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A Beginner's Guide to Reading Body Language

Reading body language or non verbal communication is intriguing and an extremely useful life skill.

What is someone telling you via their body language?

What is someone telling you via their body language?

Reading Body Language: Kinesics

When you distrust what a person is telling you it’s time to evaluate their body language and check if their verbal and nonverbal communication matches. This is called kinesics. Body language can be consciously or subconsciously communicated.

Humans are biologically programmed to sense when something isn’t quite right. A person's instincts are rarely incorrect so following our inbuilt science instead of our wishes makes good sense.

Learning how to read nonverbal communication delivers the power to assess whether there is a discrepancy between a given statement and reality, and it also helps put somebody at their ease when they display, or try to hide, their tension and anxiety.

Mirrored body language, leaning in and open postures are positive examples of body language.

Mirrored body language, leaning in and open postures are positive examples of body language.

The Human Body Chats Unintentionally

Everyone has their own habits, idiosyncrasies and nervous tics. A basic rule is that anything which seems odd or misplaced for the person in question should act as a trigger to investigate their verbal and nonverbal communications.

To be accurate, it's imperative to evaluate more than one signal, consider the context and cultural differences. Silence is golden as a nonverbal communication. When an answer is expected and there isn't one the body language can be chattering away unintentionally. The body is rarely still so there should be a clue somewhere.


Proxemics relates to the proximity of another person and the sense of an invasion of personal space. In a personal relationship, the distance between humans is minimal. 0-6in or up to 15cms is considered intimate. Friends and family should be no closer than 18in or 45cms. A business associate should be at least 4ft or 1.2m away to ensure personal comfort is maintained.

Use Body language to Tell if Someone is Lying

Let's take the example of a cheating partner.

Has the partner transformed from a PJ-wearing, TV-watching, stay-at-home type to someone obsessed with their appearance, about exercising and excusing themselves from family or couple time? Perhaps the person turns their back on their partner or twists their torso away in a self-protective or defensive stance.

Maybe they tell the partner that they have to work when they are really at play. Gut instinct knows that something is off. Interestingly, a cheating partner's appetite for sex can increase with their partner when they're juggling more than one relationship.

A confrontation can be difficult but tackling the matter, evaluating the body language, establishing a match or mismatch between verbal and nonverbal communication is vital for taking the next informed step.

How can someone tell if their partner is cheating?

How can someone tell if their partner is cheating?

A List of Body Language Signals for Beginners

  • Mirrored body language between people is normally positive.
  • Generally speaking, eyes to the left denote fact, and eyes to the right signal imagination. Although the two sides of the brain work as one unit, the left side of the brain handles facts, figures and reality whilst the right side of the human brain works creatively.
  • Dilated pupils: Denotes interest and attraction.
  • Eye rubbing: This is often a sign of doubt or tiredness.
  • Repeated blinking: This signals discomfort or distress.
  • Blinking with long pauses: The person is trying to control their body language.
  • Raised eyebrows when a person sees someone they know: "The Eyebrow Flash." The eyebrows are saying that they recognise the other person. This should be mirrored,
  • When a person touches or scratches their nose: They are signalling rejection and a lack of belief. Alternatively, they are lying or exaggerating something.
  • Playing with an earlobe: This denotes indecision.
What someone says can be contradicted or confirmed by their body language.

What someone says can be contradicted or confirmed by their body language.

  • Smile without creases around the eyes: Be on the alert for fakery.
  • Covering the mouth: This is a body language signal that someone is trying to hide their true feelings.
  • A tight smile: A sign of secrecy.
  • Biting the bottom lip: Anxiety.
  • Jutting out bottom lip: Petulance.
  • Head up: Signals alertness, confidence and sometimes defiance. Beware, married with a jutting out chin, this denotes arrogance or a sense of “Go on, I dare you.”
  • Head down: A sign of submission, shame, guilt, dejectedness or that the person is expecting a confrontation and they are shielding their face and throat from the battle.
  • Touching the neck: People often do this when under pressure. Collars and ties may be played with too.
  • Neck scratching: Like nose scratching, this is an indicator of disbelief.
Learn about a person and their intentions through their handshake.

Learn about a person and their intentions through their handshake.

  • Shaking hands with the palm down: A sign of dominance.
  • Shaking hands with the palm upwards: The person is submissive or accommodating.
  • A two-handed handshake: The person wants to instill trust in them as they take control.
  • A handshake with an arm hold: Taking control.
  • Flat, open hands with the palms showing: Indicates honesty and integrity.
  • Legs and feet unconsciously point in the direction the person wants to go towards. Feet pointing towards the other person: The person wants to stay. They’re happy.
  • Feet pointing away from the other person: An indication that they want to leave, even subconsciously.
  • Crossed legs and/or crossed arms: Signs of defensiveness. A barrier is formed.
  • Legs crossed at the ankles: Denotes tension.
  • Sitting with legs, torso and arms wide: The person’s aim is to look bigger and more imposing. Also a sign of confidence and relaxation.
  • Arms held close to the body: The person feels strained or stressed.
  • Shoulder scratching: Denotes stress.
  • The trunk or torso of the body turned away partially or wholly: This signals an unconscious intention to leave or that they dislike or fear the other person. The vital organs are protected by the act of turning away from a perceived threat.

A Verbal Communication Bonus Tip

Whilst writing for a private detective I leaned that people cannot lie confidently out of sequence. We’re programmed to lie from start to finish, not in reverse or to hop around in a tale. This is why law enforcement and private detectives ask questions out of time order and revisit points to see if contradictions and discrepancies appear.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle