To understand and read body language you must take into account the context in which people perform them i.e. a date, a job interview, or just a relaxed night out. There are several common actions people tend to perform, and in this article I will describe what they are and what they mean.
Before noticing these behaviors take into mind that some people have habits. Get to know who you are socializing with and learn their habits. If you come up to a girl who has her arms crossed perhaps she is not crossing them because of you, and you should not take this as a bad sign. If someone suddenly starts shaking their leg during your conversation it means you have probably touched a nerve.
Arms crossed – subconsciously this person wants to distance him/herself from what they are experiencing. So they place their arms in front of their body as a form of a barrier. Perhaps the girl you are speaking to is not happy with what she’s hearing/seeing. It is a sign of authority and a form of defense.
Shoulders – The more someone faces you with their body the more they are interested or open to you. If you look closely in any social environment you will find that people who do not get along will rarely face each other with their bodies.
Legs – Feet tend to point in the direction the person is interested in going. Next time you are in town with your friends go into a shop you know they hate. See how one foot points to the door.
Tapping and fidgeting – Tapping hands on the table, leg, shaking of the leg or fidgeting with fingers are all a sign of stress or discomfort. Make sure to catch this as it occurs to find what triggered it.
Neck rub – When someone starts to rub the back of their neck or head it means they are uncertain or discomforted. Take the context of the situation and the conversation into account to see what set them off.
Touching and rubbing of the face – When someone touches their face it is a sign of discomfort. It is a subconscious way of distancing themselves from the unpleasantry they are experiencing and it can be taken as a form of fidgeting.
Smile – The ultimate sign of relaxation and comfort. Take into account that this is a full smile utilizing all the muscles in the face. The eyes and eyebrows smile with the rest of the face for this.
Hands in lap – this is another form of distancing oneself. Once again take into account that this is a habit and a form of sitting for some people.
Taking up space – People with high self esteem take up a greater physical space than those with low self esteem. It is a sign of confidence, comfort and dominance. However be careful when making this assumption. i.e. civilized people eat with their elbows tucked in. A less civilized individual is hunched over with his arms wide open taking up a great amount of space, while the civilized person sits up straight and tall, eating calmly and slowly. Both may have high self esteem.
Sitting – sitting with feet out or crossed over means the person is comfortable. However if the person is sitting with feet close to the body, or even leaning over, he/she is ready or wanting to leave. Watch their feet to see where they are pointing. Perhaps one of them is pointing at the door? Or the bathroom?
Getting carried away – when someone starts to chat frantically, speaking with their hands and getting passionate with their story, they are comfortable. They want to pass some information across to you and they think or are willing for you to listen.
Tense – Clenched fists, tense posture or face all occur when someone is in discomfort or distress.
Leaning to or away – When someone leans away awkwardly they are subconsciously distancing themselves. This can be a sudden gesture or slightly slower i.e. during a conversation. When someone leans back or away they do this because of a subconscious feeling of discomfort or distress. Perhaps it’s just out of boredom for the conversation, or perhaps its disagreement. Or maybe they saw you picking your nose. It is up to you to interpret why. When they lean toward you they want to be closer and are in agreement.
To read body language you need to understand it. First practice noticing people’s movements. Then try to understand why they made them. Perhaps you will better understand what is going on in their minds. Remember not to look too hard and into every little action as you will see things that are not there and make incorrect assumptions. Just notice the slightly different actions and keep in mind everything that is written in the article above.