Basic Body Language Interpretation

Body language interpretation is a broad category.  It encompasses gestures, expressions, movements and even change in skin color and perspiration.  To simplify the process of understanding how we can take these visually apparent indicators and apply meaning to them, we have to first look at a few possibilities that will help us narrow down what we are seeing into one of two categories:  Positive and negative.  From there, we will further look for indicators of feelings in four sub categories: Confident, unconfident, comfortable and uncomfortable.

Positive:  Positive reactions can easily be spotted by gauging whether or not the person observed is using movements that go up, or defy gravity(Navarro, What Every Body is Saying, 2008.  A winner of a sporting event will throw his arms up in the air.  A person that receives good news will bound when walking down the street on the balls of his feet.  Even real smiles curve upwards.

Negative:  The obvious opposite of positive can be observed in the same manner.  Negative emotions are evident when a person’s movements go downward, or with gravity.  The loser of a sporting event will drop his hands to his side and his shoulders will slump.  When someone receives bad news, he drops his head into his hands.  And, of course, a frown curves down.

Confidence:  Confidence is a positive emotion.  When someone is telling a truthful, fact based story, he will be able to do so with confidence as there is no fear of being contradicted or discovered as a liar.  Confident movements are usually sharp, crisp and emphatic.  When speaking with confidence, the head will be held up and hand gestures will be smooth, bold and direct.

Unconfident:  A person lacking confidence will tend to make himself smaller.  His movements are very faint or weak.  There will be very little or no gesturing.  A person who displays low confidence when speaking is likely doing so because he knows there are facts that will contradict what he is saying.

Comfortable:  A person who is comfortable is likely to be calm and use gestures in a smooth way.  When the facts are a person’s side, it is easier to be comfortable discussing them.  High comfort displays include a relaxed titling of the head, hands that rest easy and a relaxed but fairly upright posture, even when sitting (note:  dishonest people have a tendency to slouch in a chair and yawn during questioning- this is an attempt to look relaxed, but will come across as inappropriate and forced).

Uncomfortable:  When someone is uncomfortable, he is likely to fidget.  He is in a stressful environment and needs to expel energy.  Look for preening, touching the face and neck and playing with inanimate objects such as a pen.  Another strong indicator that a person is uncomfortable is when he aligns himself with a door or exit.  Look for his “orientation reflex” which is our subconscious  mind forcing us in the direction of what it is we want.  If his foot, feet and/or shoulders align with the exit and stay fixed on it for more than a few moments, it is an indicator that he wants to flee.

These cues are just a few brief examples of how we can read what a person may be feeling.  Keep in mind, some of these feelings displayed may be appropriate for the situation, and a positive emotion does not always equal truth and a negative emotion does not always indicate deception.  A rape victim should feel very uncomfortable talking about the crime.  The red flag would be if the victim showed no signs of discomfort.  Simply look to see what emotion matches the situation and observe for indicators of that emotion.


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