How to read body language

Beginner guide to body language

It’s often said that actions speak louder than words — and this rings especially true when it comes to body language. As a non-verbal form of communication, body language can be a powerful tool, as you can use it to put people at ease, make friends, or even persuade people to do things for you.
Being able to read body language can also allow you to detect things such attraction, truth, confidence and shyness.
You can read body language by carefully watching the facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, and other movements made by another person. All of us — whether we realise it or not — use body language in our everyday lives. With this in mind, here the team have selected a few common body language behaviours and gestures, and given the common interpretations of their possible meanings — which will help to make you fluent in the art of reading body language!

Eye contact

A failure to look someone in the eyes or rapidly shifting eye movements can often be interpreted as trying to hide something or lying. It can also be a sign of shyness or lack of confidence.


Smiling can demonstrate confidence, friendliness, and a positive attitude, and also gives the impression that you’re someone that people would want to be around. On the other hand, a ‘nervous’ or ‘false’ smile can demonstrate the opposite.

Attention span

Often you can tell what a person is like by noticing their attention span. For example, if someone quickly loses focus and clearly is not listening then this makes them appear disinterested, bored, and possibly even uncaring — whereas a longer attention span is likely to indicate more interest.

Head shaking or nodding

Frequently, without realising they are doing it, people nod or shake their head to signal whether they are in agreement or not. You can give your approval to someone just with a nod of the head, and your disapproval either by not nodding or by shaking your head.


Touching another person during social interaction, if done appropriately, can convey a strong message to them. For example, it can be used in a flirtatious manner to show romantic interest, or can simply be a way of calming or reassuring someone.

Arms folded/legs crossed

This can be seen as a defensive posture or can signal that the conversation is at an end as far as that person is concerned. Sitting tightly folded up indicates that you are closed to communication, as your crossed limbs effectively form a physical barrier to keep other people away from you.

Standing with hands on hips

This demonstrates a readiness to act in a situation, or can even indicate aggression. It is not the most welcoming of gestures and you may often see it displayed by teenagers wishing to show their defiance.

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