Reading body language can be a useful skill in many situations, such as in social interactions, job interviews, or negotiations. Nonverbal cues such as voice inflection, gestures, and posture all have a bearing on communication. People read body language better than they're consciously aware of. According to UCLA research, just 7% of communication is verbal. People rely on the tone of voice for 38% and on body language for the remaining 55% of the information they get from communication.
It's easy to notice a person's overall body language: whether they are relaxed or tense, making direct eye contact or avoiding it, etc. However, it's more helpful to look for clusters of behaviours. For example, if someone is crossing their arms, avoiding eye contact, and frowning, this may indicate defensiveness or discomfort.
A smile during a difficult conversation might indicate nervousness or a desire to defuse tension.
Changes in body language can be especially revealing. You can tell if someone is lying when they suddenly start fidgeting or avoid eye contact. These cues may indicate discomfort or unease as well.
When people want to put a barrier between themselves and another person, they will cross their arms or legs. This shows the other party that they're not open to the message they're receiving. They might be chatting away and smiling, but their body language tells a different story.
Crossed legs or arms signal that someone is emotionally, mentally, and physically separated from what's in front of them. This body position is telling because it's not intentional.
You might notice that someone you're talking to leans their head forward when you do or mirrors you when you cross your legs. This is an unconscious movement people make when they feel a bond with the other person. It means they are receptive to what you're saying, and the conversation is going to be successful.
Real smiles reach the eyes, creating crow's feet. If someone is only smiling with their mouth, it's not a sincere smile. Of course, this is assuming they're not past that age when everyone has crow's feet – then, it's much harder to tell.
Sometimes, you can tell who the boss is just by their body position. Their posture is erect. They make gestures with their palms facing down. In general, their gestures are open and expansive. Slouching, on the other hand, gives off an effect of subordination and lack of confidence.
People raise their eyebrows when they're afraid, worried, surprised, or untrusting. If you're talking to someone who suddenly raises their eyebrows and the subject isn't one that would naturally cause fear, concern, or disbelief, something else is going on.
You've heard that someone might be hiding something if they avoid eye contact. However, prolonged and deliberate eye contact can be an attempt to cover up a lie. Americans maintain eye contact for 8.5 seconds on average. If you're talking to someone whose stare is making you uncomfortable, especially if they're not blinking and are very still, they could be trying to deceive you.
Interpreting body language is not an exact science, and different people may interpret the same signals differently. It's important to be aware of your biases and seek additional information.