Reading Body Language – Never Guess What People Think

Reading Body Language – We All Have That Friend

Just the other day I ran into my close friend, let’s call her Sarah. She was super excited because she told a joke at work and everyone laughed including her boss.

I was dying to hear a good joke that day, but Sarah said: “Never mind that, I think I am finally starting to get the approval of our boss. She wants to play it tough, but I finally got the proof she likes my humor.”

I was genuinely happy for Sarah, and most of the times the boss laughing along your side is a good sign. On the other hand I knew how hard she could be on Sarah, so I decided to apply my body language expertise to get to the truth.

I asked her to visualize the moment when her boss laughed with her co-workers. Was she nodding in approval, or backing away with crossed arms?

Sarah looked at me with disappointment and said she absolutely remembers her boss backing away since she bumped into the person behind her.

Sarah is just like many of my clients, she wanted approval so bad, she convinced herself she got it, even though the body language signs were telling her otherwise.

Can you imagine what you could achieve if you understood the language of the body? Every single person on earth communicates with more than just their voice.

According to an UCLA study in non technical, highly emotional situations, only 7% of our communication is done by speaking. A whopping 53% goes to body language, and the rest is our tone of voice.

Each part of our body communicates while we speak, including:

  • Our head; we nod for approval; shake it when we’re not agreeing.
  • Eyes are definitely the window to the soul and answer a lot of questions
  • Mouth; It can form a genuine smile or a ‘pan-am smile.’
  • Arms, legs, and the entire body also tell a story.


Here are some questions to help you when reading body language.

These are simple questions to have in mind when talking to someone (your future boss perhaps? or a client?) that will help you determine how you influence them.

Reading Body Language – 5 Simple Questions to Determine Your Influence

  1. How is their body positioned compared to yours? Are they coming closer to you or moving away from you?

Advice: If you see someone is backing away, do the same. This way you’re giving them space and by mirroring what they do you achieve some balance with them.

If someone is moving towards you it means they are interested, and you got their attention.

Getting hold of someone’s attention can be achieved by lowering your voice while you talk to them. They will automatically move towards you to hear you better.

  1. What is happening with their arms? Are they reaching towards you, do they fidget nervously, or maybe they have their arms crossed?

Advice: If someone is talking to you with open palms this is a good sign. Crossed arms are usually not a good thing. The person feels uncomfortable and defensive, so you might want to back off a bit at this point. If you’re talking about yourself, stop, and ask them a question.

Renowned authors Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero wrote a book on reading body language by videotaping more than 2,000 negotiations.

Guess what? Not a single negotiation ended in an agreement when even one of two parties had their legs crossed while negotiating.

  1. What about their face? Are they biting their lips while they speak? Can they hold eye contact or they keep avoiding it?

Advice: Whenever you see people’s lips disappear as they’re thinking about how they’re going to answer your question, the next thing out of their mouth will be, at best, a half-truth, possibly a 100% lie. This is simply rolling lips back over the teeth and is a cousin to covering their mouths with their hands before the answer.

If a person had no problem with eye contact in the beginning, but is suddenly avoiding it, something’s not right and it should sound off the alarm.

  1. Are they using ‘pacifiers’ while they speak?

During tense situations, it’s natural to touch one’s self to relieve tension. Some of the common pacifiers are:

  • Cracking knuckles
  • Hugging one’s self
  • Tapping/drumming fingers
  • Coughing
  • Swallowing hard
  • Clearing your throat
  • Yawning Rocking, bouncing
  • Hair touching, twirling, or stroking
  • Self-Grooming & picking
  • Finger, toe or heel tapping
  • Humming/whistling/singing

Advice: Everyone does these things. They’re very common.

But, watch to see if there’s a shift. If someone has been open and confident and suddenly shifts to one or more of these, it’s a big hot spot.

  1. Where are their hands? Are they hiding them?

Often, you’ll see people in a conversation sit with their hands on the table.

When the conversation moves to questions where you need direct answers to tough questions and their hands suddenly move below the table, it’s likely they’re hiding something and aren’t 100% forthcoming with all the information.

People hide their hands when they’re hiding the truth, and if they’re standing, you may see hand-hiding manifest by putting hands in pockets.

Reading Body Language – 7 Verbal Tells to Look Out For

Body language and words combine to create the true meaning of your communication. In the same manner that you learn to recognize body language hot spots, words and word patterns can be very revealing.

  1. Tone – one of the most reliable indicators of deception.

– Tone rises when people are excited and angry; it lowers with sadness and shame.

– Liars will try to convince you and may adopt a slightly angry and forceful tone. Truthful folks convey information in a much more peaceful manner.

– Truthful people don’t feel like they need to prove anything.

– Another telltale sign of lying is a complete lack of emotion in the tone.

We heard this from Ryan Lochte recounting the events of being robbed at the Olympics. He used a totally deadpan  tone, which he later admitted. Pants on fire!

  1. Tempo—Pace of speech. Are they slow or fast like an auctioneer?
  2. Volume—how loud are they? Did they raise their voice right after the difficult question?
  3. Pitch—it can vary from deep to squeaky.
  4. Timing—how quickly do they answer you? Some people are late responders (more than three seconds) but not most. People who pause too long after the question are often liars .
  5. Rhythm—Hesitation and stumbling versus smooth.
  6. Level of responsiveness—some people are quiet; others will talk your ear off.

Reading Body Language takes some time to master, but it is a skill just like everything else in life. If you wish to learn more about body language feel free to visit one of my online courses and take the guess work out of your daily communication.

Reading body language will make your life so much easier!

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