Via Real Simple | Photos by: Peter Hapak
How to read the subtext in your movements—and in those of others.
Every Move You Make
Every last gesture—whether it’s a tilt of the head or plain fidgeting—tells a story. Do you look down when you speak? Play with your hair? Lean to one side? Learn what you’re telling others with your body language—and what others are telling you with theirs.
How to Read Faces
Brushing Hair Off Your Face
This movement, a combination of nerves and flirtation, helps call attention to and frame your feminine assets (think face and neck). No wonder it’s a staple of a promising date.
Botox be damned! The only real smile, says Anita Barbee, a professor of social work at the University of Louisville, in Kentucky, is one in which eye muscles are engaged. People who grin for more than five seconds and only with their lips can be faking it. Frequent smiling in the workplace can make a person seem less serious.
The normal blink rate is six to eight times a minute. But under stress, you’ll blink more often and somewhat more dramatically. Want to know who’s freaking out and who’s as cool as a cucumber at the next big meeting? The eyes have it.
Nibbling Your Lips
If you bite, suck on, or lick your lips when under pressure or in an awkward situation, you’re attempting to comfort or soothe yourself, says psychologist Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., the author of The Nonverbal Advantage ($13.99, amazon.com).
Scratching Your Nose
Don’t get caught in a lie. “When a person fibs, it’s often accompanied by an adrenaline rush,” says psychologist Michael Cunningham, a professor of communication at the University of Louisville. This release causes capillaries to expand, making the nose itch. Another tall-tale tell: a sustained glance. A liar often overcompensates for being perceived as shifty by focusing a bit too intently on the person he is fibbing to.
Sending Darting Glances
This catch-your-eye game, usually played in guy-girl situations, tends to mirror your scattered thoughts. Does he like me? Do I like him? Do I want him to come over here? Also, unlike a direct gaze, the back-and-forth variety is a protective measure: If he doesn’t approach you, you won’t feel rejected.
Nodding Your Head
If you nod in clusters of three, the speaker will sense your interest, and this can lengthen her response threefold, says Goman. Word to the wise: Nod only once when trying to escape Chatty Cathy.
Closing Your Eyes
By rubbing, covering, or closing your eyes for longer than a blink, you’re trying to keep out certain auditory or visual cues. It’s a survival mechanism to prevent the brain from processing anything undesirable or threatening.
Lowering Your Gaze
This meek gesture is an unconscious bid for public support—a favorite tactic of small children, not to mention the late Princess Diana. It often elicits a parental response. If someone does it to you, she may be searching for your empathy. Be gentle.
Pursing Your Lips
Narrowing the red margins of your lips is a clear sign of anger, says Paul Ekman, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. Why? When a person is not truly mad, she typically can’t feign this gesture, even if she tries.
Tilting Your Head
Cock your head to the side when hearing a friend’s sob story. This movement indicates that you’re interested and listening. On a more literal level, you’re revealing and angling your ear to her, physically showing that you want to hear every detail.
Raising or Furrowing Your Eyebrows
“Raised eyebrows, one or both, is a true expression of piqued curiosity and interest, while lowered eyebrows can indicate negative emotions, such as confusion and fear,” says Laura Guerrero, a professor of communication at the Arizona State University Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, in Tempe. If you’re not interested in a good or bad way, your face will remain still and unanimated.
Looking Up or to the Side
Want a little glimpse into the way someone’s memory works? Notice where the person moves her eyes. When recalling something that was seen, a person will angle her eyes skyward, as if trying to picture it. When remembering something heard, she will look toward one of her ears, as if listening for it. Especially emotional experiences tend to be relived through introspective downward glances.
Click here to learn more body language.
- How to Read Bodies
- How to Read Hands
- How to Read Feet