Body language describes the way people communicate with each other nonverbally, through the use of gestures, posture, facial expressions and actions. Learning how to read body language can help you determine if someone truly means what they are saying to you.
Imagine two men approaching each other. One immediately calls the other one an insulting name. The other responds with a similar insult. Suddenly, the two men rush forward and bear hug each other. According to Study by Psychologie Professor Albert Mehrabian, 55 percent of our communication is done through body language, 38 percent is done through tone of voice and 7 percent is done through our words.
Learning to read body language can be helpful when trying to judge if a person is attracted to you, lying to you or trying to hide his or her real feelings from you. Interpreting body language isn't something you can master overnight, but you can learn a few basic rules fairly quickly.
Body Language Basics
Much like a person's words, a person's body language may or may not always be a clear indicator of his or her true emotions. You can avoid making mistakes by adhering to a few basic rules:
1. Establish a baseline. A baseline is established by observing a person when they are relaxed and acting normally. This will help you understand what behaviors are the result of other things such as habits, gender differences, mental or physical disorders and similar issues.
2. Because actions can have multiple meanings, look for clusters. Clusters are several actions that all indicate the same emotion. For example, if you notice someone touching the side of his or her nose, you could assume that either the person is trying to evaluate a situation or lying to you. If he or she then looks up and purses his or her lips, you can assume they were weighing over a decision. If he or she looks down and turns away from you, it is more likely that they are lying to you.
3. Understand that cultural differences can affect a person's body language. For example, in the United States, eye contact shows honesty and interest. However, in Japan, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, avoiding eye contact is a way to show the other person respect.
4. Understand that behavioral or physical disorders can affect a person's body language. For example, people with ADHD will generally fidget and avoid eye contact, but these are not necessarily indicators of boredom or lying.
Lying and Deception
Many people want to learn to read body language to help decipher if someone is lying to them. Often times, the signs of deception are similar to signs of nervousness and anxiety because the person is nervous about being discovered in the lie.6 A few signs of deception include:
1. Avoiding eye contact or looking down.
2. Touching the face or head with their hand.
3. Holding an object in front of his/her body as if to form a barrier between you and them. This can also indicate shyness or resistance.
4. Faking a smile. A fake smile will involve only the lips and mouth.
5. Shuffling his/her feet.
6. Expressions do not match the person's statements.
7. Clenched jaw.
8. Licking the lips.
9. Signs of nervousness or anxiety.
Interest and Attention
When a person is interested in a subject, he/she is more likely to give the topic his/her full attention. A few signs that this is occurring include:
1. Eye contact.
2. Dilated pupils.
4. Leaning forward.
5. Tilted or cocked head.
When a person is bored, they will either consciously or unconsciously look for ways to distract him or herself or will show signs of wanting to get away from the situation. These actions include:
1. Turning the body away from the subject or person.
2. Leaning away from the person.
3. Looking around.
4. Not making eye contact, especially if looking down.
5. Looking at watch.
Sometimes, these actions are repetitive:
1. Tapping fingers or foot.
2. Shifting weight from one foot to the other.
If the boredom continues long enough, a person might then begin to show signs of fatigue:
Our bodies are naturally flirtatious toward people that we find attractive. One of the most obvious things someone can do is smile. However, there are other signs. Learn to recognize these signs, and you will be able to tell if someone is truly interested in you. Signs someone is attracted to you include:
1. Blinking rapidly. Rapid blinking can indicate interest, attraction, nervousness or an eye disorder.
2. Raising eyebrows. Although a quick raising of the eyebrows will lasts less than a second and is usually subconscious, the gesture is done by every culture on Earth as a sign of attraction.
3. Pointing. A person will subconsciously point toward the person he or she is interested in either with the hands, feet, legs, fingers or toes.
4. Preening. This can be adjusting a tie, cleaning eye glasses, smoothing out clothing or a similar action.
5. Dilated pupils.
6. Leaning forward.33 Leaning not only shows you would like to be closer to the other person, but it also tests to see if he or she leans closer or leans back—indicating if he or she also wants to get closer.
7. Display body parts. When attracted, a person will display parts of his or her body by thrusting them forward, wiggling or similar action. This can be the chest area, wrists, neck, bottom, legs or groin area.
8. Simulated sexual activities. A person will act out activities that he or she wants to do to someone that he or she is attract to. This can be done with the body or with another object. Examples include stroking a glass, licking their lips or rolling a cigarette.
9. Crossing the legs toward you.
11. Mirroring.38 When two people get along well, they will begin to mirror, or mimic, each other's actions. This can include arm and leg movement, breathing, speech pattern, emotions and gestures.
When a person is trying to make a decision or judging a situation, his or her body will indicate it through various gestures. These gestures can include:
1. Stroking part of the face, such as the chin.
2. Scratching the back of the head or neck.
3. Wrinkling the nose.
4. Narrowing of the eyes. This is usually a sign that that a person does not like the idea, but can be reflexive action when someone is thinking.
5. Pursing lips.
6. Tilting or scratching the head.
Nervousness and Anxiety
Nervousness and anxiety are uncomfortable emotions, and people naturally look for ways to relieve this discomfort either by expending nervous energy or distracting themselves from the feeling. As a result, a nervous person may exhibit some of the following the signs:
1. Rapid blink rate. Rapid blinking can also indicate interest or an eye disorder.
2. Clearing throat.
3. Wringing hands together.
5. Adjusting the collar of his/her shirt.
6. Sweating, especially sweaty hands.
7. Muscle tension. This can be seen through areas such as clenched jaw, elbows drawn into the side, jerks or similar actions.
8. Defensive behaviors such as crossing arms across the body or darting eyes.
10. Massaging temples.
Aggression and Anger
When expressed, anger and aggression are easy to spot. When repressed, a person must look for more subtle signs of how the person is feeling. A few examples of these behaviors include:
1. Clenched fist.
2. Hands on hips with feet spread apart.
3. Narrowing the eyes. This can also occur when someone is thinking.
4. Frowning or baring teeth in a snarl.
Dominance and Power
Dominance is similar to aggression and anger, without the emotion. When you try to dominate someone, you are trying to gain power. This is usually done by making the body appear larger and taking up more space.60 Examples include:
1. Striding briskly.
2. Hands on the hips, especially in conjunction with the feet being spread apart.
3. Narrowing the eyes. This can also indicate anger or occur when someone is thinking.
4. Raising the eyebrows.
5. Clasping hands behind the head.
Learning to read body language is a skill that can help improve communication between you and other people. Remember, that like a person's words, his or her body might not always be a clear indicator to his or her true emotions. It is only a guide that is always open to interpretation.
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