Secrets Your Body Language Reveals To Others

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Our bodies are dead giveaways of our true thoughts and feelings. Here are some secrets your body language reveals about you.

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There are thousands of different languages in the world, but only one is universal. Just 7% of what we understand actually comes from words, while a staggering 65% is classed as ‘nonverbal’ – meaning our bodies are dead giveaways of our true thoughts and feelings. Here are some secrets your body language reveals about you.

10. Eye Contact

Eye contact is vital for conveying important social cues, but there are some unspoken rules about how to use it in everyday life. In Western culture eye contact is expected to be regular, but not persistent enough that it becomes creepy.

In 2015, psychologists at University College London found that the preferred length of eye contact between strangers is around 3.2 seconds at any one time. 400 subjects participating in the study recorded their own comfort level while watching video clips of actors looking directly at them for varying lengths of time.

Eye Contact rules
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Despite an average preferred time of 3.2 seconds, most claimed that they were comfortable with more extended periods when they deemed the actors to look non-threatening.

Behaviouralists have also noted that evasive eye contact or constant blinking can show someone’s discomfort, or even indicate potential dishonesty. In fact, if you want to know whether someone’s really lying to you just watch the direction of their eyes – if they look up and to the right, they might be telling porkies.

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This is because looking right corresponds with the brain's right side, which is responsible for creative and abstract thinking, whereas looking to the left recalls logical thought and memory.

This method, known as ‘eye accessing clues’, is also sometimes used in FBI studies – although if a person is left-handed, remember that the directions are reversed.

9. Handshakes

A single handshake can say a lot about a person, and if you’ve ever had a job interview you’ll know that it could be your chance to make a good first impression. There are lots of different factors in getting the handshake down in the first time, including pressure, angle, length and what to do with that awkward free hand.

A limp ‘wet-fish’ handshake can imply a lack of determination and commitment while letting go a little too early can also indicate shyness and lack of self-belief.

A handshake can say a lot about you
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Behaviouralists suggest that the perfect handshake should last about 5 seconds, and – you guessed it – eye contact is absolutely essential. If you’re unsure, the general rule is to hold on for a few fractions of a second longer than you feel naturally inclined to… not too long, though!

Communication expert Leslie Shore explains that an unnecessarily lengthy or firm handshake is a sign that you’re trying to assert dominance and control over someone, so refrain from any risky moves like pushing the other person towards you.

Using your free hand to cup the person’s hand beneath in a two-handed shake is a great way to show sincerity and build closeness, while cupping from above is seen as a power move. Gripping the person’s upper arm could show togetherness, but it’s also become synonymous with politicians so it could be interpreted as a little disingenuous.

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8. Body Pointing

You might not realise it, but even the way we position ourselves in regular conversations and social settings can reveal hidden messages – if you know how to interpret them.

Have you ever been talking to someone but can’t shake the feeling that they’d rather be elsewhere? This is because while our mind can be focused in one direction, our body can often unconsciously go in another.

Body Pointing and body language
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Think about it this way: our bodies are one big arrow from our chest to our feet, and the way we point this arrow can say a lot about our true thoughts and feelings – this is known as ‘body language of intentions’.

In a conversation someone might seem engaged by listening, smiling and making appropriate eye contact, but if their chest is tilted away from you then the likelihood is they’re thinking about going elsewhere.

Foot pointing is another non-verbal signal which is easy to spot – in a group of people at a party, people will turn their head to face the person speaking but if their feet or torso point toward someone else that’s usually who they’re really interested in.

If one-foot points away from the group or even to a door, it’s likely they’re looking to make a swift exit – and you probably need to up your conversation game.

Foot pointing as non-verbal signal of body language
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7. Personal Space

Everyone has a different idea of personal space but leaning over someone or sticking your face inches in front of theirs is usually enough to make anyone squirm.

Preferred ‘personal space bubbles’ can depend on factors like the relationship at play and even where you live, as people from cities who are used to being cramped in small spaces are generally more comfortable with closeness.

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In the early 1960s American anthropologist Edward Hall studied this behaviour and coined the term ‘proxemics’ to understand how body language represents relationships. Hall described 4 ‘zone distances’ which can be found in Westernised cultures, the first of which is ‘the intimate zone’ – between 6 and 18 inches – which is reserved for lovers and family members.

When a stranger invades this zone, it triggers our territorial instinct and we start to feel hostile, which explains people’s discomfort on busy public transport, or why ‘angry mobs’ form in crowds.

anthropologist Edward Hall and the 4 zone distances
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The ‘personal zone’ of between 18 and 48 inches is used for parties and social functions, the ‘social zone’ of 4-12 feet is the distance used by strangers and the ‘public zone’, over 12 feet, is preferred when addressing large groups. Researchers have also focused on specific neurons that monitor the space around the body and track objects like an invisible radar.

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6. Finger Drumming

Most people have their own habits or ticks, but sometimes these can also be interpreted as non-verbal signals. One of the most common traits people pick up is finger drumming – on a table, with a pen or even on the back of your phone – which is known as a rhythmic or ‘metronomic’ signal with several interpretations.

Most commonly, this rapid tapping can indicate that a person is anxious or lost in thought, as the brain finds ways to occupy itself with subconscious physical action.

In other cases, this metronomic non-verbal signal can be interpreted as energy displacement if you are feeling excited or unsettled, but it may also convey negative signals of boredom and frustration.

Finger Drumming
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By consciously drumming their fingers during a conversation, for example, someone is likely broadcasting their disinterest and a desire to speed things along.

