Matching Words & Body Language In our culture, shaking one’s head up and down means yes, and side to side means no. If someone is saying, “No, I didn’t do it,” but their head is shaking yes, they probably did it, said Brown. “People subconsciously accent things with their heads all the time,” she added, and the head is more trustworthy than the mouth.
Lips Don’t Lie Folding in one’s lips before speaking is a red flag. “When people’s lips disappear, they are holding back information,” said Brown. “The next thing that comes out of their mouth is either a half-truth or a lie.”
Be Attuned to Tone Tone of voice is one of the best indicators of deception. A strong “convincing” tone often indicates deception, while a softer “conveying” tone can mean someone is telling a partial truth and not the whole story.
Big Talkers People who are most effusive in their denials or other untrue statements are among the most likely to be guilty. “The ones who are working really hard at looking like the good guy are the people we have got to be wary of,” said Brown.
Notice the Jitters “If someone becomes fidgety, that can indicate deception,” Brown noted. Our feet give us away with the instinct to flee an uncomfortable situation, and when our brains tell us we can’t do that, a little dancing in place might be the result.
Look for Inconsistencies People have typical patterns with respect to their baseline body language and manner of speaking. If someone’s body language is unusual for that person, take note.
It’s in the Eyes “When you see the whites of people’s eyes, that means fear,” said Brown. If someone’s eyes dart around when they’re asked a question — shifting up, down and side-to-side — they’re fearful of giving an honest answer.
Yes or No Isn’t Maybe “I think so,” “I don’t recall” or “to the best of my knowledge” are suspect answers to any yes-or-no question.
Distrust a Delay “If someone waits more than five seconds to answer a question, that’s a pretty good sign of deception,” said Brown.
With careful observation, we can become adept at reading the nonverbal cues of a liar. People often attempt to suppress their emotions but there is ‘leakage,’ known as micro expressions, which occur in one-fifth of a second.
Cultural Differences Someone’s cultural background can have a big influence on how they use and read body language. In many Western cultures, eye contact while speaking suggests openness and interest. People of other cultures, including many Eastern cultures, may avoid prolonged eye contact, as looking slightly down or to the side may seem more respectful. Nodding indicates agreement in many cultures. In others, it might just mean the other person acknowledges your words.
Developmental Differences Neurodiverse people may also use and interpret body language differently than neurotypical people do. For example, you might fidget when you’re bored, but neurodiverse people might fidget in order to increase focus, calm nervousness, or self-soothe in other ways. Autistic people may also have trouble reading body language.
Psychological Differences Certain mental health conditions can also impact someone’s body language. Someone with social anxiety might find it extremely hard to meet and hold someone’s gaze, for example.People who prefer to avoid touching others may not shake hands or embrace when greeting someone. Being aware of boundaries some people may have around casual touch can help you avoid assuming someone dislikes you.
Your breathing tends to pick up when you’re under stress. This stress can be positive or negative, so someone breathing quickly may be ~
~Excited ~Anxious ~Nervous or worried
A long, deep breath can suggest ~
~Relief ~Anger ~Fatigue
Slower breaths typically suggest a state of calm or thoughtfulness. Ordinary breathing patterns may not stand out so much, but someone’s breathing can seem very controlled or precise. This intentional control often happens when trying to suppress a strong emotion, such as anger.
The term proxemics, coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, refers to the distance between people as they interact. Just as body movements and facial expressions can communicate a great deal of nonverbal information, so can the physical space between individuals. Hall described four levels of social distance that occur in different situations.
Intimate Distance ~ 6 to 18 inches This level of physical distance often indicates a closer relationship or greater comfort between individuals. It usually occurs during intimate contact such as hugging, whispering, or touching.
Personal Distance ~ 1.5 to 4 feet Physical distance at this level usually occurs between people who are family members or close friends. The closer the people can comfortably stand while interacting can be an indicator of the level of intimacy in their relationship.
Social Distance ~ 4 to 12 feet. This level of physical distance is often used with individuals who are acquaintances.
With someone you know fairly well, such as a co-worker you see several times a week, you might feel more comfortable interacting at a closer distance. In cases where you do not know the other person well, such as a postal delivery driver you only see once a month, a distance of 10 to 12 feet may feel more comfortable.
Public Distance ~ 12 to 25 feet Physical distance at this level is often used in public speaking situations. Talking in front of a class full of students or giving a presentation at work are good examples of such situations.
It is also important to note that the level of personal distance that individuals need to feel comfortable can vary from culture to culture. One oft-cited example is the difference between people from Latin cultures and those from North America. People from Latin countries tend to feel more comfortable standing closer to one another as they interact while those from North America need more personal distance.
How we hold our bodies can also serve as an important part of body language.The term posture refers to how we hold our bodies as well as the overall physical form of an individual.
Posture can convey a wealth of information about how a person is feeling as well as hints about personality characteristics, such as whether a person is confident, open, or submissive.
Sitting up straight, for example, may indicate that a person is focused and paying attention to what’s going on. Sitting with the body hunched forward, on the other hand, can imply that the person is bored or indifferent.
When you are trying to read body language, try to notice some of the signals that a person’s posture can send.
~Open posture involves keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed. This type of posture indicates friendliness, openness, and willingness. ~Closed posture involves hiding the trunk of the body often by hunching forward and keeping the arms and legs crossed. This type of posture can be an indicator of hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety.
