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The real guide to body language

Updated on March 6, 2016


The dictionary would say non-verbal, usually unconscious, communication through the use of postures, gestures, facial expressions, and the like. The outward expression of a person's emotional condition. The movements and gestures made are the key to emotions that person may be feeling at the time. For instance somebody self-conscious about their weight may pull at the fold of skin under their chin. A woman aware she may have slightly larger thighs may gently smooth her dress down. Pay attention to the circumstances the person is under while you listen to what they telling you.

Hand Signals

Hands can often be used to show someone how open and honest you are. As a gesture of trust we will often say "I didn't do it", with both palms out in the open. Children will do the opposite and put their palms behind their backs.

If you expose your palms when your lying to someone, you may still appear dishonest because of the other gestures your body is making. People who make their living by conning others will develop their non-verbal signals to complement their verbal lies.

There are three main palm gestures.

Palm Up - A submissive non-threatening gesture. Beggars on the street use this kind of gesture pleading for money.

Palm Down - This suggests authority. The Nazis used this particular movement as a symbol of their supreme power during the Second World War.

Palm Close Finger Pointed Position - The hand is often used like a club which the speaker uses to beat his listeners into submission.

Which leads on to the humble handshake. Which can often be difficult to do if your not a very confident person.

Simple handshaking tips for that perfect handshake:

Make sure that your palms are in the vertical position, making you both equal.

Try to apply the same amount of pressure as the amount you are being given in the handshake.

It's useful to know that men exert twice the power as women when shaking hands.

Arm Signals

The Barrier

We learn to use our arms as barrier from a very early age. We teach ourselves to hide behind things, and then when we reach adulthood, this behaviour changes into something much more sophisticated. When we perceive a situation to be threatening we automatically fold our arms across our chests. Even in those difficult teenage years we would do the same gesture but a more relaxed version crossing our legs at the same time. As we age this same gesture becomes less obvious, when we put our arms across our vital organs, lungs and heart. This motion of communication is a to protect us as we age.

The Comfortable Gesture

Many people would argue that when they stand with their arms crossed and their neck stiffened, that they're comfortable. hat may be the case, but to everyone else this signal is still a negative one. Try not to cross your arms, unless you really disagree with the situation in your in, you may find a more positive effect.

Crossed Arms on Chest

This signal is arm signal and means the same the whole world over. In any argument this particular signal means that someone disagrees with what your saying. Try and retrace your conversation and move that person into a more receptive position.

Simple Solution

An effective way of breaking the crossed arms on chest gesture is to get the person your talking to, to hold something, or give them something to do. This of course means that they don't have the opportunity to cross their arms.

Reinforced Arm Crossing

If someone is clenching their fists while their arms are crossed, this is also a sign of hostility as well as defensiveness. The person will also appear more aggressive and have an attacking attitude.

Arm Gripping

This is a self hugging gesture when someone wants to self-comfort themselves. Most common in dentists and doctors surgeries, or when people are waiting to take-off. Shows a restrained negative attitude.

Status Gesture

If someone is in higher status they don't need to fold their arms, showing others that they're not afraid. Which is why an employee will often do the partial arm fold. If a manager meets an male destined to rise up the ranks, there'll be a dominant handshake then the younger employee will fold his arms with his thumbs pointing up, showing that he's a pretty cool individual.


When you're in a more stressful situation you recreate the same gesture that was given when you were a child. The gesture of hugging. This is probably more common for females, and those who are less confident. Men will use a similar gesture with their hands covering their crotch area. This is known as "the broken zipper", this shows the male covering his crown jewels in case he receives an unpleasant frontal blow.

Coffee Cup Barrier

If your negotiating, this is an excellent way to see how your idea is being received. If someone is being hesitant, unsure or negative their cup will go to the opposite side of their body. If they are feeling more accepting the cup will be placed to the side of their body showing a more positive attitude.


Female Body Language

For hundreds of years women have always dressed to impress males. Advertising themselves using make up and designer labels, all in the hope of attracting a suitable male. Of course men aren't that far behind. Using wigs, fancy suits and even a bit of face painting. Which is basically what the male peacock does to attract his mate. Strutting around chest out, feathers on show, for all the world to see. Most men would say that they made the first move, but that's not strictly true. 90% of the time its the female that will initiate, sending various eye, facial and body signals. Males have up to 20 times more testosterone than women, making them see the world in terms of sex. Women send out small signals testing to see if the male is worth pursuing. Often men will feel besieged by so many signals, and will end up making a clumsy pass at the female. Women in the early stages will manipulate their men into showing his hand, confusing men. Making the females less approachable. The Five Step Sequence of Courtship Eye Contact - Female will spot an attractive male across the room, waits to see if he notices her. Will stop and give him a five second gaze, then turn away. He now stops to see if she notices him. The female then needs to deliver this gaze at least three times before the male realizes what is going on. The gaze may happen several times during the flirting process. The Smile - The female will give a number of smiles, giving the male the green light to make his move. Unfortunately men don't always see this and end up not responding. Preening - Female will sit up straight, crossing her legs and emphasizing her breasts to her best advantage. Or if she's standing, tilting her hips and head sideways towards on shoulder, exposing her bare neck. Often playing with her hair for up to six seconds, making the suggestion she is grooming herself for her man. The male response is to stand up straight, stomach in, chest expanded, adjusting his clothing, tucking his thumbs into his belt. Both bodies pointing towards each other. The Small Talk - Male approaches attempting to make small talk, or break the ice. Touch - The female finds an opportunity to light touch the males arm, it may be accidental or subtly planned. By touching, this indicates a higher level of intimacy.

