Today we are going to learn about 7 subtle ways to read someone’s body language. Now, let’s begin
1. Individual Cues
Reading body language is a complicated skill to master. Some people spend years trying to understand the thousands of nonverbal cues you can communicate with your body. Because reading body language isn’t as simple as memorizing a list of movements or gestures. Each piece of body language can signal a wide variety of emotions, depending on someone’s personality and emotional state. Even then, signals can mean different things depending on the context in which a signal appears. So, with all these variables up in the air, how do you make sense of someone’s body language?
Understanding the body language of 5 or 10 different people is a challenge but understanding the body language of a single person is much easier. In other words, if you want to decipher someone’s nonverbal signals, pay close attention to the ways they express different emotions. By nature, humans are creatures of habit. You may not use the same body language as someone else, but you do rely on a repeating set of signals unique to you as an individual.
For example, some people may tap their hands or feet when they’re nervous, but you only tap your hands and feet when you’re bored. Someone who pays close attention to your body language could learn how to tell the difference. So, if you want to read someone’s body language, pay attention to their individual style of nonverbal communication. They may never use common cues, like pointing their feet or twirling their hair, but they will find ways to express their emotions with their bodies.
As you spend time together, you’ll notice patterns in their body language, and those patterns will give you a much clearer picture of how someone is feeling and how those feelings affect their behaviour.
2. Reading Change
If you want to read someone’s body language, don’t look for individual signals. Instead, watch the way their body language changes. Reading change is a critical skill for anyone hoping to understand body language. A sudden change in someone’s posture or position often reflects a shift in their emotional state. For example, if you ask someone a difficult question and they suddenly cross their arms, this nonverbal change indicates an emotional reaction. In this case, they are likely crossing their arms to display discomfort, nervousness, or vulnerability.
Similar changes affect facial expressions, hand gestures, and eye movements. If someone causes an emotional reaction, you will most likely see a shift in their body language — a physical reaction to a change in their emotional state. With practice, these changes can be easy to locate and identify. You may not know every definition for every nonverbal cue but looking for changes in someone’s body language alerts immediately when an emotional shift takes place. With that knowledge in your corner, you can more accurately assess people’s feelings, avoid sensitive subjects, and understand how your actions affect the person around you.
3. Detecting Interest
Now, let’s talk about reading specific emotions. That’s the skillset most people want to learn. When you’re having a conversation, for example, you want to assess someone’s body language and understand what they’re feeling. So, what subtle signals reveal how a person is feeling?
One of the easiest emotions to spot… is interest. Interest can be personal or professional, scholarly or romantic, but it’s almost always expressed in the same ways. When someone is interested in a subject, person, or conversation, you’ll notice a change in their body language. People unconsciously lower their guard and open their bodies when they stop paying attention to their body language. As a result, their body language becomes more casual, forward, and vulnerable
For example, if you’re talking about something interesting or engaging, another person may lean forward and extend their arms and legs. These nonverbal cues indicate interest and a desire to connect. The other person is leaning toward you because they want to display enthusiasm and create closeness. While open, casual body language is a common sign of interest or receptiveness, other people display interest by unconsciously reflecting your body language. This nonverbal pattern is often called mirroring, and it’s a very common signal of a positive emotional connection. People instinctively mirror the body language of individuals they like, respect, or feel close to.
If someone begins copying your body language, it’s because they find you appealing, admirable, or attractive in some way. Keep in mind that mirroring isn’t always as obvious as it sounds. Just because someone is reflecting your body language, doesn’t mean they’ll copy every gesture you make. In most cases, mirroring is small and subtle. When you smile, they smile. If you talk with your hands, they might talk with their hands a few minutes later. Sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish what is mirroring and what is someone’s natural body language. But it’s not important to distinguish one from the other. If you notice someone’s body language is similar to yours, it doesn’t really matter if they’re mirroring or not. If you’re displaying interest in the conversation, they are likely feeling the same thing.
4. Universal Signs
Some pieces of body language are nearly universal. Across ages and cultures, these pieces of body language are easily recognizable and commonly associated with a specific emotional state. If you’re trying to understand someone’s body language, it’s important to know these universal signs like the back of your hand.
