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What Is Your Body Language Saying?

Elements of Communications

In the scientific paper “Body Language Classification and Communicative Context” by Jianxue Yin,  the elements of communication are grouped for better understanding of how they work together and separately. They are divided into three groups, Verbal, Posture – nonverbal and body language, and Social. In my last post, we looked at verbal and vocal elements. In this post, we’ll look at nonverbal and body language.

Do you know what your body language is telling others?


Robin On Assignment

Robin, a junior in college, was working on a degree in Social Psychology. She had been given the assignment of observing individuals communicating in a busy, distracting environment. She was to report how individuals interacted with each other, the vocal elements they used, and their body language.

The ABC Coffee Shop close to campus had been her first location, but it proved to be too noisy and distracting. She heard a couple of conversations but did not hear enough for a full report. She had to hear enough to connect the words spoken with the nonverbal body language.

Her next location was the Ferry Building Marketplace on the pier. There were many restaurants with tables on the sidewalk and inside. It was a popular place for sidewalk musicians and, all around, a great place to just hang-out.

Nonverbal vs. Body Language

Your nonverbal communication is the way you listen, love, move, dress, touch, make eye contact, interact, and react. It also includes your need for personal space, which tells others if you want to keep your distance or have a closer relationship.

We often use the terms “body language” and “nonverbal communication” interchangeably, but there is a difference.

Nonverbal communication is communication without using words – clear and simple. 

Much of your nonverbal communication is subconscious. Your subconscious mind understands and interprets the nonverbal messages you receive from other people without you, necessarily, knowing it with your conscious mind.


Body Language

Body language is a segment of nonverbal communication that focuses on gestures, body postures, and facial expressions.

The main purpose of “body language” is to communicate the speaker’s mood, emotions, and attitude to emphasize their spoken words.

Body language reveals whether you’re listening, being truthful, interested, bored, distracted or if you have completely checked out of the conversation. All of this information is contained outside of the spoken word.

When your words and body language are in agreement, you develop trust. When they don’t lineup you create tension, distrust, confusion, and perhaps even, anger in the other person causing them to question if they want to develop a connection with you.


Body language is a very significant indicator of human emotion and expression. All nonverbal cues have an emotional base or are affected by the emotions you feel.

Emotions affect every communication element group. They motivate you to take action and assist you in making quick decisions by giving you feedback about the other person’s nonverbal communication and/or the situation at hand. 

Emotions are also fundamental in the choice of words used and the vocal elements.

Many times you will hear somebody say, “I sense”, or “I have a hunch”, or “I feel something” about a person or situation.  It’s possible they have detected something in the other person that they like or are curious about and want to explore more fully. Or it might mean that they have detected that the person’s body language does not match their words and they want to avoid possible confrontation or conflict.

When we say that someone is intuitive, we are actually saying that they know how to read a person’s body language and to compare it to their verbal cues.

“Being ‘perceptive’ means being able to spot the contradictions between someone’s words and their body language.” – Pease

Body Language Illustrations

  • Facial Expressions (smile, eye contact, frown): There is an English proverb that says, “The face is the index of the mind”. Emotions that one feels are immediately shown on the face. Facial expressions signal different feelings and intentions, such as anger, happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, sadness, aggressive, and neutrality. To see a complete list see

According to Barbara and Allan Pease authors of “The Definitive Book of Body Language,” the basic facial expressions are universal. For example, nodding indicates a ‘yes’ or affirmation. Shaking the head side-to-side indicate ‘no’ or negative.


Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels

People frown or scowl when they’re sad or angry.
Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels

Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

This guy looks slightly down and sideways avoiding eye contact.
Photo by Sergio Souza on Unsplash

  • Raised Eyebrows:  According to, raised eyebrows can indicate several different things.

