Everyone has heard of body language and most of us have at least a basic understanding of how it works. Some signals are unmistakable. A person who actively moves away from you or scowls when you speak probably is not your friend. A person who is constantly smiling and touching you very likely wants to be your friend. But there is a lot of gray area in the middle with a lot of subtlety that most of us miss out on. Everything from how you blink your eyes to how your wiggle your glabella can give away all kinds of hints about what you’re thinking and feeling at any given moment.
10. Arms Akimbo is About Dominance
It may be hard to piece together what exactly “arms akimbo” means based on those words alone. But picture someone with their hands on their hips, elbows out, thumbs back. That’s the arms akimbo position and if you’re dealing with someone holding their arms that way, they’re feeling pretty in charge of the situation.
Arms akimbo, according to Joe Navarro, a body language expert who’s been studying the science of body language for half a century, 25 years of which he spent catching spies with the FBI. This is a dominance position. Someone standing arms akimbo is letting you know they’re paying attention, they’re invested in what’s going on and, most likely, they have an issue they want to discuss.
Navarro used his skills as a body language expert to determine what kinds of questions made suspects uncomfortable and even whether a person was a spy from another country. These kinds of cues are easy to overlook and we all fall in and out of these body language patterns all the time, but if you know what you’re looking for, they can be invaluable tools for providing information.
The arms akimbo position can easily move from trying to be authoritative to one of being curious and inquisitive with a simple hand move. If the fingers are back and the thumbs are out, now you’re interested and curious about what’s happening, rather than trying to run the show.
9. Steepling Demonstrates Confidence
If you were going to do an impression of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, there’s a good chance you’d say “excellent” while steepling your fingers. That hand gesture isn’t just cartoon tomfoolery, that’s exactly what someone like Mr. Burns would do in real life. The steepling hand gesture, when you hold your hands with the fingertips together like the steeple of a church, projects confidence. According to Navarro, it’s the most powerful display of confidence people can display.
According to Navarro, a nervous or unsure person will wring their hands and engage in some kind of floppy hand gestures. Steepling is the opposite of that and projects authority. The confidence that this gesture projects disappears when it’s gone. If a person goes from steepling to not steepling, take that as a good sign they are no longer as confident as they were a moment before. If the person then progressing to rubbing their hands together slowly, that’s a big indicator of stress.
8. Blink Rate
How often you blink is one of those things people never think about. It’s an unconscious action so we’re very unaware of how often we’re doing it. If you’re curious, the average adult blinks about 15 to 20 times per minute.
In a stressful situation, your blink rate is going to increase. This could potentially indicate dishonesty, but it isn’t set in stone. It could just as easily indicate stress and discomfort with a situation. That said, if someone is giving a speech, for instance, or testimony in court, and their blink rate increases dramatically, that could be a sign of deception.
Navarro points out that when Nixon was speaking and not necessarily being honest he’d go from blinking 12 times a minute to nearly 70 times. And for a real sign of someone under stress, check out Bill Clinton when he was giving his deposition when he was blinking nearly 100 times per minute.
Car dealers and other professionals who are looking to put pressure on people are training to be on the lookout for blink rates. They’ll watch your eyes to determine when and how to put more pressure on you to clinch a deal. So if you’re going into a high stress situation and you want to project that you’re cool and collected, keep aware of how often you blink and try to control it.
7. You Ventilate When You’re Upset
There’s a joke that probably dates back to vaudeville about people getting overheated when they’re questioned about an uncomfortable subject. The person being questioned will pull out their collar and say something like “Boy, is it getting hot in here?” The implication is that when you’re the subject of uncomfortable questions you get stressed out, you get hot, and you become uncomfortable. And guess what? It’s totally legit.
When Navarro was questioning suspects in a law enforcement capacity, he’d look for those techniques he called ventilating that indicate someone is trying to manage their stress. In many cases, this literally involved grabbing a shirt collar and pulling it out to ventilate the body and cool down.
The act of ventilating is by no means an indication of deception, like some kind of body language lie detector. But it does show that a certain line of questioning or behavior is making a person feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t even need to be questioning. If you’re exposed to an environment that is really making you feel out of place, maybe you’re a mild-mannered church organist and you stumbled into a biker bar by mistake, you’re prone to doing this sort of action as well.
