Facial ExpressionsA few examples of emotions the face can express include:
EyesThere is a whole world apart from the shape and color of eyes. As “windows to the soul” eyes are capable of revealing a great deal about what a person is feeling or thinking. Some common things include whether people make direct eye contact or averting their gaze, how much they are blinking, or if their pupils are dilated. Do be aware that eye contact depends on the culture. Some things to be aware of are the gaze, blinking, and pupil size/dilation.
MouthMouth expressions and movements can also be essential in reading body language. For example:
- Chewing on the bottom lip may indicate that the individual is experiencing feelings of worry, fear, or insecurity.
- Pursed lips: Tightening the lips might be an indicator of distaste, disapproval, or distrust.
- Lip biting: People sometimes bite their lips when they are worried, anxious, or stressed.
- Covering the mouth: When people want to hide an emotional reaction or to avoid displaying smiles, smirks, a yawn, or a wide variety of emotions.
- Smiling may be genuine, used to express false happiness, express sarcasm, or cynicism.
- Turned up or down: Slight changes in the mouth can also be subtle indicators of what a person is feeling. When turned up could indicate a happy feeling or optimism. Slightly down-turned mouth could indicate sadness, disapproval.
GesturesGestures are the most direct and obvious body language signals. Waving, pointing, and using fingers to indicate numerical amounts are all very common and easy to understand gestures. Again, be aware gestures are influenced by culture.
Some examples and possible meanings are:
- A clenched fist to indicate anger or solidarity.
- A thumbs up and thumbs down often indicate approval and disapproval.
- The “okay” gesture, made by touching together the thumb and index finger in a circle while extending the other three fingers can be used to mean “okay” or “all right.” Here is an example where cultural changes the meaning. In some parts of Europe the same sign is used to imply you are nothing while in some South American countries, the symbol is actually a vulgar gesture.
- The V-sign is created by lifting the index and middle finger and separating to mean peace or victory in some countries. In the UK and Australia, the symbol is an offensive meaning when the back of the hand is facing outward, something like a double, middle finger.
Arms and LegsWhen considering using body language, here are some signals that the arms and legs may convey:
- Crossed arms might indicate that a person feels defensive, self-protective, or closed-off.
- Crossing legs away from another person may indicate dislike or discomfort with that individual.
- Expanding the arms wide may be an attempt to seem larger or more commanding.
- Arms close to the body may be an effort to minimize oneself, withdraw from attention, or indicate they are closed to the discussion.
- Standing with hands placed on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready, or in control, or a sign of aggressiveness.
- Clasping the hands behind the back might indicate that a person is feeling bored, anxious, angry, or submissive. (In oriental countries this is a widely-used posture.)
- Rapidly tapping fingers or fidgeting can be a sign that a person is bored, impatient, or frustrated.
- Crossed legs can indicate that a person is feeling closed off or in need of privacy.
PostureHow the body is positioned conveys a wealth of information about how a person is feeling as well as hints about personality characteristics, such as whether a person is confident, open, or submissive.
- Open posture involves keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed. This type of posture indicates friendliness, openness, and willingness.
- Closed posture involves hiding the trunk of the body often by hunching forward and keeping the arms and legs crossed. This type of posture can be an indicator of hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety.
- Sitting up straight may indicate a person is focused and paying attention.
- Sitting hunched forward can imply that the person is bored or indifferent.
Personal SpaceThe term proxemics, coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, refers to the distance between people as they interact. To better understand this concept I refer you to the Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxemics. Briefly, there are four social distances.
- Intimate distance – usually occurs during intimate contact such as hugging, whispering, or touching.
- Personal distance – family members or close friends.
Social distance– acquaintances, the distance depending on how comfortable you feel in the person’s presence.
- Public distance – often used in public speaking situations.