Reading Body Language: 5 Hidden Signals You May Be Sending

Whether you (or they!) know it, other people are always reading your body language for secret clues about you. Find out what your gestures and movements are saying with these expert insights.

By Alyssa Jung
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    Eye contact

    If you want your body language to show you're listening to another person, make eye contact. But limit it: An overly aggressive eye lock can be read as threatening. "When you give more than 80 percent, the person you are communicating with will feel uncomfortable," explains Janine Driver, author of the New York Times best seller You Can't Lie to Me. Give too little (40 percent or less) and it can be a sign of deceit. The magic number? 60 percent, or a little more than half. "Give them eye contact, then slightly glance away."

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    Crossed arms

    Crossing your arms? Others may read that to mean you're distant, insecure, anxious, defensive, or stubborn, according to Barbara and Allen Pease in The Definitive Book of Body Language.

    But arm crossing has its pluses, too. Driver points out that it can make someone better at sticking to a difficult task, citing a study that found adults who crossed their arms and then were asked hard math questions were 30 percent more likely to keep trying to solve them than those who kept their hands on a table. "The act of crossing your arms utilizes both your left and right brain, creating higher cognitive function," says Driver.

    So the next time you confront someone with a tough question and they cross their arms, don't assume you've made them mad; they might just be trying to come up with an answer.

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    Sitting with legs spread

    Driver says when you sit like this you're marking your territory and exuding dominance. "People with power are seen to take up more space," she says.

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    Crossed legs

    If you sit with your legs crossed, ankle over knee, you're confident and dominate, says Driver. Known as "figure four" in body language circles, Driver says when you sit in this position you're opening up your "power zone," or the nether region. "We have three areas on our body where we open up when we are stress-free and relaxed: the neck dimple, belly button, and 'naughty bits,'" she says. It's a predominantly male movement but Driver says women are beginning to sit like this more and more.

    Crossing your legs at the ankles while seated is known as the "ankle lock" and can mean you're holding back, uncertain, or fearful, making it common in interview situations.

    And ladies, if you want to appeal to a man, cross your legs at the knees. According to the Peases, men voted this their favorite position for seated women.

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    Standing with hands on hips

    You might think the "Superman pose" shows off your confident side, but beware, because Driver says this stance can often come off as aggressive. That's because you're taking up more space and "threatening" with your pointed elbows, preventing others from getting by you. Even propping just one hand on your hip can give off an intimidating vibe, say the Peases. 

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    Your Comments

    • elle

      I guess paparazzi would love women to take #3 to heart and “Sitting with legs spread” in order to not be viewed as timid and submissive. Eh?

    • Captive Audience

      What a crock of BS this is.

    • ARShams_Reflection

      Sitting with legs spread indicates one is arrogant, dominant, damn-caring, for instance, people in power most often do so.

      – A.R.Shams’s Reflection

    • ARShams_Reflection

      Crossed arms while in communication with the other indicate blockade of
      reaching messages to each other properly is understood to have been created knowingly or unknowingly.

      - A.R.Shams’s Reflection

    • ARShams_Reflection

      To make the person you are communicating with to feel comfortable with you slight eye contact for a short while and then glancing away flexibly is a decent approach.

      – A.R.Shams’s Reflection