Verbal communication is not the only form of communication. It is usually more straightforward and you have to open your mouth to pass the message you want to. However, as you speak or listen to someone speak, you express your feelings in form of reactions through body language. Body language includes your stance, gestures, or facial expressions. A lot of people can understand and know how to read body language without any trouble while some people do not even know what it is, and talk less about what it means. In this article we would be diving into body language and what it means.
Body Language Meaning
For the most successful communication, all aspects of communication are to be considered and this includes verbal communication, active or empathic listening, and body language.
What is Body Language?
Body language is an intentional or unintentional way of communicating with your body parts like your face, hands, and lips without giving verbal meaning to your expressions. People use body language while speaking and while listening.
Many people can understand intentional body language without any trouble but unintentional body language might be harder to understand.
Examples of Body Language
A common example of intentional body language that people easily pick up on is eye-rolling. When you’re talking to someone and they roll their eyes, it is usually a sign of them not agreeing with you or are uninterested in whatever you’re saying. Another example is the stamping of the foot, this typically shows frustration or annoyance. There are several other body languages we would be talking about in the types of body language aspect of this article where we would be doing a body language analysis and helping you understand the various types of body language.
Body Language Psychology
Is body language important?
Body language is an essential part of how we share information with other people. There is even evidence that suggests that our brain prioritizes nonverbal communication over words which explains the saying “actions speak louder than words”. This is why when people tell us things that contradict their facial expressions or gestures, we are quick to believe otherwise.
As important as body language is, it is not a universal language and several factors like cultural, developmental, and psychological differences can greatly impact how a person interprets and mirrors body language.
A person’s cultural background can largely influence their understanding of body language. For example, in Western culture, maintaining eye contact while talking to someone shows interest while in Eastern cultures, it might be considered disrespectful which is why in Eastern cultures, prolonged eye contact is usually avoided to show respect. In some other cultures, nodding of the head shows agreement while in others, it simply means the person is listening along.
People who are neurologically diverse might be unable to interpret body language the way typical people would due to the difference in neurological development. For example, a typical person might fidget out of boredom while a neurodiverse person might do the same to remain calm and focused. Autistic people may also have trouble understanding and mirroring body language.
Some mental health conditions can impair a person’s body language. For example, someone that struggles with social anxiety might find it hard to hold someone’s gaze.
People that have a phobia of touch might also avoid shaking hands or embracing when greeting others. If one is not aware of the boundaries people like this have, one might assume it is a sign of dislike.
Types of Body Language
The types of body language are majorly dependent on how and with what body part they are being expressed. Body language can be expressed with gestures (use of hands), stance( the way you’re standing), eyes(eye rolling), and mouth (smiling, pouting, etc). Let’s take a look at the different types of body language that can be interpreted from these basic types:
- The Lips
When a person gives you a genuine smile, the corners of the mouth turn up and their eyes narrow with wrinkles at the corners but with insincere smiles, the eyes are not involved. People give insincere smiles to respond to discomfort. A smirk, on the other hand, which is a half smile can mean a handful of things like contempt, dislike, displeasure, or disdain but when this half smile is accompanied by something else like long eye contact or a head tilt, it might mean the person is attracted to you and might be flirting with you.
- Compressed lips might suggest pain or discomfort.
- Quivering lips can suggest fear.
- Pursed or pouted lips might be a sign of disagreement or anger.
- Open or slightly parted lips are mostly a sign of ease and relaxation.
- The Eyes
The eyes can say a lot about a person’s mood and level of interest in the conversation.
People tend to blink a lot when they are under a lot of stress. However, rapid blinking can also suggest dishonesty but not all the time. A person might start blinking rapidly because they are uncomfortable or facing a difficult problem, afraid or worried about something.
- Eye Blocking or Avoiding Eye Contact
Blocking includes covering the eyes with a hand or closing the eyes briefly or taking long blinks and rubbing your eyes while squinting. Eye blocking is generally an unconscious habit but it can suggest how a person feels.
People often block their eyes out of irritation, or distress, or when they are faced with tasks or things they do not want to do. It can also suggest reluctance and disagreement. For example, you have an assignment due in a few days but when your coursemate suggests taking a day to go to the library, your hand might go to your eyes subconsciously.
- Pupil Dilation and Contraction
The pupils will usually dilate when one feels positive about something or someone. This might be a result of romantic attraction but it is not always the case. Dilation can also occur from the arousal of the nervous system so when a person is angry or scared, their pupils might dilate. On the other hand, when a person doesn’t like something, their pupils’ contract or become smaller.
