November 14, 2022

The Science of Body Language

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According to a panel of research studies, anywhere from 70% to 93% of our communication is non-verbal — i.e., it’s expressed through body language. What’s more, body language is often at odds with spoken words, meaning we may be communicating something verbally, but our bodies are telling a different story. Because body language is largely automatic, unconscious, and governed by the reptilian parts of our brain, it unwittingly communicates critical information about a person’s feelings, thoughts, and intentions.

Those who are adept at reading body language can more successfully interact with others, and can better enjoy social interactions. If you’re able to read a person’s unconscious body cues, then you can quickly discover what their body is communicating about their interaction with you.

While science has looked at every aspect of body language to uncover the meaning of nonverbal communication, let’s take a look at some of the most researched ways to determine how another person feels toward you.

When a person isn’t happy…..

When we feel threatened or uncomfortable, we exhibit blocking behaviors and we see this when people try to distance themselves from the source of their discomfort or distress. In its most extreme form, we can observe this when people cover their eyes with their hands to avoid a shocking or upsetting visual.

What are some more subtle blocking behaviors people exhibit?

  • Rubbing their eyes repeatedly
  • Placing an object in their laps (a purse, a pet, etc)
  • Turning their feet toward the nearest exit
  • Crossing their legs away from the person speaking (i.e., the crossed leg will face the opposite direction)

When we are deeply uncomfortable, we engage in pacifying behaviors meant to soothe and lower our state of emotional arousal. Common examples include neck touching (or playing with a worn necklace), face stroking, yawning, whistling, or playing with one’s hair.

The torso is another important area to observe. When we’re speaking with someone who we don’t like, we’ll lean away with our torso. The front of our body is our most vulnerable, so we’re quick to protect it when we’re feeling uncomfortable. If we don’t like the person speaking to us or we don’t agree with them, we may cross our arms to protect ourselves. The more a person’s torso is protected, the more guarded they feel.

When a person is comfortable…..

When people are happy, look down at their legs and feet. You’ll probably notice they’re bouncing. We’ve all been there: you hear good news and literally jump for joy. The only caveat here is that sometimes shaking feet and moving legs can indicate impatience or restlessness; however, if you can incorporate this data with other body language cues, it’ll be easier to recognize how the other person is feeling.

When we’re comfortable and enjoying ourselves, we tend to turn our feet toward the source of our happiness. The next time you’re chatting with someone, pay attention to the direction their feet are facing, as it’ll be a strong indication of whether or not they’re enjoying the conversation.

When we cross our legs while standing, it’s typically because we’re highly comfortable with the situation and feel entirely at ease. When seated and conversing, pay attention to how the other person crosses their legs. If they’re comfortable and happy, the foot of their crossed leg will point toward you.

Earlier, we noted that we tend to lean away from others who make us uncomfortable. When we’re enjoying a conversation or attracted to someone, we will lean in and even expose the front of our bodies. When we display our mid-section without crossing our arms or creating a barrier, we are communicating a high degree of comfort.

Lastly, the more a person enjoys the company they’re with, the more they will mirror (i.e., mimic) the other person’s body language. Conversely, a person who’s uncomfortable will demonstrate guarded body language.

Do you struggle in relationships to feel understood? Do you sometimes have a hard time understanding what others are feeling? Know that you’re not alone, and we’re here to help make things easier. Reach out today.