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by Julie Musil

Your teacher asks, “Who can answer the question on the board?”  As she scans the classroom, she spots you.  You slink down in your chair, looking the other way.  She knows you don’t know the answer.  Did you tell her?  Not with words, but with body language.

Body Language?  What’s that?

Body language is communication through body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, words and sounds.  Most body language is unconscious, meaning we send messages without realizing it.  “Research has found that as much as 93% of our communication is non-verbal,” states Tonya Reiman in her book The Power of Body Language.  Isn’t that amazing?  Plus, your body language is the most honest.  If you’re eating a mysterious casserole and say, “Mom, this is great” while shaking your head back and forth and crinkling your nose, your true feelings are leaking through.  

“Now that you mention it...”

Knowledge of body language can help in your daily life.  You’ve probably already decoded messages unknowingly sent to you by others.  Have you ever met someone and instantly knew they were kind and honest?  Or met someone you didn’t quite trust?  You were reading signals they were putting out, without realizing it.  Understanding body language can help you answer questions such as:  Is this person really my friend?  Can I trust them?  Are they telling me the truth?

Friend or Fake?

If someone is truly your friend, here are some signals you might notice from them: warm and inviting smiles that reach their eyes (not smirks); their chest and feet are pointed toward you when you speak; they listen to you without interrupting, and share the conversation with you; they show real happiness when you do something well; they might “mirror” your movements when you speak, meaning their actions look similar to your actions; and importantly, they offer compassion when you need it.  In order to judge the situation fairly, don’t look for just one of these clues.  Look for clusters of clues together.  That is when reading people is the most accurate.

You = Truth Seeker

How can you tell if someone is not telling the truth?  Some of their body language clues might be: shifting their feet around; pausing more than usual in conversation; increased blinking of the eyes; a higher pitched voice; rubbing their nose or their eyes; or increased swallowing.  Some of these things happen naturally anyway, but clustered together in a questionable situation might let you know something isn’t quite right.

But don’t tell ANYONE!

Can you trust this person with a secret?  Someone who is trustworthy might do the following: make strong eye contact; show gestures with their palms up; uncross their arms; stand tall and straight; nod when making positive points and shake their head back and forth when making negative points.  

You calling me crazy?

Many gestures are universal such as a frown (sad), a smile (happy), or biting your fingernails (nervous).  However, some cultures view common gestures in a different way.  For instance, while shaking your head side to side generally means “no” in most cultures, it means the opposite in Bulgaria, parts of Greece, Turkey, Iran and the former Yugoslavia.  Winking at someone may be a  flirting gesture in the United States, but it’s considered improper in Australia  and in parts of the Far East, such as Hong Kong.  And while the index finger circling the ear generally means “crazy,” in Argentina this gesture can be used to tell someone they have a phone call.  

So that’s what they REALLY think!

Body language experts analyze events such as presidential debates or television interviews.  Trial lawyers look for clues in body language from a jury they are trying to win over.  And parents can use body language when trying to figure out which of their children is responsible for shattering a window with a baseball. 

Pick me!  Pick me!

Raise HandWhether you intend to or not, you are constantly sending nonverbal messages.  People are reading yours, just as you are reading theirs.  What message would you be sending your teacher if the next time she’s looking for a volunteer you sat up straight, looked her in the eye, and raised your hand?  Of course, be sure you know the answer before trying this!





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