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Fear: Raised eyebrows with eyes wide, closed or pointed down;
mouth open or corners turned down; chin pulled in and head down.
Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Image by nadine coco from Pixabay

Desire: Raised eyebrows with a smile and a slight tilt of the head.
Image by Nadine Coco from Pixabay

Image by fsHH from Pixabay

Interest: Steady gaze with the eyes and raised eyebrows.
Image by fsHH from Pixabay


Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

Surprise: Raised eyebrows, mouth dropped open, eyes wide,
and head tilted back or to the side.
Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

  • Smiling: When a smile is genuine its subconsciously transmits; happiness, friendliness, warmth, liking, and affiliation. Therefore, if you smile a lot you will be perceived as being likable, friendly, warm, and approachable.

Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

This guy exudes confidence with this smile.
Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

  • Body Posture: We communicate different messages by the way we walk, talk, stand, and sit.

Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels

Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels

The man standing straight, but not rigid, and leaning slightly in the woman’s direction communicates that he is approachable, receptive, and friendly. Hands of both are open with palms up, which indicates openness and honesty. His facial features indicate his interest in what she has to say. They are also Mirroring each other’s Body Language as explained below.

Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels

Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels

If a person turns their back on another person or looks at the floor or ceiling it shows they are avoiding communication or they are not interested, as demonstrated above.

  • Mirroring Body Language: If you are in a conversation with another person and the other person mirrors your body language it’s an indicator that the conversation is going well. According to a study at Uppsala University in Sweden, the mirroring effect seems to be subconscious unless it is in opposition to what you are feeling. (See image above)
  • Gestures: When a person does not use gestures they are considered to be boring and stiff. According to, the movement of the arms and hands tend to be more associated with speech and language than other body movements. They are viewed as deliberate movements to either emphasize the spoken words or the gesture has a very specific meaning apart from the words.

Photo by Jia Ye on Unsplash

Photo by Jia Ye on Unsplash
His present body language seems to indicate that he is not an engaging speaker.

It’s also a scientific fact that gestures give away the person’s true intentions. Body language is an outward reflection of a person’s internal emotions.

  • Shoulder Shrug: According to Allan Pease, the shrug is a “good example of a universal gesture that is used to show that a person doesn’t know or doesn’t understand what you are saying.”

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

“It’s a multiple gesture that has three main parts,” they continue. “Exposed palms to show nothing is being concealed in the hands, hunched shoulders to protect the throat from attack, and raised brow, which is a universal, submissive greeting.”  

  • Openness – Open Palm: According to Pease, an open palm is associated with “truth, honesty, allegiance, and submission.”

Photo by yugdas manandhar from Pexels

Photo by Yugdas Manandhar from Pexels

When a person wants to be open and honest they will often hold one or both hand open, palms up.
This appears to be a completely subconscious gesture that gives you the intuitive feeling that they are telling the truth.

  • Pointed Finger with Closed Hand: When some use a closed hand with a pointed index finger, they are trying to show dominance. Subconsciously, this gesture provokes negative feelings in their listeners. It is also a sign to “leave now.”

Image by Kristin Baldeschwiler from Pixabay

Image by Kristin Baldeschwiler from Pixabay

  • Crossed Legs: Psychologically, crossed legs show that the person is mentally, emotionally, and physically closed. It also indicates a submissive or defensive attitude.

Image by jamesoladujoye from Pixabay

Image by James Oladujoye from Pixabay

  • Crossed Arms: Crossed arms typically signal defensiveness and being emotionally and mentally closed. But in reading body signals, you must be aware that people often cross their arms when they are physically cold.

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay


  • Closed: When a person is closed off, lying or trying to avoid contact they will display gestures similar to below.


Image by Hilary Clark from PixabayCommon Lying Gestures:

      • Cover the Mouth.
      • Touch the Nose.
      • An Itchy Nose.
      • The Eye Rub.
      • The Ear Grab.
      • The Neck Scratch.
      • The Collar Pull.
      • Fingers-in-the-Mouth.
                    • Fidget.
                    • Say things that are inconsistent.
                    • Hesitate or Talk slower.
                    • Avoid Eye Contact.
                    • Change The Subject.

