Do you remember when you were little and your parents told you to "stop slouching and stand up straight?" Well, so much of how we carry ourselves and move give off little signals to others as to what is going on and how we are feeling—making it more important than ever for us to learn how to read body language (and be aware of what ours is giving off). Obviously, some people are better than others when it comes to masking their feelings, but mastering the art form of reading body language—yes, it's that important—can get you ahead both at work and in your personal life.
How is that? It can translate into knowing what type of day your boss is having before you bring up a workflow snafu or can give you the confidence on a date to know that the other person is feeling it, too. In fact, research has shown that only 7% of communication is verbal and a whopping 55% comes from our body language. Now that you know how important it is, it's the time to learn how to read body language from head to toe. We strongly suggest taking notes.
It's believed that the face is one area of the body where you can only "fake" your feelings a little bit. The reason is due to our "microexpressions"—aka the muscles that surround our eyes and mouth—which often give us away. "You may want to hide the feelings of fear that you have when talking to someone you want to impress, but the little pulling back of the muscles around your mouth shows instead that you're panicking on the inside (make a grimace now, and you'll know what I mean)," says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., author of The Search for Fulfillment.
Another key part of the face to focus on? The eyebrows. If someone raises them, it likely means they're uncomfortable, and if they move up and in (causing a forehead crease), it usually indicates that they're upset. In his book The Tell, psychologist Matthew Hertenstein writes: "If you observe a person expressing sadness both verbally and facially, but the inner corners of his eyebrows are not going up and in, he may not be experiencing sadness at all." And when it comes to a smile, if both sides of the face aren't aligned, chances are it may be fake because most emotional cues on the face are bilateral—meaning they're equal on both sides.
The Takeaway: Look to the eyebrows, tiny lines around the eyes and mouth, and the cheeks to get your clues.
So much of how one holds the middle part of their body is about posture—they'll usually hunch if they're nervous or unsure while only the most confident enter the room with shoulders straight and head held high. And interestingly enough, when we have good rapport with someone, we actually do something called "mirroring" in which we copy each others' actions (this usually happens naturally in the torso area). Just think about when you may have been on a good date … you may have leaned forward toward each other or started using hand gestures that mimicked the other person's. "Mimicry is often one aspect of being charismatic, being persuasive, building rapport, developing intimacy and overall having a positive impact on someone," says Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., who is also a law enforcement detective.
You can also look to a person's hands for some clues. No, it's not to see if they'll shake yours, but to see whether their palms are out, which indicates trustworthiness. In The Definitive Book of Body Language, the authors write that this hand position shows "truth, honesty, allegiance, and submission." Also, if someone keeps touching their face and hair, that usually indicates they are uncomfortable.
The Takeaway: Focus on posture, mirroring, and hand placement and movement.
Now it’s time to move onto the bottom part of the body, which includes legs and feet. It's all in the nuances: crossed legs show that someone's not being open, while crossed ankles are a sign of poise. And if one's legs or feet are jittery or shaking, that indicates total discomfort or anxiety. "Anxiety can translate very directly into an unconscious leg-shaking or foot-tapping," says Krauss Whitbourne.
How one moves their feet says a lot, too. Tapping one's toes makes it obvious that someone is impatient or in a hurry. If their stride is steady and powerful, it shows confidence, while a timid walk signals a lack of self-esteem.
The Takeaway: Look at where someone crosses their legs, whether their legs or feet shake, and determine the type of stride they have.
What do you think about this guide for how to read body language? Tell us if you have anything to add in the comments, and then learn about why messy people are smarter.