Examples for business, study, careers, love, and more...
Examples :: :: Body language

Body language

Body language, also known as kinesics, is one of the great interpretation tools. It's partly instinctive, partly learned. The human face, for example, has more muscles than most of the rest of the body. Facial expression is always a signal to others.

Current theories are that up to 80% of communication among humans is non verbal, based on body language, expressions, and movements.

Body language is interpreted in much the same way, but it even has therapeutic uses.

It was discovered that posture has a lot to do with the emotional state of people, a sort of subconscious reflection of their mental condition. The hunched up posture, for example, meant a defensive, negative, mindset.

A bit of trial and error established that changing the posture was a big help in changing the mental state. It may be that the defensive posture brings with it instinctive mental states, which if not conscious, tend to act as a physical cue for the mindset.

The defensive postures, for example, are covering up, reducing exposed areas, and retreating from proximity. Sort of a cringe, but not quite. If those postures are changed, the mind seems to get out of its previous state naturally.

Body language can indicate a very wide range of mental states:

  • Self-confidence
  • Defensive
  • Assertion
  • Impatience
  • Anger
  • Relaxation
  • Withdrawal
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Indecision
  • Decision
  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • Arrogance
  • Restlessness
  • Friendliness
  • Hostility
  • Distrust
  • Calmness
  • Disbelief

That's quite a range of expressions. It's not a simple form of interpretation, and it's necessary to consider body language in context with a situation.

You'll notice that some of these body language signs go together. A person can be calm and friendly, or angry and showing distrust.

One of the most interesting things about body language is that some people's body language, when seen without any particular pre conceived notion of how they're feeling, is just plain weird. A person may seem to be exhibiting a set of conflicting body language expressions, hunched up in a defensive mode, but seemingly quite calm otherwise.

This is where body language works as an interpreter. The appearance the person is trying to give is in direct contradiction of their presentation of themselves. They're not feeling calm, they're very tense.

The irony is that people recognize many odd things about others, but often don't know when they're looking odd themselves.

Upright, standing straight. Self-confidence Strong, certain, walking briskly
Hunched, cringe position, arms cover body Defensive Moves aside or away, may remain in single posture without movements
Sitting, leaning forward Standing, at full height Assertion Decisive hand movements, chopping cuts in the air
Shifting balance, walking back and forth Impatience Short, quick movements, meaning 'hurry up'
Tense posture, with or without expression, looks tight and ready to spring Anger Movements tend to amplify tense posture, literally signs of aggression.
Comfortable position, not inclined to move much, tendency to recline Relaxation Movements are leisurely, no great effort used
Stillness, watchful, seems to be backing away even when sitting in the same place Withdrawal Minimal movement
Fixed attention, observing mentally, rather than physicallyThoughtfulnessSet expression, body movements minimal, not looking at objects
Distracted, shifting focus, eyes moving aroundIndecisionGestures like questions, very noticeable if in state of real indecision
Firm posture in either standing or seated position, focused lookDecisionAuthoritative gestures, dismissive of interruptions
Alert, ready to move, posture, often doesn't stand still for more than a few secondsTensionMovements are rapid, similar to impatience and anger, but not aggressive or threatening
Highly defensive, posture, alert and very reactiveAnxietyGestures are sometimes wild, as if out of control, or pleading open palm hand movements
Stance is invasive of others space, confidentArroganceAggressive, insulting, gestures dismissive of others
Seems about to move at any moment, changes into different postures often, looks uncomfortable with sitting stillRestlessnessIrritable, energetic, unfocused movements like walking around the same area for no obvious reason
Mainly positive facial expressions, but posture may reflect protective and / or reassuring elements, attentivenessFriendlinessGenerally relaxed movements, considerate of senses of others, peaceful gestures
Tense, ready to spring, aggressive or withdrawn, facial expression may be neutral or angryHostilityTense movements, short, cutting hand movements, often staccato
Similar to withdrawal, watchful, negative or impassive expressionDistrustHand movements may look similar to Halt or Stop
A mix of confidence and relaxation, upright, firm stanceCalmness Similar to relaxation, but may include gestures of authority or peaceful signals
Attentive, but curious expression, stance neutral withdrawn or firmDisbeliefPalm movements, either down, meaning to reduce something, or upward, meaning give something

This is a whole science, and the interpretations given here are pretty straightforward, dealing with common situations.

It should be noted that not everyone reacts or behaves in identical ways.

Body language interpretation always has a context, and that context may not be clear.

Body language can reflect conflicting emotions, or a progression of emotions.

Some people are extremely impassive, and make a point of being hard to read. This is the Poker Face effect, applied to the whole body. The body language is trying hard to say nothing.

Others are excitable, hyper active, and overstate their movements and exaggerate their posture and other behavior. They can be interpreted as quite irrational, when they're merely being reactive.

Eye contact

Another part of body language is eye contact, which has been creating arguments about interpretation since prehistory. In some ancient cultures, like the Australian Aboriginal cultures, eye contact is considered rude and intrusive. In Western culture, it's considered a direct contact, a sign of honesty or confrontation.

In general eye contact is considered to be the Western version, where a stare or a look is made in context. A stare, in a friendly situation, is a friendly form of body language, but in a hostile situation may be considered an actual challenge.

Facial expression also qualifies eye contact and gives context.

Again facial expressions can be controlled, so interpretation has to be considered, when the person is clearly trying not to be readable.

Personal proximity

Another debatable point in body language is proximity, or 'proxemics', which is a measure of reactions to proximity. Some people do not like close proximity of others. Some like it, others are indifferent to it. In many cultures, close proximity is so common that the lack of it causes anxiety.

It can, however, be considered intrusive, an invasion of personal space, by either the person or something caused by their actions, like leaving an article on someone else's immediate space.

Body language is often revealing. If you watch a video of yourself, you may be surprised by your own behavior. To develop their skills, actors often watch their own performances, looking for character traits, as an assessment.

It's sometimes called a 'social language'. Apparently human beings in prehistory had a range of sign languages, which were easily interpreted by other peoples with whom they'd had no previous contact.

Recently, it was discovered that babies are literally born with their own body language. The banging down of a hand, for example, means literally telling someone to be silent.

Perhaps humanity is now learning consciously a language it was born with.