Barbara and Allan Pease authors of “The Definitive Book of Body Language

  • Touch: Touch is used to express a wide variety of emotions. It is a very powerful form of nonverbal communication but must be managed carefully. Touching is used in many rituals in different cultures. Acceptable modes of touch also vary depending on the gender, age, status, intimacy and cultural background of the individuals. For example, the most widely used form of touching is to shake hands or hugging as a greeting or departure.

Photo by from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

  • Space and Proximity: Distance in communications expresses the degree of intimacy and acceptance. It can also indicate anger or aggression when a person gets into another’s personal space uninvited. In some aggressive situation, people will actually go nose to nose. People usually show some sign of discomfort when another invades their personal space.

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

  • Silence: Is a very powerful communication tool that can be either positive or negative. As a positive tool, it can show attentiveness and respect. As a negative tool, it may mean that the person has lost interest, been distracted, or perhaps angry, refusing to respond with words.

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels


Robin At The Ferry Building Marketplace

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

She arrived at the Ferry Building Marketplace on a Saturday about 10 am. As usual, the marketplace was swarming with people. Most of the outside tables were already occupied, but she was able to find one close to the band. The tables were close enough that she could hear all the conversations clearly. She exuded confidence. She would definitely be able to complete her assignment, now.

As she settled in, she noticed the band. The banjo and bass players were playing, but the other two were not. The clarinet player had his head turned talking to the saxophone player, but the sax player was looking at the people on the street and didn’t seem to be paying any attention. She saw the sax player shrug his shoulder like he didn’t know or didn’t care about what the other guy was saying. Neither of the players was paying attention to the other musicians even though a small crowd had gathered to listen.

The couple standing closest to the band with three kids seemed very relaxed, happy, having a good time. The oldest boy was trying to do the “floss” to the music. The youngest boy was trying his best to imitate him.

Robin overhead a couple at the next table. She turned the webcam on her laptop toward the couple to record the scene.

“What do you mean, I can’t buy that dress?” the woman said with her pitch raised and hands on her hips staring intently at him. “I just put my check in the bank. There’s plenty of money in the account. Besides, who are you to tell me I can’t spend my own money?”

He crossed his arms pulling the hood of his sweatshirt down to cover his forehead. He dropped his eyes to the floors and said nothing.

“I’m talking to you,” she said a little louder as if she thought he couldn’t hear her.

“I don’t want to talk about it here,” he said taking a couple of small steps backward.

She took steps toward him. Now almost nose to nose, “Talk to me. What’s going on?” she said in a very low pitched, low volume that conveyed her seriousness.”

He said nothing as he stepped back even further as if to escape her wrath.

“There’s a problem with the account,” he finally said hesitantly, pulling the sweatshirt hood down over his face even further.

“What kind of a problem?” she said, now in his face and barely audible.

“Ah, ah, the credit card company took too much out in the last payment. The account is short,” he said avoiding all eye contact rubbing his nose with the back of his hand.

“What? That doesn’t make any sense. By the way, where were you the other night when you were late getting home?”

“I had to work late.”

“You’re lying. I drove by and your car wasn’t there. Did you go to the casino?”

Total silence.

She grabbed his phone and logged into the mobile banking app, “We’re overdrawn by a $1000. You’ve got to be kidding,” she said as she threw his phone on the ground and stomped off.

He slumped to the bench, elbows on his knees holding his head.

Robin looked at her notes and video of the scene. A smile spread across her face. “I’ve got this.”


Remember, much of your body language is triggered by emotions in your subconscious mind. Therefore, you must feel confident and in charge in order to give off confident body language. Also, If you are distracted by checking your phone, Facebook, thinking about what you are going to say next or being distracted by anything else you may miss the nonverbal cues given by the speaker.

You must be focused and engaged in the conversation for your body language to be appropriate. If you are not you may tell the other person you are not interested or, perhaps, that you can’t be trusted.

If you do not catch the cues being sent by the other person, you may misconstrue their message or respond inappropriately. So, the key is to pay attention to the words and body language of the other person.

It’s a choice. Choose to be engaged and focused.

“Few realize how loud their expressions really are.
Be kind with what you wordlessly say.”
Richelle E. Goodrich, Making Wishes


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