Understanding Body Language: How To Better Communicate With People Around You

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Understanding body language can be one of the most crucial aspects of socialization for some people. If you don't understand visual cues clearly, you might struggle to respond appropriately or connect with others. 

However, struggling to understand or use body language doesn't necessarily mean navigating healthy relationships is impossible. Instead, being aware of how body language works can be helpful. There are a few reasons people may miss visual cues and ways to pick them up and start using them.

Getty/Sarah Waiswa
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Why might a person miss out on body language cues?

There are several reasons why an individual might not be the best at picking up the body language cues that those around them are sending, including but not limited to the following. 

Autism spectrum disorder and neurodivergence 

An autistic individual may struggle to understand social norms, which can lead to direct communication and confuse those who don't communicate in the same way. Other forms of neurodivergence, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may also impact a person's ability to pick up on cues or socialize.  

Neurodivergence doesn't mean a person cannot communicate effectively with others, but it may mean that they do so differently, making body language more difficult to navigate. However, new studies show that autistic people communicate as effectively with other autistic people as non-autistic people communicate with each other, showcasing that the stereotype that autism completely hinders social ability is false. It may be, however, that neurotypical and neurodivergent people do not speak the same "language" in terms of social cues and communication styles. 

Brain injuries

Another potential cause of not responding to body language or social cues is strokes or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In these situations, the individual in question may struggle with managing behavior as well as they used to and may experience changes in cognitive or social functioning that can lead them to miss subtle social cues. They might talk too loudly in a restaurant, for instance, missing that other people are uncomfortable with the volume. 

The potential perks of picking up visual signals

If you aim to improve at picking up the signals that people are giving you, it may help to know how it can benefit you. Having a tangible goal can motivate you to learn more about and practice body language. 

Benefits of visual cues at work

How you communicate with others in the workplace can directly impact your experience and how your peers perceive you. There can be many ways to use your body to show your intentions. For example, you might clearly indicate how seriously you take your job by dressing professionally each day, speaking politely, and smiling often. 

Eye contact, posture, and a positive demeanor may let coworkers know you're engaged, willing to listen, and eager to collaborate. It can also show that you're fit for promotions, unique opportunities, and new job duties. Even if these cues seem arbitrary to you, they can help you create an outside image of yourself that reflects your thoughts on the inside.


Benefits of visual cues in your romantic life

Being able to read body language can be essential when dating and pursuing relationships. For instance, if you're sitting at a bar and a person smiles at you from a few seats over, being able to return the gesture may help you communicate your interest. If they frown or turn away, you may be able to recognize that your time may be better spent elsewhere. 

Look for signs like dilated pupils, hands and feet pointed in your direction, and smiles or laughs. Cues like these can indicate interest. Noticing signs of positive and negative body language can help you navigate social situations without overstepping boundaries, even if it takes practice.

Benefits of visual cues with your family

In some cases, it can be challenging to read your family. Conflict and confrontation can be difficult to approach, so it's not uncommon for others to use their bodies to show they're upset, sad, or angry.

For instance, if your spouse is mad at you, they might not tell you but may cross their arms when speaking to you or look out the window rather than meeting your gaze. Minor behaviors might be easy to miss or brush off as unrelated. However, if you notice changes in how someone stands, speaks, or carries themselves, consider what emotion they might be feeling. 

Is body language the only way to be social? 

Many people use body language to express themselves. However, body language is not the only way to learn a person's true feelings and may differ depending on culture or upbringing. Regardless of where you stand with using and interpreting body language, it doesn't need to be the only guide to conversation, as it doesn't allow you to read minds. Assumptions about someone's intentions may be off if you base them entirely on their behavior, especially if they are neurodivergent or communicate differently. 

Not using body language in the same way as others doesn't have to mean you're unable to socialize or that you're flawed. You may not thoroughly pick up on cues like others, which can be normal. Instead, try to be aware that how you present yourself can matter, and finding ways to connect and communicate with others in a way that works for you can help you form healthy connections.

Learn how to approach social encounters more confidently

How to find professional support 

Whether you want to learn more about body language, practice your skills, or understand why it is difficult for you, speaking to a professional like a therapist may be helpful. Despite being a part of being human, socializing can be confusing and stressful, especially for those with underlying concerns or different identities. 

If you struggle to find support in your area due to treatment barriers, you can also find support online through platforms like BetterHelp. Because you can join sessions from home, work, or anywhere with an internet connection, online therapy may be more effective and convenient. In addition, you may save time and money by avoiding commuting to an in-person office. 

One literature review of studies on online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) found it could lead to significant improvements in symptoms related to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions. You can also reach out for online therapy if you do not have a mental illness, as therapy is for everyone. 


Body language allows individuals to communicate without verbal language. If you're mindful of the version of yourself you are presenting to the world, you may notice more about how the body can communicate for you. However, if you struggle with this skill, consider contacting a therapist for further guidance. You're not alone, and many non-verbal communication tools can be learned.
Learn how your body communicates
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