Male Body Language

For the most part, males have always been the more colourful animals, not in the case of humans. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, men would beautify and decorate themselves with different kinds of apparel and wigs, even painting their faces for the women of the time. For a while men went back into the shadows and didn't do that much to their appearance other than using soap and using a bit of aftershave. But in the twenty first century things are changing again. The emergence of moisturizer's for men, an abundance of perfumes and aftershaves and even make-up.

Indicators Someone is Lying

A persons body language can be a huge giveaway without them even realizing it. Here are something's to look out for:

Mouth Cover

Your brain is subconsciously trying to suppress any words that are being said. This may only be with several fingers over your mouth or a closed fist, but the meaning remains the same, this also applies to a fake cough. If they cover their mouth during the conversation, this could also show that they may be hiding something. The 'Shhh' gesture, having one finger placed vertically over the mouth would have been used by the person's parents. This is still used when that person reaches adulthood, in an attempt to tell themselves not to say anything.

Nose Touch

Can be several quick rubs below the nose. Female gestures are smaller than a male, but this could be to avoid smudging makeup. This needs to be looked at in the right context, for example a cold or fever is naturally another reason a person may be touching their nose a lot.

When you lie chemicals known as catecholamines are released, making your nose swell. This is known as the 'Pinocchio Effect '. Blood pressure increases inflating the nose and causing the nerve endings to tingle, this in time makes you want to rub your nose briskly to get rid of the 'itch'. The swelling can't be seen by the naked eye, this is what causes the Nose Touch Gesture.

A normal itch is normally appeased by intentionally rubbing or scratching action. Like the Mouth Cover , the Nose Touch could also be used to disguise deceit by the speaker and listener a like. The listener doubting the speaker's words. The usually isolated gesture, that is repetitive, is at variance or out of context with what the person's complete conversation is.

Eye Rubbing

If an adult doesn't want to look at something unpleasant, the eye rub will take place. Rubbing the eye is the brain's way of blocking out doubt, deceit or anything distasteful or to avert the gaze of the person who is being lied to. Men rub their eyes quickly, often looking away if their lie is quite big. Women will touch the area below their eye gently, either to avoid smudging makeup, because they may have been conditioned to do as youngsters not to make strong gestures.

'Lying through your teeth' is used frequently, referring to the gesture of a cluster of clenched teeth and smile, coupled with the Eye Rub, portraying deception and by cultures such as the English, favouring not to say exactly what they're thinking.

Ear Grab

The gesture is blocking out any words being said, by putting the hand around, over or tugging at the ear. Other alternatives include the Finger Drill - where the fingertip is screwed back and forth inside the ear, rubbing the back of the ear, pulling or bending the earlobe to cover the ear hole. This may also be a sign that someone has heard enough or may want to speak. If someone is particularly anxious they may also use the Nose Touch .

The Ear Grab, however, is used in Italy to indicate that someone is effeminate or gay.

Neck Scratch

Using the index finger of the writing hand, scratching the side of the neck below the earlobe. A signal of uncertainty or ambiguity, if a persons says 'I'm not sure that I agree'. Even more evident when the expressed language is contradicted, eg. when a person says 'I can understand how you feel', but the neck scratching contravenes they don't.

Collar Pull

Lying causes a tingling sensation in the facial and neck tissue, where only a scratch will appease this. Which also explains why people who are uncertain scratch their neck, and also why the Collar Pull is used when they think they've been caught out. An increase in blood pressure, causing them to sweat, when they're suspected of not telling the truth.

This can also be used when a person is angry or frustrated, pulling the collar away to cool down and let the air circulate. Using phrases such as 'Could you repeat that please?' or 'Could your clarify that, please?' Causing the would-be deceiver to give the game away.


The inadvertent attempt by a person to revert to the security of the child sucking on his mother's breast, occurring when a person feels under pressure. A child substituting his blanket for his mother's breast, as an adult put his fingers to his mouth, sucking on cigarettes, pipes, pens and glasses and chewing gum.

Many Hand-to-Mouth gestures can be connected to lying or deception, but the Fingers-in-Mouth is an indication for an inner need for support. Giving the person reassurance and guarantees is a positive move.

© 2013 Helen Bolam


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