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Body Language Basics

Throughout history it has been an advantage if an individual can read body language. Body language helps in everyday life from closing a business deal or trusting someone with your life, to recognising when someone is upset.

Body language is the art of making an educated guess at a person’s feelings or intentions based on their posture, movement and positioning. To understand a person’s body language you need to take into account more than one aspect of their body language. Take tears for example. Just seeing tears on a person’s face does not tell you much as they could mean a person is happy, sad or just they might just have watery eyes. It is only when you also observe a smile that you can assume a person is very happy.

Each action or stance in the following list means very little, unless there is more than one indicating the same thing. They may also vary between cultures.

Arms

Body Language

Indication

Alternative Reason

Crossing of the arms

A negative or critical viewpoint

Person is feeling cold and is crossing their arms to keep warm or is relaxing

Tapping fingers

Bored, anxious or agitated

Habit

Fidgeting with hands

Bored or has something to say

Habit

Fidgeting with objects such as a pen

Bored or has something to say

Habit

Open hands or showing palms

Showing trust and interest

Inviting others opinions

Covering one hand with the other

Concealed feelings and insecurity

Cold hands

Clinging to objects

Confusion or insecurity

The object is important

Clasping hands

Defensive

Habitual posture

Making a fist

Aggression, angry or irritated

Holding something small or stretching hand

Firm handshake

Confidence

Habit

Weak handshake

Nervous, Shy, Insecure or scared on interaction

Has a sore hand

Biting fingernails

Nervous

Habit

Wringing hands

Nervous

Habit

Looking at watch

Boredom

Has to keep on time

Feet

Body Language

Indication

Alternative Reason

Placing feet up on desk or chair

Relaxation, authority or ownership

Habit

Tapping feet

Impatient or distracted

 
Habit

Twisting feet continuously

Nervous, Concerned, Stressed or Angry

Can never sit still

Sitting with crossing legs in direction of speaker

Relaxed, confident or listening carefully

Habit

Sitting with crossing legs in direction of door

Would like to leave

Habit

Sitting with legs wide apart

Feels safe, confident and can show leadership

Disinterested

Dangling loose shoe from toes

Physically attracted

Habit

Pacing the floor

Nervous

Has been sitting down too long

Head

Body Language

May Indicate

Alternative Reason

Resting chin on fist or palm 

Boredom or disinterest.

Tiredness

Gently resting chin on fingers or touching fingers to lower face

Questioning, critical or Deep Thought

Habit

Looking over the top of glasses

Attentiveness, serious or critical thought

Vision problems

Pinching the bridge of the nose

Deep thought

Nasal problems or poorly fitting glasses

Rubbing or touching around the nose

Negative thought or doubt

Habit, itchy or sore nose

Ear rubbing

Unsure or weighing up possibilities.

Itchy or sore ears

Direct eye contact

Dominance or attentive

Looking past the person into the distance

Sustained eye contact

Like or interest in you

Mistaken for attentiveness

No eye contact

Disinterest or lying

Distracted, uncomfortable or too confined

Nodding head rapidly

Eager, Impatient or want to add to conversation

Listening to music

Nodding head slowly

Interested, Validating comments or encouraging

Listening to music

Pressed lips

Disagreement, Disapproval or desire to end conversation

Sore or parched lips

Pressed lips with raised chin

Aggression

Usual posture

Pursed lips

Disapproval, Fixed views, Arrogant, Superficial character, Thinking or Deciding

Usual posture

Biting lips

Embarrassed or lacks self-confidence

Habit

Holding hand over mouth

Hide an expression, Talk without other people hearing or Indicate mistake

Hide a hiccup, burp, sneeze or cough

Raising eyebrows

Surprise

Trying to focus eyes

Eyes open wider

Astonished

Dark environments will cause people to open their eyes more

Raised forehead

Trying to remember, or is crying

Is looking up

Looking up or into distance

Trying to remember or think

Is looking at something in particular

Loud Sign

Understanding or Strong emotions

Tiredness

Clearing of the throat

Nervousness, or wants to be heard

Has a cold

Slowly taking of glasses and cleaning them

Wants time to think before continuing

Had dirty glasses

Relaxed Brow

Comfortable

Has had Botox

Tensed Brow

Confusion, tension or fear 

Permanent frown marks

Leaning back with hands behind head

Comfortable

Habit

Winking

Shared secret or moment 

Sore eye 

Massaging Temples

Anxiety

Headache

Stoking chin

Thinking

Itchy chin

Chest

Body Language

Indication

Alternative Reason

Breathing faster

Nervous or Angry

Has just finished exercise

Inhaling loudly and shortly

Wants to interrupt conversation

Hiccup

Slow breathing

Relaxed and comfortable

 Breathing problems

Shoulders hunched forward

Lacking interest or has a feeling of inferiority

Tired

Rubbing collar

Nervous

Trying to get a mark off

Adjusting tie

Insecure or wanting to impress

Tie needed adjusting

Shrugged shoulders

Concerned, or wants to be left alone

Usual body posture

Shoulders at different levels

Doubtful about following actions 

Usual body posture

Rigid Body Posture

Anxious, uptight

Usual body posture

Other

Body Language

Indication

Alternative Reason

Mirroring you

Likes you or wants to be friendly

Luck

Staying still

Interested in what is going on or is being said 

Is tired 

Keeps everything tidy and ordered

Thinks about everything and plans things out

Habit 

Allows things stay unorganised

Risk taker or stressed

Too busy

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