Every Move You Make
Every last gesture—whether it’s a tilt of the head or plain fidgeting—tells a story. Do you look down when you speak? Play with your hair? Lean to one side? Learn what you’re telling others with your body language—and what others are telling you with theirs.
Nibbling Your Lips
If you bite, suck on, or lick your lips when under pressure or in an awkward situation, you’re attempting to comfort or soothe yourself, says psychologist Carol Kinsey Goman, the author of the non verbal language.
Scratching Your Nose
Don’t get caught in a lie. “When a person fibs, it’s often accompanied by an adrenaline rush,” says psychologist Michael Cunningham, a professor of communication at the University of Louisville. This release causes capillaries to expand, making the nose itch. Another tall-tale tell: a sustained glance. A liar often overcompensates for being perceived as shifty by focusing a bit too intently on the person he is fibbing to.
Sending Darting Glances
This catch-your-eye game, usually played in guy-girl situations, tends to mirror your scattered thoughts. Does he like me? Do I like him? Do I want him to come over here? Also, unlike a direct gaze, the back-and-forth variety is a protective measure: If he doesn’t approach you, you won’t feel rejected.
Nodding Your Head
If you nod in clusters of three, the speaker will sense your interest, and this can lengthen her response threefold, says Goman. Word to the wise: Nod only once when trying to escape Chatty Cathy.
How to Read Faces
Closing Your Eyes
By rubbing, covering, or closing your eyes for longer than a blink, you’re trying to keep out certain auditory or visual cues. It’s a survival mechanism to prevent the brain from processing anything undesirable or threatening.
Lowering Your Gaze
This meek gesture is an unconscious bid for public support—a favorite tactic of small children, not to mention the late Princess Diana. It often elicits a parental response.
If someone does it to you, she may be searching for your empathy. Be gentle.
Pursing Your Lips
Narrowing the red margins of your lips is a clear sign of anger, says Paul Ekman, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. Why? When a person is not truly mad, she typically can’t feign this gesture, even if she tries.
Tilting Your Head
Cock your head to the side when hearing a friend’s sob story. This movement indicates that you’re interested and listening. On a more literal level, you’re revealing and angling your ear to her, physically showing that you want to hear every detail.
Raising or Furrowing Your Eyebrows
“Raised eyebrows, one or both, is a true expression of piqued curiosity and interest, while lowered eyebrows can indicate negative emotions, such as confusion and fear,” says Laura Guerrero, a professor of communication at the Arizona State University Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, in Tempe. If you’re not interested in a good or bad way, your face will remain still and unanimated.
Looking Up or to the Side
Want a little glimpse into the way someone’s memory works? Notice where the person moves her eyes. When recalling something that was seen, a person will angle her eyes skyward, as if trying to picture it. When remembering something heard, she will look toward one of her ears, as if listening for it. Especially emotional experiences tend to be relived through introspective downward glances.
How to Read Bodies
Standing With Legs Together
This conservative stance denotes deference, says Goman.
Do you align yourself with the head honcho at work? Most people position their bodies or feet toward the person who has captured their focus. Coming to attention and squaring your chest at the sight of your boss is a sign of respect. Another note about proper alignment: If someone approaches you and a friend in the middle of a conversation and you want to give the newcomer a nonverbal invitation to join in, angle your bodies outward by 45 degrees. This subtle sign of inclusion shows the person that she is welcome.
This position, feet and legs shoulder-width apart, signals dominance and determination, says Goman. When asserting your side of an argument or discussion, stand your ground—literally. For an extra boost, place your hands on your hips. This is a traditional position of power.
No surprise here: You lean toward people you like and pull away from those you don’t. On a date? Take note of your companion’s direction—and yours. Subtly mirroring movements builds trust.
Don’t be too quick to leap to conclusions: This pose doesn’t always mean anger, but when coupled with crossed legs, it is a defensive position. Take note of the surroundings. More often than not, this stance means a person is cold. Also, many people simply find it comfortable, says Cunningham.
The way you tread speaks volumes about how others see you. Fast strutters come across as productive and competent, looking as if they have somewhere important to be. Those with a “bounce in their step” are perceived as having upbeat personalities. For a purposeful stride, walk from heel to toe. (Interestingly, most men land on their heels; most women, mid-arch.)
When in doubt, spread out. Taking up space, such as by fanning out your papers in the boardroom instead of stacking them in a small pile, screams importance. Likewise, sitting with your legs apart assures others that you are large and in charge.