7 Revealing, Yet Subtle Body Language “Tells” That Show How Someone Is Feeling

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Are you wondering if your partner is upset?

Are you curious what your boss thought of your idea?

Do you wonder if your best friend is lying to you?

The chances are that you can discover it all by observing subtle body language signs.

Body language is how we communicated with each other long before we could talk. Babies use body language to tell their caregivers if they are hungry, upset, cold, or need a new diaper. In fact, body language is all they have. As adults, we also use body language to communicate, but we often aren’t even aware that we do it.

Some experts say that we connect fifty percent more with nonverbal communication than with traditional conversation. Because of this, it is vital that you learn to watch for and interpret common body language signs.

Here are some of the most revealing, yet subtle body language tells that show how people are feeling:

Crossed Arms And Legs Show Resistance

When someone crosses their arms and/or legs, they are creating a physical barrier because they are not open to what you are saying. It is a classic sign of defensiveness. When someone crosses his arms or legs, it shows that they have been threatened. If someone crosses their arms or legs mid-conversation, you have probably done or said something that he or she disagrees with.

Psychologically, crossed arms and legs are a body language symbol that the person is emotionally and mentally blocked from incoming information. In the primal state, crossing of the arms would protect vital organs. In today’s world, crossed arms may symbolically protect the heart. Most of the time, people cross their arms and legs subconsciously. They do not want you to know they feel threatened, but the reaction is on autopilot.

Even if the person is smiling or nodding along, the crossed limbs are an unintentional sign that he or she is now closed off. Very rarely does someone cross their arms or legs when they feel good. In most cases, it is because they are closing themselves off, and there is a reason behind it.

Posture Doesn’t Lie

Have you ever witnessed someone walk into a room and immediately command everyone’s attention without ever saying a word? It is all from body language, and most of it has to do with posture. Our brains are automatically wired to equate power with the physical amount of space someone occupies. Standing up straight with shoulders back is a power position because you are maximizing the amount of space you occupy. You are signaling that you are confident and in charge of the situation.

The simple act of standing up straight in an erect position can tell a person that you are interested and engaged in what they are saying. It can also convey that you are capable of dealing with any direction the conversation may take. Alternatively, by slouching, you are taking up less space, and therefore you project less power and presence. Slouching represents low self-esteem and little to no confidence.

Eye Contact Can Lie

Did your mother ever tell you “look me in the eye and tell me” when she was trying to determine if you were lying? The reason she told you to look her in the eye is because it is tough to hold eye contact if you are lying. Holding eye contact with another person demonstrates trust, honesty and integrity.

Unfortunately, this is fairly common knowledge, and many people will force eye contact in an attempt to demonstrate these qualities even when they are not true. In order to read eyes, you’ll need to watch for both aversion and overcompensation. If someone averts eye contact or holds it uncomfortably long, something may be up. Most people who are honest and open will hold eye contact for about ten seconds before briefly looking away.

Clenched Jaws Show Stress

When someone is stressed, his or her body naturally tenses up. While you may not be able to tell whether someone has a tight neck or back, you can typically see a clenched jaw. When you see this subtle body language, it shows that the person is in obvious discomfort. They may be anxious about the conversation or focusing on something completely different that is causing them stress. As the anxiety or stress grows, you may also see clenched fists in addition to the jaw.

Real Smiles Look Different

So many people smile to hide what they are truly feeling. They may not want you to know what they really think about what you are saying or how it is making them feel. However, a genuine smile often involves the eyes. You may see a softening of the eyes or wrinkles at the crows feet. A real smile will look different than a fake or forced smile. So, the next time someone smiles at you, look beyond the lips to the eyes to see the true feelings. If you know the person well, this should be easy to recognize.

This Roald Dahl quote from Danny the Champion of the World sums it up perfectly:

I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.

Copying Body Language Shows A Bond

Mirroring body language signals is something that humans do subconsciously when we feel a connection with someone else. Copying body language is a very subtle signal, but it can be telling while communicating with others. In order to pick up on it, you’ll have to be looking. Perhaps the other person tilts his or her head in the same manner as you do. Or maybe he or she will lean forward immediately after you do. This behavior shows that the person feels a bond with you. They trust you and are engaged in what you have to say.

Raised Eyebrows Signal Distress

There are typically only three culprits behind raised eyebrows: worry, fear, and sometimes surprise. Otherwise, it isn’t common for people to subconsciously raise their eyebrows during a conversation. So, if you notice someone raising their eyebrows while you are talking to them, you can anticipate that even if they don’t openly admit it, something you have said has caused distress.

You may not be a mind reader, but you can be a body reader by paying close attention to body language. It often speaks louder than words. You can actually tell what a person is feeling or thinking by being observant. Keep an eye out for how people hold their bodies and what they do with their faces. The key is to watch for a disparity between what a person is saying with their words and what they are saying with their bodies. This is when reading body language is the most worthwhile. The bottom line is that you can find out what a person is thinking – but unwilling to say – simply by observing the cues they are giving through their body language. Brilliant, right?

About The Author

Melissa Ricker is a nuclear engineer and a professional freelance writer specializing in career growth, technical writing and online entrepreneurship.