it. However, in Germany, Brazil, and Russia, this sign is extremely offensive. So you have to be careful.
6. Legs and feet
If you thought that you only have to study the body language of the upper part of the body, then you are sorely mistaken. There’s so much you can learn about someone’s thoughts and emotions just by looking at their legs and feet.
For example, crossed legs have the same effect as crossed arms. The person in front of you doesn’t feel comfortable, they feel vulnerable, and they’re trying to protect a very sensitive part of their body.
When someone is sitting down and keeping their legs wide apart, they’re actually trying to establish dominance. You’ll mostly see this with behavior in men. They’re trying to take up as much space as possible.
However, a good way to know that someone’s interested in you or the conversation you’re having is to simply look if their feet are pointing your way. I know that this seems a little bit weird, but when someone’s not interested in you, their feet will point in a completely different direction.
Something that you may already know is that when someone’s tapping their feet or jiggling, it’s because they’re nervous or uncomfortable. You know, those people who couldn’t keep their legs still if someone paid them to.
Body language doesn’t always have to be universal. I mean sometimes it has nothing to do with body language but everything with the habits of the other person.
7. Body positions
The most obvious thing in someone’s body language is the position of their body. You can learn a lot about what a person is actually thinking just when you pay attention to the way they’re holding their body.
When someone is leaning in during a conversation, their body language is telling you that they’re interested in talking to you. However, when they’re leaning away from you, it’s because they’re creating more space.
Standing up straight with hands on their hips conveys excitement and eagerness. You always see this body language in superheroes when they’re about to save everyone.
When you see someone tilting their head and body to one side it’s actually because they’re interested in the conversation. They’re concentrating, because it’s more comfortable to put your weight to one side.
Something that’s not so obvious is when someone’s mimicking your body language. You may think that they’re mocking you at first, but this happens naturally when we’re into the person who’s sitting in front of us.
For example, you’ll see someone leaning on their hand when you lean on your hand. They’ll cross their legs when you cross your legs, and so on. Also, you may start mimicking someone’s nervous behaviors, like bouncing your leg.
When the body language of the person in front of you isn’t mimicking yours, then that means that they’re not interested in the conversation at all.
A hitch in someone’s breathing can tell you a lot about what they’re thinking or feeling. This is one of those things that’s extremely hard to control.
Especially because breathing is directly connected to the function of your heart. If you get scared, your heart will skip a beat. If you’re uncomfortable, your heart will work faster.
All of those things will affect your breathing.
When someone is excited, their breathing will get much quicker, so even if they try to hide it, you’ll see what they’re actually feeling.
Also, have you ever been through a breakup where someone was leaving you? The moment when you realized what was going on, your heart started pumping faster and your breathing became much quicker.
You couldn’t control that, so your body language told your partner what you were feeling.
Something to take into consideration
One thing that you have to take into consideration is that many factors are responsible for someone’s body language. Sometimes we have different movements depending on our culture, our physical development, and psychological differences.
So, it’s quite important to take all of those things into consideration when you’re trying to understand someone’s body language.
For example, in Western countries, we tend to keep eye contact when someone’s talking. It’s polite and respectful. However, in eastern countries that’s not the case. They believe that it’s more respectful to avoid eye contact sometimes and to look down slightly.
That’s why you have to make sure that you have enough information on the body language of a certain culture before you put them all into one basket.
Another thing that can heavily impact someone’s body language is developmental issues. Someone with autism will never be able to use the same movements to convey their emotions and thoughts as another person can.
Lastly, psychological issues can impact someone’s body language. Someone with severe anxiety or depression won’t be able to make eye contact with you while you’re talking.
Someone with OCD may not want to touch someone else or they may hold a certain distance from you.
You have to take everything into account when you’re trying to figure out someone’s body language. You can’t just find one source of information and think that you know everything.
Please do extensive research and find the sources that will give you all the information that you need.
Can you fake your body language?
So many people are trying to figure out how to fake their body language to manipulate other people. You probably know by now that professional poker players are the best at hiding their facial expressions. They can’t let the rest know what they have in their hands.
By giving you this example, it’s obvious that you can fake your body language. You can do certain things to keep your body still and to manage your facial expressions.
It’s hard to do this when you have certain habits, like biting your lips. You first have to get rid of that habit and then you’ll be able to work on your body language.
You will have to look into the mirror to make sure that you know the differences between your facial expressions and micro-expressions.
Afterward, I’d say that it’s important to see how other people perceive you. If they see you as passive and insecure, you may want to change your body language to seem more confident and dominant. Either way, you can fake your body language and you can train yourself.
After a certain amount of training, you’ll even be able to control your micro-expressions. You’ll be able to play poker with no issues whatsoever!
How to influence someone else’s body language
There are also ways that you can influence someone else’s body language. You may be able to make someone feel uncomfortable or angry. For example, when someone’s trying to look dominant, you can smirk at them and laugh while holding prolonged eye contact.
On the other hand, when you’re trying to help someone feel more comfortable, you’ll have to lower your voice. Also, you’ll be able to see by their body language if it’s okay to touch them or not. Turn your entire body in their direction so that you can show them that you’re not dangerous.
Making jokes also helps.
When you want to make someone like you and influence their body language that way, you can start by mimicking their behavior. Once you see some type of progress you can move on to flirty movements like tilting your head to one side or looking at their lips.
So, all of these things will be helpful when you’re trying to manipulate someone else’s body language. However, you have to be able to control your own behavior first, before you even attempt to control someone else’s.
All of these examples are quite casual, but what about when you’re trying to impress someone, like an employer? Then, the most important thing is to seem confident. Never try to dominate the other person with your body language, don’t make yourself look bigger, but rather stay neutral.
That way, you’ll be able to lean back and communicate without any issues. Keep your breathing leveled and don’t show weakness.
All in all
Body language is a science in itself. Many psychiatrists and psychologists believe that non-verbal communication should be the only thing to look at when talking to their clients, while others believe that it’s not that simple and that words play a big role in this situation.
Either way, it’s 93% of the communication that we do on a daily basis. Even when you’re sitting by yourself in a cafe, you’re talking with your body language and showing everyone if they’re welcome to join you or not. Being unapproachable is quite a universal body language that everyone understands.
Another key point to understand is that you shouldn’t try to manipulate other people to believe that your body language is genuine when you’re faking it. Also, you shouldn’t call others out when their body language is telling you something about them.
I believe that everyone should be able to share parts of themselves that they want to share. Just because you’re well-versed in body language doesn’t mean that you have to weaponize it against other people.
Either way, do with this knowledge as you please. I just hope that you’re not holding your head high right now and looking down at the screen – then I’d know that your intentions aren’t pure.