Most people say a lot, without actually saying anything at all. Reading body language can be difficult. Crossed arms could mean that the person you’re talking to is closed off, or it could mean that the air conditioning is on too high. However, if the person you’re talking to has checked their watch four times in the past five minutes, you can comfortably assume that person is distracted.
What non-verbal cues should you be looking out for, and what do they mean? We’ve broken down our best tips for reading body language below.
1. Watch for Wandering Eyes
Our eyes say a lot more about us than we think. Business coach John M. O’Conner agrees. In a recent article for Forbes, O’Conner councils businesspeople to be aware of wandering eyes whilst in a meeting. O’Conner says that wandering eyes are a sign that whoever you are talking to is distracted: “Watch the eyes of who you are talking to. Looking away at phones or watches tells you they are distracted. That’s normal today. Don’t let it bother you. Notice it and find out what will get their eyes off their distractions. The best way to do that without being too aggressive is to ask questions about them, their needs and how you might be able to help.”
Another good tip? Pay attention to a person’s eyes when they smile. A real smile will reach the eyes (you’ll see small crinkles at the edges of the eyes), but a fake one? Wrinkle-free.
2. Pay Attention to Posture
The way we stand says a lot about confidence – it’s the reason why some people walk into a room, and all eyes are drawn to them. The business experts at American Express credit that confidence to an assertive posture. An assertive posture essentially means standing tall with your shoulders back and your weight distributed evenly between each leg. This is in direct contrast to a submissive posture, where you’re standing with crossed legs, hands clasped in front of you and with all of your weight on one hip.
Very small adjustments can make all the difference when it comes to projecting a positive, confident picture to the world.
3. Talk Shop – And Listen
It’s not just what they say – it’s how they say it. For the experts at Global Poker, talking to someone is one of the best ways to get a read on them. However, don’t just listen to what they’re saying – how they’re talking is just as important. Tone of voice can say a lot about one’s hand, as well as how confident someone is feeling. Watch for shaking voices (a sign of nervousness) or a very talkative person (a sign of confidence), as well as the breathing and cadence of speech. Fluid speech and smiling indicate confidence as well. Sudden changes in tone or taking deep breaths reveals good cards on the poker table – and a potential client win in the boardroom.
As for using speech to determine discomfort? Holding breath, biting lips and covering your mouth are all signs that the person you’re talking to is uncomfortable.
4. It’s All in the Hands
Did you know that your hands say a lot about how confident you’re feeling? Retired FBI agent Joe Navarro breaks down the most common hand placements for Insider, as well as what they say about your confidence:
- Hands on hips, with thumbs back: This is a dominant posture, and usually means that the person is alert, and is ready to discuss an issue.
- Hand steepling: According to Navarro, “the hand steeple is performed by placing the fingertips of both hands together, spreading them, and then arching the hands so that the tips of the fingers look like a church steeple. This is a universal display of confidence and is often used by people in leadership positions.”
- Thumb out: The more confident we feel, the further away the thumb will move from the index finger, usually most obvious when a person is sitting at a table. This can also be used to gauge a person’s commitment to what they’re saying – the greater the distance, the more the speaker believes in what they’re saying.
Even if you can’t exactly read someone’s thoughts, they’re giving away a lot more than simply what they are saying.