Avoid Awkward Situations With Science-Backed Tricks for Reading Body Language

A colage of photos of a woman exhibiting different types of facial expressions and body language.

Reading body language is the key to understanding what you're not being told. (Image: via pikist / CC0 1.0)

Apart from the language spoken by people, a lot of information can be communicated by analyzing body language. The body language of a man or woman conveys a lot about their unspoken feelings. You only need to know how to assess and interpret those unspoken cues! Reading body language can be helpful in some situations. You may, for example, notice if someone’s spoken words are not in sync with his/her body language. When you become a good evaluator of body language, you actually know more about people than what they tell you.

Listed below are some common body language cues.

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The shoulder shrug

This is something people do when they are not certain about something that is happening or about to happen. It is a universal human gesture to express uncertainty. Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of the famous book The Definitive Book of Body Language, agree.

Raised eyebrows

When people do not feel comfortable about something or the situations they are in, they tend to raise their eyebrows. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a former professor of the University of Massachusetts, says surprise, fear, and even worry can cause people to elevate their eyebrows. It is clearly associated with discomfort. So you may not believe someone complimenting your dress or looks with eyebrows raised.

A pointed finger and closed hand

People pointing their finger at something or someone with a closed hand tend to show dominance. The index finger is raised in most cases. It often happens when someone tries to override their opponents verbally.

Body language mirroring

If you find someone is showing the same body language and gestures as yours, it is probably a sign that he or she is feeling comfortable. This does not depend on the gender of the person. Barbara Fredrickson, a noted psychologist, says people feeling good about one another mimic each other’s body language, though it can be a subconscious effort.

Two men in suits having a conversation in the office.
Mirroring body language and gestures is a sign that the person you’re talking to is feeling comfortable. (Image: via Dreamstime.com © Hongqi Zhang)

Prolonged eye contact

It is good if someone speaks to you while looking at your eyes. However, if the person keeps staring at your eyes for a long time, chances are that he/she is lying about something. It happens because of their inner insecurity about getting caught. They may not blink while making eye contact.

Eye contact can be negative or positive

When someone looks you in the eyes, it can make you feel good or bad, depending on the person and situation. For example, if you find someone unknown is staring at you constantly at an unknown place, you may feel insecure and uneasy about it. However, if a person you are fond of looks into your eyes, you will feel very positive about it.

Expansive pose

When you find someone is sitting or standing with a relaxed posture, it means he/she is feeling comfortable and in control of the situation.

A cluster of gestures

Psychologists say that attraction is not denoted by any single body gesture but through a cluster of gestures. If you find a person is making eye contact and then lowering their gaze for a bit and then adjusting their hair, it means he/she is likely showing an interest in you.

Crossed legs

In any negotiation, sitting in a cross-legged posture is deemed negative.  Psychologist Travis Bradberry says it indicates the person is mentally closed off.

Signs of stress

When you are stressed, it shows up in your face and body gestures. A stressed person is likely to have a clenched jaw and his neckline will appear tightened. This is how humans have shown discomfort since ancient times.

Young couple sitting on a couch going over finances with worried and stressed looks on their faces.
When you are stressed, it shows up in your body language. (Image: via Dreamstime.com © Ocusfocus)

Displaying nervousness

If a person is nervous about something, that person is likely to touch their face and hands repeatedly. It is the best-known unspoken form of showing nervousness.

Laughter shows interest

If you find someone is laughing loud upon hearing your jokes, it shows he/she finds you interesting and has a matching vibe. The interest can be either platonic or romantic.

Expansive, authoritative postures

People with innate leadership qualities often exhibit expansive, authoritative postures. They may, for example, walk with an erect back and have open and expansive postures.

Shaking legs

When your legs shake, it is clear you are not stable inside. Susan Whitbourne, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, says shaky legs hint at anxiety or irritation.

Little smile with eye contact

If someone has amorous feelings for you, he/she may make eye contact while having a little smile on the face.

Learning to “hear” what’s not being said will definitely make you a better communicator. It’s a valuable skill to help you uncover what others are really thinking!

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