This could also be seen as intimidatory, as non-verbal noise sends an audible interrupt signal to the person speaking, indicating that they want to interject or disagree. Generally, this behaviour is viewed negatively in formal situations – so perhaps try foot-tapping, instead.

5. Posture

There’s no denying how important posture can be, and not just for your health. There’s a reason etiquette lessons teach people to walk upright with a book on their heads because the way you carry yourself can massively influence someone’s opinions before you even open your mouth.

Researchers have noted that slouching can carry a visible emotional meaning, as a hunched or sagging posture could suggest that you are holding onto stress and negative feelings.

bad posture
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Standing up straight and looking forward can present you in a more positive manner and increase confidence and focus, whereas looking down appears submissive and tilting your head up can be perceived as too arrogant.

Many people are also inclined to put their hands in their pockets, but in most situations, this can be a negative non-verbal signal because your shoulders cave slightly creating a more introverted appearance.

mand with hands in the pockets
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Exposing your thumbs with your hands in your pockets does present a more self-assured attitude, but you don’t want to come across as too cocky, either. The most important thing is to keep an ‘open’ posture, with your feet shoulder length apart and toes pointing outward to show engagement and approachability.

4. Arms and Hands

Even the smallest details can reveal more than words can say, and what someone does with their arms and hands is a sure-fire way to read them. Crossed arms is one of the earliest body language signs kids learn to read – hence the typical frustrated parent in cartoons – but it’s also one of the most complex.

In some situations, it may represent anger and distaste, or anxiety and fear when used as a ‘blocking’ signal, but it has other self-serving purposes too. Psychologists claim that when we cross our arms we’re basically giving ourselves a hug by practicing soothing behaviour.

body language of crossed arms
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Ultimately, all body language reveals where a person is on a simple spectrum from comfort to discomfort, and ‘pacifying behaviours’ – which include neck-touching, forehead-rubbing and arm-massaging – attempt to push our body back into the ‘comfort’ zone. Hands are important too, and a general rule is not to hide them.

Clasping your hands behind your back can put someone on edge by implying deceit, whereas using open hand gestures while talking can encourage engagement and even persuasion.

Standing with your hands on your hips can be a form of micro-aggression as it's our way of making ourselves appear bigger – like an exotic bird fluffing its feathers – so it’s best to steer clear unless you’re looking for a fight.

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3. Male Sitting Positions

Even something as passive as sitting on public transport, while on a date or at work can communicate a whole host of hidden meanings. One of the most common positions men have been ridiculed for is known as ‘manspreading’ – which basically involves sitting with both legs widely spread in a way which exposes their crotch.

This phenomenon has become so hated that it was even banned on trains and buses in Madrid in 2017, but what makes some people see it as so obnoxious?

Not only does it generally invade others' personal space, but the practice has been interpreted as a way to assert dominance and perhaps even to show sexual availability.

On the other hand, spinal neurosurgeon John Sutcliffe has explained that the male pelvis is slightly wider, meaning that sitting with knees closer together is less comfortable for men.

manspreading
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Another sitting position popular among men is known as the ‘4-figure’, which refers to one horizontal leg resting over the knee of the other.

This position is so American that during WWII German soldiers would look our for the 4-figure position because anyone using it was clearly not German.

4-figure and the nazi soldiers in WW2
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Behavioralists generally deem this to be a youthful and relaxed pose, but in certain social situations – like a formal meeting – it could also be interpreted as a self-assertive or argumentative signal.

2. Female Sitting Positions

Westernised clothing and social etiquette mean that widely spread legs is not deemed overly feminine or acceptable for women in public places, so the most well-adopted sitting pose is one with the dominant leg crossed over the other.

According to body language expert Lillian Glass PhD, if this pose is replicated but with legs distinctly angled to one side – particularly away from something or someone – this can be interpreted as a more extreme form of distasteful body pointing, which is never a good sign on a first date.

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Another popular position is the ‘ankle lock’ which – as the name suggests – involves intertwining both legs so that the ankles are tightly touching behind one another.

Communications experts Gerard Nierenberg and Henry Calero studied this position in different circumstances and discovered that 88% of 319 dental patients adopted this pose before a procedure, while 68% locked their ankles while waiting for a check-up.

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This position is therefore interpreted as a nonverbal signal of self-restraint and nervousness, and airline personnel are even trained to spot passengers who lock their ankles as potential nervous flyers.

The most effective and universal seated position for focused conversation for men and women is with both legs evenly spaced apart and feet firmly on the ground.

1. Hugging

A hug from the right person can make everything better, but there are a number of different types which each have different hidden meanings. A hug from behind, for example, is often reserved for romantic partners because of its intimate nature and an unspoken desire to make someone feel wanted and protected.

However, Dr Christopher Blazina has also noted that constant hugs from behind could be a cause for concern. He claims that avoiding a more soulful eye-to-eye romantic hug could indicate that your partner craves a closer connection but thinks you’re emotionally unavailable.

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If your hugs are always accompanied by a good pat on the back then the chances are you’re safely in the friend zone, while a back rub is more commonly used between family members as it signifies reassurance and kinship. Not all hugs are intimate at all though, and the ‘London bridge’ hug is a unique kind regularly adopted by acquaintances in a more formal situation.

This hug generally keeps a deliberate distance between the participants as only your upper bodies make any contact like a human bridge. Unsurprisingly, this is also a popular hug among politicians.

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