6. Crossed Arms are Self Soothing, Not Blocking
Crossing your arms has long been believed to show a strong sense of distance or blocking. You’re using your arms to protect those vital organs. You can find this “fact” all over the internet. Now consider what you’re feeling when you usually cross your arms, if you do. Are you threatened? Are you truly feeling defensive? Are you trying to protect your heart from attacks? Probably not.
The common belief is apparently not the case at all, according to Janine Driver of the Body Language Institute. Crossing your arms may just be helping you think, especially in a work situation. Navarro agrees that it’s less defensive and more self-soothing. And heck, sometimes maybe your arms are just tired and you need something to do with them.
5. Your Eye Direction Doesn’t Indicate Deception
You may have heard people tend to look away when lying. It’s the old “look me in the eye and tell me the truth” bit that has shown up in TV and movies for years. The idea is that the liar, when faced with that intense scrutiny and the weight of some heartfelt guilt, will be forced to look away or crack under the pressure and tell the truth.
It’s utter nonsense.
Building on this is the long-standing myth that if a person looks up to the left, or maybe the right, they’re accessing part of their brain to help them create a story rather than telling the truth. This is also nonsense and has been debunked.
Navarro says that visual cues to indicate deception are pretty unreliable. Despite the fact we think we can suss out deception based on body language, it’s not easy at all. Other things like coughing, touching your face, all of these so-called indications that someone is being dishonest could just as easily mean the person has a dry throat or an itchy nose.
4. Mirroring Shows Interest
When it comes to the world of seduction, body language goes a long way. Navarro doesn’t just use his skills to catch spies, he can help you catch a mate as well. Even if you’re Zoom dating during a pandemic.
Humans like hands, and we like to see other people’s hands. Using your hands when talking, as we have seen, can indicate a lot. But if you mirror the hand gestures of the person you’re talking to, it’s a sign of interest. And that means if you see someone doing that to you, you know you have them hooked.
This mirroring behavior, called isopraxis, extends beyond handwork as well. You can mirror the way another person is sitting, or nod when they nod. Whatever they’re doing, when you adopt it as your own it indicates you’re heavily invested in what they’re saying.
3. Preening Shows Romantic Interest
If you’re at a bar and looking across the way at someone, trying to be flirty, and they simply stare deadpan at you and maybe wince a little, things are not going well. But there are some signs that can let you know that you have a chance here.
Even before you strike up a conversation, you can look for certain behaviors that indicate the person is trying to look their best for you. These preening displays include fixing or playing with hair. You’ll see this sort of behavior in a club a lot and in some cases it transcends the subconscious and becomes very intentional. There are times when someone may “absently” curl their hair around a finger in a clearly intentional display. It’s born from this subconscious body language that tells a person “Look how good I look.”
No hair to speak of? No problem. Anything that is a clear indication of someone fixing their appearance fits the bill. Fixing clothes, sitting up straight, anything that takes you from oblivious of your appearance to very concerned with your appearance meets the criteria.
2. Lips Disappear When You’re Upset
Your lips do an amazing job of expressing how you feel. You can sneer when you’re angry, smile when you’re happy, frown when you’re sad, and we’ve probably all seen someone who has a remarkable way of holding their lips to look incredibly attractive. So what else can lips tell you without speaking any words? They can easily indicate how much you dislike a situation.
If someone is squeezing their lips together, it’s a good sign they are not happy with whatever is happening. The more compressed the lips get, the worse the feeling. If it’s really bad, the person may suck their lips right into their mouth.
1. The Glabella Indicates Dislike
Most people have had a fear of saying the wrong thing at one time or another. Well, good news: now you can find out with a fair degree of accuracy if another person thinks you’re saying something dumb.
When we hear something we don’t like because we think it’s dumb or wrong or just unappealing in some way, we tend to furrow our glabella. That’s the space right between your eyes at the top of your nose. When that little spot wrinkles up, beware of what you’re saying. If it keeps happening, then the person you’re talking to is absolutely not feeling the conversation. They may still keep it polite but there’s a good chance they dislike you or at least what you’re saying.