For example, what does it mean when someone points a finger directly at you? Pointing fingers is how we draw attention to something or someone, allowing us to establish dominance over that person or object. When someone points directly at you, they’re trying to single you out. If you’ve ever been pointed at, you know exactly how that feels. Pointing fingers is one universal sign, but there are many others. Shoulder shrugging is another sign people recognize around the world. Whenever you see someone shrug their shoulders, you know what they mean without giving it a second thought.
The same is true of recognizable hand gestures like waving an open palm or giving someone a thumbs up. There are also universal head movements, like nodding up and down, shaking side to side, or tilting your head one way or the other. Each of these gestures are unique, recognizable, and easy to understand.
So, use these universal signs as a baseline to communicate your feelings and understand the feelings of others. There are many small, subtle, and confusing pieces of body language out there, but these universal signs mean the same thing in almost any context.
5. Physical Shape
Body shape is another subtle yet powerful piece of body language you need to know. When we talk about “body shape,” we’re not talking about someone’s health or weight. We’re talking about the physical shape created by someone’s head, back, arms, and legs. When someone is open and receptive, they unconsciously create larger, wider shapes with their bodies. They open their hands, spread their arms, and stand tall.
Our bodies seem to increase in size and surface area when we’re comfortable and open-minded. But what happens when you’re uncomfortable or unfriendly? Instead of increasing your surface area, your body shrinks to a smaller, narrower shape. You cross your arms and legs, slouch down in your chair, and make yourself small. When your body takes up less space, you are less available to the world, signalling defensiveness, inaccessibility, and discomfort.
Now, changes in shape aren’t always clear-cut. Sometimes, a confident person will communicate conflicting signals by sitting up straight and crossing their legs. In this situation, someone may feel confident and secure, but they may not be friendly or emotionally available. So, their bodies end up sending mixed signals. Most of the time, body shape is unconscious. We instinctively open and close their bodies to reflect their emotional states, but in some contexts, body shape is a tool people use to make good impressions and send the right messages.
For example, sitting up straight during a job interview displays interest and confidence, even if you’re feeling uncomfortable or nervous on the inside. So, pay close attention to the many shapes our bodies make. Not every shape is definite or clear-cut, but the size, width, and openness of someone’s body gives you a helpful window into their emotional state.
6. Limbic Signals
Some pieces of body language are ingrained into the human brain. Emotions like stress, fear, and discomfort, which are created by the brain’s limbic system, trigger the same nonverbal cues in almost every person. If you learn what those cues are, you can quickly understand when someone’s emotional state takes a turn for the worse. Stress manifests most often as physical tension. Your face, for example, stiffens and wrinkles in response to physical and psychological threats. If you offend someone or invade their personal space, they may clench their jaw, narrow their eyes, or furrow their brow to communicate some kind of emotional disturbance. But facial tension looks different for every person. For instance, some have naturally wrinkled features, but that doesn’t mean they’re stressed or fearful all of the time. The key to reading anyone’s expression is to watch the way it changes. Limbic responses consistently change facial expressions with tense body language, but you’ll only recognize that tension by observing changes in their body language. The better you get to know a particular person, the more perceptive you’ll become at recognizing tension and stress.
7. Powerful Expressions
Few interactions are influenced as heavily by body language as first impressions. When you meet someone for the first time, your brain is quickly assembling a picture of who they are. You analyse the things people say, the clothes they wear, the sound of their voice, and, of course, the nonverbal cues they send. But one signal determines the quality of first impressions more than any other. It’s not the quality of your introduction or the athleticism of your figure. The signal that makes or breaks any first impression… is your smile.
Whether you’re sending nonverbal cues or receiving them, smiling is the most important piece of body language to remember. If someone smiles at you, they may be experiencing a slew of positive emotions, ranging from happiness and respect to attraction and desire. Whether you’re meeting a colleague for the first time or approaching an attractive stranger, watch the way they smile. Because a genuine smile is the most powerful indicator of a strong, personal connection.