22 Body Language Examples And What They Show
Updated July 16, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault
We use body language whenever we communicate face to face. It's nonverbal language that emphasizes or alters the meaning of the direct language we use. We speak to others through our body movements, posture, eye contact, hand gestures, tone and volume of voice, facial expressions, and micro expressions that hold meaning for us as well as for our audience.
Nonverbal communication is a two-way street. When you feel comfortable communicating with your own body, it’s possible to become skilled with the nonverbal signals that you’re sending to others. In fact, communicating through body language and other nonverbal signals might even be quite fun. As you work on your skills for communicating with nonverbal signals, you’ll naturally get gain better skills on how to interpret body language that others portray and that has its benefits as well.
The Power Of Body Language
Using positive body language can help you get what you want if you know how to use it. It can land you a job, help you sell your house, win an argument, or start a relationship.
Negative body language, on the other hand, can keep you from getting the things you want. What's more, it can cause you to lose friends, miss out on opportunities at work, or offend people you want to impress.
How Reliable Is Body Language?
Body language is not only powerful, it's usually reliable for revealing your true feelings, too. Body language isn't completely reliable if the person expressing it knows how to manipulate it well. Consider the poker player who has perfected their body language to the point that the other players don't see their "tells."
Body language comes through most of the time whether you intend to reveal it or not. However, you need to be careful when assessing someone else's body language. What means one thing to one person might mean something entirely different to someone else. This is particularly important to know when there are cultural differences between people.
Body Language Examples
The following body language examples are common. It's usually easy to discern their meaning once you've learned them.
- Arms Crossed Across The Chest
Your arms and legs are perhaps one of the first types of nonverbal communication that people notice when they see you.
Sitting or standing with your arms crossed across your chest is nearly always seen as defensive body language. Universally, people view a person that has crossed arms as insecure, annoyed, or closed off. When you do it, you're closed off and disengaged. You may appear angry or stubborn.
If you see someone with their arms and legs crossed for a long period of time, remember that it could indicate that the temperature where you are is too cold. It could also mean they're tired or simply supporting their shoulders in an armless chair.
Smiles can mean different things, depending on the exact facial expression. There are happy smiles, shy smiles, warm smiles, and ironic smiles. The Duchenne smile consists of pulling up the corners of your mouth while squeezing your eyes to make crow's feet. It's considered a genuine smile, as opposed to a fake smile where you just expose your teeth. Have you ever heard of the term, “smiling eyes?” Some people are really good at sending a smile through direct eye contact. When you display an authentic Duchenne smile, you let people know you're approachable and friendly.
- Tapping Your Fingers
When you tap your fingers, you appear impatient and possibly nervous about waiting. If you’re a finger tapper, be aware that it’s one of those nonverbal signals that can grate on others’ nerves.
- Tilting Your Head to One Side
When you tilt your head to the side, it usually means you're listening intently and deeply interested in finding out the information you're being told. It can also mean you're concentrating very hard.
- Steepling Your Fingers
Holding your fingertips together and your palms apart let people know you have authority and control. Bosses and politicians use this gesture often to show they're in charge.
- Crossing Your Legs
The way you cross your legs can tell others a lot about you and how you're feeling at any given moment. If you cross them at the ankle, it may show that you're trying to hide something. If you cross them at the knee but point your knees away from the other person, you show you're uncomfortable with them. In most cases, the best option is to plant your feet firmly on the floor.
A common term related to body language is the “figure four” position. To sit this way, stretch your arms and legs forward and then cross one ankle up over your knee, with your legs crossed high and your pelvic region open. With crossed legs in this position, your body makes the shape of the number four. The nonverbal communication message that the “figure four” pose represents is that you’re powerful and domineering. When your arms and legs are open and relaxed, you send a nonverbal communication that you’re confident and approachable.
- Pulling Your Ear
When you tug on your ear, it shows that you're trying to make a decision but just hasn't gotten there yet. You tend to look indecisive or noncommittal.
- Putting Your Head In Your Hands
When you put your head in your hands, it might mean that you're bored, as if you're so weary of life that you just can't hold your head up anymore. Or, it can mean that you're upset or so ashamed you don't want to show your face.
- Standing Up Straight
Standing erect with good posture shows you feel confident.
- Gesturing with Your Hands Open and Palms Up
What you do with your hands makes a big difference in whether people trust you or not. Hold your hands open and gesture with your palms up to show that, no, you don't have anything hidden from them.
- Eye Contact
You need to make eye contact with the person you're talking to if you want them to feel comfortable with the conversation and accept what you have to say. Scientists suggest that most people are comfortable with eye contact of about 3.2 seconds at a time if you're a stranger. When you become a friend, they usually don't mind having eye contact with you for longer at a time.
- Looking Down
Looking at the floor or ground makes you appear weak and unconfident. Unless there's something you need to discuss down there, you need to keep your eyes on the level of the other person's face. When you break eye contact, as you should every few seconds, try looking to the side.
- Rubbing Your Hands Together
Want to show how excited you are about a new project? Just rub your hands together vigorously.
- Twisting Your Hair
Often, movies and TV shows use the gesture of twisting the hair to show flirting. That may be the meaning you get when someone twists their hair, especially if they look up at you through their lashes while they do it.
