A picture’s worth a thousand words. Body Language can tell us a lot.

A collegiate football coach, who shall remain nameless, gathered his players in a preseason meeting to explain how they would conduct themselves as a team.  He said in a stern voice, “You are student-athletes. You are a student FIRST,” as he held up two fingers, “and an athlete SECOND,” he finished emphasizing the last statement by holding up one finger.  Now we all know football players aren’t the brightest bulbs around, but they all read that message just fine. And, consequently, the only thing they read that season was the playbook.

The coach said what he had to say because he is accountable for his words.  Rarely are people held accountable for their body language, so they feel freer to express those emotions and are more prone to leak their true feelings below the neckline. Lucky for us, we can spot those inconsistencies. Below are some (again to include all would be a book) of the most important body language signs that can help you decipher someone’s true intentions.

Shoulders, Arms, Hands:

  • Shrugs and partial shrugs– no confidence in what they’re saying, uncertain.  Shrugs can be lifting both shoulders, one shoulder, or turning the hands upward at any height.  Even the slightest shrug is a powerful clue to deception. The speaker who shrugs is basically telling you they have no faith in what they are saying.
  • Folded arms-protecting themselves, insecure,
  • Hands on hips- ready for action, assertive, occasionally outrage
  • Hands clutched in raised position-frustration (the higher they’re raised, the higher the frustration)
  • Hands in steeple position– confidence, superiority
  • Palms showing– honest, genuine
  • Palms hidden (pockets, fists, behind back)- dishonest,
  • Fists– aggressive
  • Finger point- aggressive authoritative, trying to convince, possible sign of lying
  • OK sign as finger point– authoritative, but not aggressive
  • Thumb showing- confident, superior
  • Wrists showing– comfortable, secure
  • Embles– an emblem is any gesture that represents something (i.e. middle finger, thumbs up, okay sign).  Sometimes emblems inadvertently slip when someone is lying about how they feel or what they are saying.  Technically, the shrug is also an emblem, but it is so common and important in detecting lies that I gave it it’s own section.  When someone leaks an emblem, you can be certain it represents the person’s true feelings.
  • Illustrators– illustrators are gestures people use when talking.  They don’t really mean anything, they are just helping to tell a story.  Typically, illustrators decrease with lies; you need to know someone’s baseline tendency to use illustrators before you can tell if that person is telling a lie or not.
  • Manipulators-manipulators are when any part of your body touches or messes with something.  This something could be another part of the body, clothing, or an object.  Examples are twirling hair, biting inside of mouth, pulling on sleeve, and fiddling with a pen.  Tendency to manipulate increase with discomfort and lying, but also can increase with extreme comfort, like when someone is at home with friends.  You must read the situation.  According to The Definitive Book of Body Language, the top 8 signs of lying are manipulators. Here they are:
  1. covering mouth

    He’s holding back. Fist formed, hand on mouth, and palm faced down all say something is making him uncomfortable.

  2. touching nose
  3. itching nose
  4. rubbing eye
  5. grabbing ear
  6. pulling collar
  7. scratching neck
  8. placing finger in mouth
Stance, Stature, and Silhouette:
  • Crossed legs- closed attitude, uncertain, protective

    How many different feelings can you find in this picture? Who is uncomfortable, who is the most interesting, where is everyone going, and what is the guy being carried feeling?

  • Legs and hips pointed in a certain direction- the direction that person wants to go.
  • Stepping backwards- discomfort, protective.  Big sign that someone doesn’t have faith in their own words if it comes at the end of a statement.
  • Foot pointing- points to the people who that person finds most attractive or interesting.
Look for these signs in groups and clusters.  One gesture doesn’t prove anything, but you can do a good job finding out about a person by gathering body language clues that come in clues and context.

Homework Assignment- Scout out an inconspicuous post at a restaurant or bar, and break out those analytic skills.  Watch how people interact and discern what their relationship is.  Look for lies, comfort, aggression, flirtation, boredom, and interest.