7 Body Language Cues That Might Not Mean What You Think

With the brain picking up nonverbal cues in just a fifth of a second, body language reveals so much more about us to our audience than our words ever do. First impressions are all-important. Taking the time to research basic body language could help you to project your best self every time.

Nonverbal cues work both ways: just as they can betray your innermost thoughts and feelings, they can also help you to learn a great deal about how your audience is feeling. In this article, we take advice from the experts on common nonverbal cues to look out for, and what they really mean.

1. Crossed Arms and Legs

Typically taken as an indicator of uneasiness, apathy, or even antagonism, arm-crossing effectively places a barrier between you and your audience. Crossed legs can be a danger sign too. Nevertheless, in isolation, crossed arms are no guarantee that the person you are talking to is self-protective, or is not being forthcoming.

Body Language Institute President Janine Driver explains that, when a person crosses their arms, this indicates that they are using both sides of the brain, engaging both the creative and the number-driven sides. Research suggests that crossed arms make an individual 30 percent more likely to stay focused on a difficult task.

Rather than having a negative connotation, signaling boredom or disinterest, Janine Driver contends that crossed arms are actually indicative of concentration. They suggest that a person is in problem-solving mode.

2. Eye Contact

Most of us recognize the importance of looking people in the eye, tending to associate a lack of eye contact with furtiveness and dishonesty. In reality, practiced liars are unlikely to fall foul of this trap, making a point of looking into your eyes. It is therefore erroneous to assume that eye contact equates to honesty.

While avoiding eye contact generally conveys deviousness, meeting someone’s eye for too long also sends a strong, negative signal, typically conveying a desire to dominate, or even outright aggression. To put your companion at ease, it is important to maintain eye contact for only a second or so, but to do it frequently.

3. Facing People Head-on

With talking to your nearest and dearest, you probably face them head on without even realizing. However, in a working environment, Janine Driver says that directly facing someone is actually quite threatening.

In a job interview, the recruiter and candidate usually sit directly opposite each other, often with a desk in between. Driver points out that, visually, this leaves both sides with no way out, increasing stress and anxiety on both sides.

Janine Driver suggests that a better option would be for the candidate to turn their chair 30 percent off-center, presenting themselves at an angle. She explains that while we naturally face our loved ones head-on, with individuals we do not know well, this is more suggestive of a confrontational pose.

4. Invading Personal Space

Generally speaking, the closer we are to someone emotionally, the closer we get physically. When trying to build rapport and connection with strangers and people we do not know very well, it is important not to invade their personal space, since this could make that person feel awkward, or even endangered.

Leaning forwards when someone is talking suggests that you are interested and engaged. However, it is important to avoid sitting too close. Equally, when there is too much physical distance, a divide is created.

5. Power Posing

In her popular TED talk, Amy Cuddy suggested that just two minutes of the “Wonder Woman” or “Superman” pose had a tangible impact on the human body, decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, while simultaneously boosting testosterone. Although her 2010 social psychology study has been quoted by experts far and wide over the years, a recent backlash from Cuddy’s coresearcher Dana Carney casts doubt on her findings, as has the apparent inability of other universities to replicate the results.

There is no doubt that standing tall, with your head held high and your shoulders back, makes you look and feel more confident. Whether posturing really does have a physiological impact on the body is far less certain.

6. Holding Your Hands Behind Your Back

Many presentation coaches advocate holding your hands behind your back while speaking as an indication of power. In reality, research suggests that most people who observe this behavior perceive it as untrustworthy. While showing your palms demonstrates that you have nothing to hide, placing them behind your back makes your audience wary, since they cannot see what you are holding or doing.

7. Touching Your Face

Some body language experts suggest that if a person covers their mouth or touches their face when speaking, this is indicative of deceitfulness. In reality, face-touching is not a dependable indicator of dishonesty.

Nonverbal behaviors that do not correlate with spoken words, such as someone frowning while saying they are happy, can signal deception, since when people lie, they also try to hide their emotional state, suppressing expressions, etc. Nevertheless, no single behavior, be it mouth or face touching, looking in a certain direction, or closing the eyes, can be used in isolation to determine whether someone is lying or not.

Originally published at https://carltonjames.org on March 31, 2022.

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Carlton James is a Director of GBTI and a Consultant Specialist in corporate communications for development

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Carlton James

Carlton James

Carlton James is a Director of GBTI and a Consultant Specialist in corporate communications for development

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