Leadership and Professional Growth

Body Language Interpretation

January 11, 2017   /
Author: 
Nutrition411 Staff

Body language is a form of nonverbal communication that involves gestures, postures, and physiological signs. Understanding body language can help you know what a person is feeling or thinking. 

The eyes

  • Long blinks—losing interest quickly
  • Fast blinking—possibly under stress or not communicating honestly with you
  • Covering the mouth or part of the face while talking—possibly uncomfortable with the conversation, or possibly lying
  • Pursed lips—showing worry or disapproval
  • Lip biting—nervous or angry

The hair and head

  • Twirling hair around finger—nervousness
  • Touching hair, but not twirling—feeling relaxed or thinking that your opinion of them matters
  • Level head—confidence and assertiveness
  • Tilted head—listening intently to you or trying to think of the most acceptable answer
  • Tilted head pushed forward—trying to see something in a new way
  • Lowered head—possibly feeling threatened by you

The neck

  • Scratching the back of the neck—possibly meaning that they have questions and/or concerns about what you are saying
  • Pulling the chin down and/or raising the shoulders—protecting their neck, literally, and feeling threatened by you
  • Touching the front of the neck while speaking—lying or feeling uncomfortable with what they are saying or thinking of saying

The hands

  • Hiding the hands—not wanting to communicate with you and/or are keeping secrets
  • Hands in pockets with thumbs out—feeling very confident and probably superior to you

The feet

  • Turned toward you—having interest in what you are saying (includes crossing the legs so that foot is pointed toward you)
  • Turned toward the door—ready to go and not interested in continuing the conversation with you

Miscellaneous

  • Ear scratching—low confidence or a sign of deceit, especially if the ears get redder
  • Chin resting in hand—pretending to have interest in what you are saying or making a decision
  • Rubbing chin with finger—possibly not believing what you are saying
  • Moving Adam’s apple—feeling anxiety or embarrassment (usually)
  • Touching nose when talking—possibly trying to hide something, or, conversely, thinking that you are deceiving them
  • Putting up a barrier—feeling threatened by you or not wishing to speak to you (as simple as a woman setting her purse on her lap)
  • Curving the shoulders forward with arms at side—feeling defensive or threatened
  • Circling shoulders while you are speaking—subtly giving the signal that they do not care about what you are saying or that they think what you are saying is “unimportant”

References and recommended readings

Body as cue, evidence, persuasion. Changing Minds website. http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/body_cues.htm. Accessed July 7, 2015. 

Hill R. Body language: understanding non-verbal communication. MindTools website. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/Body_Language.htm. Accessed July 7, 2015.

Wang J. 7 non-verbal cues and what they (probably) mean. Entrepreneur website. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/201202. Published May 2009. Accessed July 7, 2015.