The arms and legs can also be useful in conveying nonverbal information. Crossing the arms can indicate defensiveness. Crossing legs away from another person may indicate dislike or discomfort with that individual.
Other subtle signals such as expanding the arms widely may be an attempt to seem larger or more commanding while keeping the arms close to the body may be an effort to minimize oneself or withdraw from attention.
When you are evaluating body language, pay attention to some of the following signals that the arms and legs may convey ~
~Crossed arms might indicate that a person feels defensive, self-protective, or closed-off. ~Standing with hands placed on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready and in control, or it can also possibly be a sign of aggressiveness. ~Clasping the hands behind the back might indicate that a person is feeling bored, anxious, or even angry. ~Rapidly tapping fingers or fidgeting can be a sign that a person is bored, impatient, or frustrated. ~Crossed legs can indicate that a person is feeling closed off or in need of privacy
Gestures can be some of the most direct and obvious body language signals. Waving, pointing, and using the fingers to indicate numerical amounts are all very common and easy to understand gestures. Some gestures may be cultural, however, so giving a thumbs-up or a peace sign in another country might have a completely different meaning than it does in the United States for example.
The following examples are just a few common gestures and their possible meanings:
~A clenched fist can indicate anger in some situations or solidarity in others. ~A thumbs up and thumbs down are often used as gestures of approval and disapproval. ~The “okay” gesture, made by touching together the thumb and index finger in a circle while extending the other three fingers can be used to mean “okay” or “all right.” In some parts of Europe, however, the same signal is used to imply you are nothing. In some South American countries, the symbol is actually a vulgar gesture. ~The V sign, created by lifting the index and middle finger and separating them to create a V-shape, means peace or victory in some countries. In the United Kingdom and Australia, the symbol takes on an offensive meaning when the back of the hand is facing outward.
Mouth expressions and movements can also be essential in reading body language. For example, chewing on the bottom lip may indicate that the individual is experiencing feelings of worry, fear, or insecurity.
Covering the mouth may be an effort to be polite if the person is yawning or coughing, but it may also be an attempt to cover up a frown of disapproval.
Smiling is perhaps one of the greatest body language signals, but smiles can also be interpreted in many ways. A smile may be genuine, or it may be used to express false happiness, sarcasm, or even cynicism.
When evaluating body language, pay attention to the following mouth and lip signals ~
~Pursed lips. Tightening the lips might be an indicator of distaste, disapproval, or distrust. ~Lip biting. People sometimes bite their lips when they are worried, anxious, or stressed. ~Covering the mouth. When people want to hide an emotional reaction, they might cover their mouths in order to avoid displaying smiles or smirks. ~Turned up or down. Slight changes in the mouth can also be subtle indicators of what a person is feeling. When the mouth is slightly turned up, it might mean that the person is feeling happy or optimistic. On the other hand, a slightly down-turned mouth can be an indicator of sadness, disapproval, or even an outright grimace.
The eyes are frequently referred to as the “windows to the soul” since they are capable of revealing a great deal about what a person is feeling or thinking.
As you engage in conversation with another person, taking note of eye movements is a natural and important part of the communication process.Some common things you may notice include whether people are making direct eye contact or averting their gaze, how much they are blinking, or if their pupils are dilated.
When evaluating body language, pay attention to the following eye signals ~
Eye Gaze When a person looks directly into your eyes while having a conversation, it indicates that they are interested and paying attention. However, prolonged eye contact can feel threatening.On the other hand, breaking eye contact and frequently looking away might indicate that the person is distracted, uncomfortable, or trying to conceal his or her real feelings.
Blinking Blinking is natural, but you should also pay attention to whether a person is blinking too much or too little.People often blink more rapidly when they are feeling distressed or uncomfortable. Infrequent blinking may indicate that a person is intentionally trying to control his or her eye movements. For example, a poker player might blink less frequently because he is purposely trying to appear unexcited about the hand he was dealt.
Pupil Size Pupil size can be a very subtle nonverbal communication signal. While light levels in the environment control pupil dilation, sometimes emotions can also cause small changes in pupil size. For example, you may have heard the phrase “bedroom eyes” used to describe the look someone gives when they are attracted to another person. Highly dilated eyes, for example, can indicate that a person is interested or even aroused.
Think for a moment about how much a person is able to convey with just a facial expression. A smile can indicate approval or happiness. A frown can signal disapproval or unhappiness. In some cases, our facial expressions may reveal our true feelings about a particular situation. While you say that you are feeling fine, the look on your face may tell people otherwise.
Just a few examples of emotions that can be expressed via facial expressions include ~
The expression on a person’s face can even help determine if we trust or believe what the individual is saying. One study found that the most trustworthy facial expression involved a slight raise of the eyebrows and a slight smile. This expression, the researchers suggested, conveys both friendliness and confidence.
Facial expressions are also among the most universal forms of body language. The expressions used to convey fear, anger, sadness, and happiness are similar throughout the world.Researcher Paul Ekman has found support for the universality of a variety of facial expressions tied to particular emotions including joy, anger, fear, surprise, and sadness.
Research even suggests that we make judgments about people’s intelligence based upon their faces and expressions.One study found that individuals who had narrower faces and more prominent noses were more likely to be perceived as intelligent. People with smiling, joyful expression were also judged as being more intelligent than those with angry expressions.