- Direction of Gaze
Human eyes tend to follow what they’re interested in, so by tracking the movement of a person’s gaze, you can get information about their mood or what they are interested in. If a person’s eyes keep wandering during a conversation, they are most likely uninterested in what you are saying. For example, if a person keeps staring at the food on the other table, they probably are hungry and more interested in eating than talking. Also, when people are trying to remember things or are talking about difficult things, they tend to move their eyes down or to one side.
- Stance and Distance
- Stance or Posture
Your posture is the way you hold yourself and to be honest, this isn’t entirely easy to control, which can make it difficult to read a person’s body language from their posture but it can still give a bit of insight, especially when there is a noticeable difference in the way a person usually carries themselves. Leaning back on a wall or some other kind of support suggests boredom or lack of interest while leaning into the conversation or toward the person talking typically shows some sort of interest or excitement in the conversation.
Standing straight with the hands on hips can mean excitement, eagerness, or confidence while standing straight with the hands at the sides is a sign of getting relaxed and ready to engage. Similarly to that, resting the head in one hand also shows interest. When both hands are used to support the head, it might be suggesting tiredness or boredom. Tilting the head to one side can be a sign of concentration but can also suggest attraction when paired with other body language markers.
The amount of physical distance a person is maintaining when talking to you can give clues about the mood and feelings of the person for you. However, many people just prefer to keep their distance between themselves and others, especially when talking to people they don’t really know. On the other hand, some people may stand or sit very close to whom they are talking to, to show engagement and interest. In a situation whereby a person is maintaining an unusual amount of distance when talking to you, there are a few pointers to look out for. If someone regularly stands or sits close to you, it is likely because they enjoy your company. On the other hand, if someone stands apart and takes a step back every time you take a step forward, it is likely because they want to maintain some physical (and probably emotional) distance from you. A person sitting close enough to touch or lean into you during a conversation, probably with a smile or brief touch, often means they are physically attracted to you.
People’s breathings tend to pick up when they’re under a lot of stress. It could be positive or negative stress so, a person breathing quickly may be experiencing excitement, anxiety, or nervousness. A person taking a long, deep breath can suggest relief, fatigue, or anger. Slower, calmer breaths can suggest thoughtfulness while ordinary breathing might not mean anything. However, a person can intentionally control their breath to be more precise to suppress whatever emotion they are feeling.
- Arms and Legs
People cross their arms when they are feeling anxious, vulnerable, uninterested in someone else’s perspective, or confident. If they cross their arms while smiling or showing ease that probably suggests confidence. It means they feel more in control of the situation and less vulnerable. However, if the crossing of arms appears to be used as a form of protection, or using one hand to hold the other behind their back, that suggests they are uncomfortable with the situation and feel the need to protect themselves.
Many people gesticulate while speaking. This use of gestures might be for emphasis. This has some direct benefits, as we tend to answer people’s questions faster when they make use of gestures while asking. The more enthusiastic the person’s gesture, the more excitement the person is likely to be feeling. We subconsciously use gestures toward people we feel very close to. If you noticed a change in the gesticulations of someone, there are a few things to watch out for. Outstretched hands with the palms facing up may suggest a reflection of openness, which might they might be oblivious to. Clenched fists often suggest anger or frustration especially when someone is trying to suppress their emotions. Paying attention to their facial expressions can also be very helpful. If you notice neutrality or relaxation in their facial expressions, it might be suggesting openness. Touching the cheek while listening is a sign of interest in and consideration of whatever it is you are talking about.
The feet and legs can show restlessness through tapping of the feet, jiggling of the legs, or shifting from one foot to another. When a person crosses their legs and arms, it can suggest they are not willing to hear what the other person has to say.
In addition, if a person’s feet are pointing away from you, it may be because they are considering leaving the conversation than continuing it. However, if their feet are pointed toward you, it is because they are enjoying the conversation and are engaging with it.
Learning how to read body language can be complex and difficult. There is even an entire field of study that is dedicated to understanding nonverbal communication and this is called kinesics. A slight shift in a person’s stance or change in facial expression can naturally occur throughout a conversation or interaction. Even though someone with an erect posture or fixed expression might appear to be concentrating or interested, they may just be putting in a lot of effort to hide their true emotions.If you struggle with understanding body language, consider asking them how they feel if you notice a change in their stance or facial expression. You can also determine whether there’s a difference in their usual self by comparing any change to how they previously or normally are. If there is a change in their unique body language, it is a sign that something is wrong so, go ahead and ask. There is no general rule for how to read body language ad it can vary from one person to another.