Body Language

How to Interpret Body Language

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: January 16, 2017
How to Interpret Body Language

Body language is the process of conveying thoughts or feelings through the nonverbal physicality of our bodies and better awareness of what it means can be a powerful tool in any relationship. 93% of communication is nonverbal; smiles, looks, hugs, indifference - it's all part of body language. Every day we move through the world communicating with our gestures and behaviour. It is not an exactly interpretable language, but broadly speaking there are traits and characteristics which can be used to great effect in our personal and professional lives.

Read on at to find out How to Interpret Body Language and use these skills to both better understand others and project the best version of yourself.

Steps to follow:


Facial expressions - looks, smiles, eyebrow and head movements convey different emotions. The difference between one emotion and another can be very subtle, so you will need to be careful in determining what a certain expression can mean. Individuals can express these emotions differently, but take a look at the pictures below to see some general guidelines for which expressions relate to which emotion. The eyes are often more expressive than the mouth and we should look at the eyes when someone smiles to see if they are being genuine. Often our facial expressions can betray us as they can speak louder than words, so we must be careful in choosing how we respond to others if you don't want to give yourself away.

How to Interpret Body Language - Step 1

Hands. The movements we make with our hands say a lot about our feelings and personality. For example, if you fidget with objects on or around your person (like a tie) you might be showing nervousness. Rubbing your hands together, can show impatience and turning your hands to show your palms intuits a feeling of safety and sincerity. Having your hands on your hips can be a sign of defiance and aggression, but can also just be a sign of fatigue. As people speak they often use their hands for emphasis, so pay attention to what movements they make and you can better get to know someone.

How to Interpret Body Language - Step 2

Arms, legs and feet. Crossing one's arms is a very common body signal which can have many different meanings, so you'll want to take into other considerations when you see someone do this. Are they defensive or awkwardly nervous? Maybe they're just tired. Look at their facial expression as well and you should better be able to discern what they are thinking. When feet are crossed it tends to show shyness and distrust, but it could also do with a person's body position as body types and sizes will affect how people hold themselves.

How to Interpret Body Language - Step 3

Way of sitting. If you are sitting on the edge of your seat, you are showing attention but at the same time you might be conveying submission and a lack of confidence. However, if you are sitting straight with your legs open, you are transmitting relaxation and openness. When a person sits with their legs crossed and hands behind their head, it often reflects a sense of security and superiority.

How to Interpret Body Language - Step 4

Movement. When you walk incessantly or pace you are showing anxiety and worry. Keeping your hands in your pockets and avoiding eye contact shows insecurity and mistrust. You often see teenagers in this listless position as they are coming to terms with their adolescence and are in the process of getting comfortable in their body. Short steps show shyness and perfectionism, but, on the other hand, long strides are signs of pro-activity and willingness. Walking slowly and distractedly shows concern and signs of indifference.


It is difficult to know exactly what we are conveying through our body language, but being engaged and aware of how we comport ourselves physically might help us to express to others something which our mouths cannot.

If you want to know more about nonverbal communication, read these articles on How to Spot a Liar Through Body Language and How to use Body Language for Effective Communication.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Interpret Body Language, we recommend you visit our Culture & Society category.

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How to Interpret Body Language