However, if you're in a job interview, you'll only look like your nervous and uncomfortable as you idly twist your hair.
Microexpressions are extremely brief facial expressions that happen in about 1/25th of a second. They happen when you're trying to hold back your emotions. When you see someone showing a microexpression, it usually means that they're trying to conceal something from you. However, if you learn to spot them, you can gain the advantage in any type of interaction.
- Walking Briskly
When you want to show your self-confidence, walk briskly and with purpose. Whether you're going somewhere specific or not, walk as if you're striding confidently toward an important destination.
- Placing Your Hand On Your Cheek
When you touch your cheek with your hand, you show that you're thinking and carefully evaluating the information you're receiving. When you see someone do this while you're talking to them, you can usually assume that they're taking you seriously enough to consider what you're saying.
- Rubbing Your Eye
When you rub your eye, it usually means you doubt or disbelieve what you're hearing. If you someone is rubbing their eye as you speak, you might benefit from stopping and asking for their feedback so that you can address their doubts.
- Rubbing Or Touching Your Nose
When you rub or touch your nose with your index finger, you appear dishonest. If you do it in a conversation that requires openness and honesty, you'll have trouble accomplishing your goals. And, if you see someone else rubbing their nose, it's a good indication that you need to be careful not to believe everything they tell you automatically.
- Standing With Your Hands Clasped Behind Your Back
Take a position with your hands clasped behind your back, and others may read this as anger, apprehension, or frustration. It may feel like a nice, casual pose, but in reality, it can make others uncomfortable and wary of you.
- Pinching The Bridge Of Your Nose
When you close your eyes and pinch the bridge of your nose, you seem to be making a negative evaluation of what's happening in the conversation. If someone takes this pose with you, you may need to take a different approach in enlisting their support for your goal.
- Standing With Your Hands On Your Hips
This pose is tricky. In some cases, it can mean that you're feeling angry and may behave aggressively. In others, it may simply mean that you're enthusiastic and ready to get something done.How someone may interpret your meaning of this stance may have to do with your use of personal space. For most casual acquaintances, a good distance for personal space is about three feet or about an arm’s length distance between you if you’re standing shoulder to shoulder. You can stand a bit closer than that with good friends and family members and everyone should still be comfortable.
How To Send The Right Messages With Your Body Language
Learning body language examples is a great first step to sending the right body language messages. It also helps you read the unspoken messages and nonverbal signals that others are sending to you.
However, knowing the right movements, gestures, and facial expressions can only take you so far. If you want to have healthy, productive interactions with others, you may need to work toward a better understanding of yourself and the people in your life.
Couples who misread each other's body language can quickly become angry at, disappointed in, or out of touch with each other. If you need help learning to communicate with your significant other or anyone else, it may benefit you to talk to a therapist.
You can reach out to BetterHelp.com for private, online therapy at your convenience. There, you'll speak to a licensed counselor who can help you build your self-esteem, heal your relationship, improve your mental health or handle work situations better. Some people believe that therapy is only for people that have some sort of mental health problem. The reality is that therapists treat much more than mental health disorders. They can help you to improve your personality and help you to use verbal and nonverbal communication to help you become the person that you really want to be.
You can become fluent in body language. Even better, you can develop your qualities so that your body language naturally shows others the wonderful person you really are!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is meant by body language?
Body language and non-verbal communication involves the gestures we use to communicate with others without using words. There are different forms of body language communication that help interpret body language the same way as vocal communication.
What is body language communication?
Body language communication is part of body language. Body language and non-verbal communication give others clues to how we're feeling on the inside when we're not talking. For someone who understands how to interpret what they are seeing, body language and facial expressions can provide a peek into a person's inner thoughts.
What is defensive body language?
According to the Book of Body Language, defensive body language and facial expressions reveal signs of discomfort and displeasure. Defensive body language and facial expressions include folding the arms in front of the body in a defensive stance. These type of defensive body language and facial expressions often provoke discomfort and anger in others. Defensive body language is a negative body language indicator.
What is the positive body language?
When it comes to understanding body language it's important to note that positive body language promotes feelings of trust and comfort in others. Things like making eye-contact while speaking to someone and giving a genuine smile often invoke a similar positive reaction in others.
How do you read a person's body language?
Understanding body language is a skill that can be learned. There are self-help resources available online that can help you understand the meaning behind body language. You can also talk to a counselor or therapist to gain more insight on how to read body language. It may surprise you to learn how others perceive you by the body language cues you're sending out.
What does mimicking body language mean?
When you hear someone say they are "mimicking body language" this means that one person is copying the body language of another. People who mimick others body language can invoke either a positive or negative response depending on the tone of the situation.
What is positive body language in the workplace?
Positive body language in the workplace communicates openness, team spirit, and a commitment to getting the job done. Examples of positive body language gestures at work are warm smiles and greetings, respectful eye contact, and avoidance of negative body language behaviors at work.
How can I change my body language and attitude?
The first steps to changing your own body language and attitude, are to understand the signals you're putting out with your movements and gestures.
Talking to a licensed mental health professional like a therapist can help you learn how others perceive you. You can also gain insight into what's driving your body language communication and how to communicate positive body language messages more effectively.