A lot of us have a knack for reading body language. Some of what we see is obvious. When we walked in the door when we were kids and met Mom with her hands on her hips we knew the news was not good. But while there are obvious mannerisms, some are more subtle or fabricated to convey sincerity, truth or enthusiasm. It helps to know how to read those subtle signs. Here are seven you should watch for:
1. Leaning in or leaning back
If someone is leaning toward you, they are comfortable with you or are very interested in what you’re saying. Leaning in is also a true sign of sincerity. However, leaning back is a more defensive position. It can indicate that someone is less comfortable with you or less interested in what you’re saying. If they put their head in their hand you’re really putting them to sleep.
2. Hand and Mouth
When someone puts their hand over their mouth while they’re talking it often indicates nervousness about what they are saying. They could simply be unsure of themselves; embarrassed or that they may be lying. If someone who is listening to you puts their hand over their mouth it could mean they want to say something, or that they don’t like what they’re hearing or seeing. It could also mean that the person you are talking to thinks you’re he one who’s lying so you might want to support your statement with some facts or promise to provide some evidence.
3. Crossed legs and arms.
When someone crosses their legs or their arms they are assuming a defensive position. If they do both they are circling the wagons because they don’t like something about the current situation or conversation. If they uncross their legs or arms they’re starting to relax. If they re-cross you can hand them something or invite them to look at something. It’s curious, but sometimes the body language someone assumes innocently will lead them to feel a certain way.
4. The chin stroke.
It’s not a swimming style; it’s what you think it is. A sign of evaluation. This usually means that a person is gathering their thoughts to figure out what to say next. It’s usually a relatively important decision at least to that person. They might also find another way to pause by looking out the window, placing a finger on the side of their cheek or adjusting their clothing or glasses. It’s an innocent gesture and you should usually pay close attention to what they say next.
5. Palms up
If someone stands with their palms up in a calm poise there’s a good chance that what they are saying is sincere and honest. Be careful though, it they exaggerate this action greatly they could be trying to deceive you. Palms up is a submissive sign and could mean the person has the desire to understand something better. Once again, listen carefully to what someone says following this gesture.
6. Watch the fingers
If someone is speaking with their hands behind their back they are demonstrating great confidence. However, if they put their hands together in front of them with their fingers pointing up they’re telling you they feel superior. Moving their fingers around or rubbing them together is similar to the chin stroke and they may be gathering their thoughts, or are growing impatient and are anxious to say something. When someone’s fingers become active it’s a good time to conclude what you’re saying and give them a chance to speak.
7. Smile management
Smiling is a good thing in many countries and cultures. I worked in Japan and it accompanies most every word in a conversation. On the other hand, the French perceive smiles a bit differently. You should never smile when you meet a French person for the first time. They feel that a smile indicates that you know something about them. Manage your smiles. It’s also a good idea to choose your times to smile in any conversation. Constant smiling in most Western cultures indicates deception. You may have encountered that the last time you bought a used car. The key thing is to smile when it’s appropriate in most conversations.
8. The story in your eyes.
We’re all actually very good at reading the story in our eyes. However, there are some eye movements that appear negative but are in fact positive. Someone looking down could be capturing their thoughts. It’s sometimes referred to as a “Pastoral moment,” or that time when the Pastor pauses and looks down before saying something profound or deep. Someone looking up may be trying to figure something out or visualize it. Someone looking out the window is often very focused on what you are saying. It’s when people start glancing at other things around them that you should be concerned. They’re either bored or don’t like what they’re hearing. It also helps if the person you are talking to makes eye-contact with you. Sometimes staring at the bridge of someone’s nose makes prolonged eye-contact easier.
If someone simply cannot make eye contact with you that’s a significant sign. It means they are either incredibly shy; feeling embarrassed, angry, resentful, have ADD, or simply don’t want to be in the room with you. The best way to establish eye-contact is to standup and walk around and ask a question about something in the room, or while sitting -shift the attention to an object such as a family portrait or other object. Once they make eye-contact don’t stare at them. Make any eye-contact brief and slowly lengthen the time you go eye-to-eye with each other. Keep the conversation light and try to get them to relax and loosen up. If you finish the conversation without ever making eye-contact you’re going to have to form your own opinions on why.
There are many more clues and cues that come from body language. Over time you’ll become increasingly aware of them if you pay attention and try to understand what the gestures mean. In the end you’ll do a better job of presenting yourself and what you want to say simply because you delivered it with good intentions and good body language.