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Body Language – 10 Tips for Reading People and Interpreting Gestures
Reading people and their body language can give you great insights into their true feeling.
We use our head, arms, hands, shoulders and even legs and feet to make gestures, and emphasize what we are saying, but the majority of gestures are made with the hands and arms. Here are some things to look for, to help you interpret body language and gestures.
1. Nodding or tilting the head to the side shows interest, active listening, and concern.
2. A head held up indicates confidence, but if it is held too high, it can indicate aloofness or a patronizing attitude – looking down your nose at someone.
3. Shrugging the shoulders with a palms-up gesture indicates that the person doesn’t know or care, or is bored or uninterested.
4. People sometimes reveal their real feelings through body language that contradicts their words. For example, if someone says he agrees with you, but his head moves slightly from side to side, he is really signaling disagreement. He may be showing his real feelings, but not want to be bothered arguing with you.
5. Some people pick lint from their clothing. Whether this is conscious or unconscious, it can indicate that they disagree with you, but can’t be bothered to argue.
6. Nervousness often shows in your hands. People who are anxious may rub or wring their hands together, or clasp and unclasp them.
7. When we aren’t comfortable with our hands, we hide them in our pockets or behind our backs. Hands in the pocket convey a hidden agenda or secretiveness.
8. An open palm suggests honest and sincerity. A closed fist can be considered menacing.
9. Hands on the hips can be seen as defiant.
10. The fig leaf position, with your hands clasped together over your crotch, or folded tightly over your chest (the female fig leaf) can make you seem aloof or defensive.
Are You Shaking Hands “The Right Way”?By Christopher Edgar
Recently, I read an interesting article about how people are supposed to shake hands in business interactions. According to the article, when you’re shaking hands with someone-unless they’re your superior at work-you should turn your palm down and position your hand above theirs. This is supposed to suggest that you are the dominant person in the interaction, and subtly influence the other person to do what you want. This, we’re told, is the way powerful executives shake hands with people they meet-implying that, if you want the money and power they have, you should adopt their handshake.
To me, there’s an irony in writings on how to shake hands to make the right impression, and other teachings about how to impress people with assertive, confident or attractive body language. The irony is that these authors learn about the body language they teach by studying the behavior of people who naturally move their bodies that way.
For instance, the executives referenced in the article I read don’t shake hands the way they do because they read an article or took a course on handshakes. They do it without thinking or being self-conscious about it. The way they shake hands, and other aspects of their body language, are natural expressions of who they are. To them, their handshake is completely comfortable, and the possibility that they’re shaking hands “wrongly” doesn’t even occur to them.
By contrast, if you told someone who’d never before used the “dominant” or “palm-down” handshake to start using it, I’ll bet they would be completely uncomfortable. Every time they met someone, they’d have to focus their attention on their handshake to make sure they got it right. Being this anxious about how you’re coming across isn’t very pleasant, and makes you unlikely to project confidence and “dominance” to others.
Some people might read this and say “but I’m self-conscious about how I move my body all the time anyway. Since that’s how I am, I might as well learn body language that impresses people.” Others might say “but if you work on your handshake long enough, you’ll stop being uncomfortable doing it. It’s like developing any other skill.” A few years ago, I would have voiced the same objections.
Eventually, however, my perspective on this issue shifted. If researchers on body language learn the “right” ways to move one’s body by watching people who aren’t self-conscious about how they move, maybe the easiest way to make a positive impression is actually to get rid of your self-consciousness. Perhaps the very reason powerful executives make a good impression, and are successful in business, is their lack of anxiety and inhibition-not the specifics of how they shake hands or other aspects of their body language. In other words, the best way to present yourself effectively is to stop agonizing over how you’re presenting yourself. This seems like a lot less work, and more enjoyable, than studying other people’s movements and trying to imitate them.
But how do you become less self-conscious? I could go on for many pages about this question. However, I’ll start by saying that, in my experience, one of the most effective methods is to seriously explore the reasons your self-consciousness exists. What impression do you feel you need your body language to convey to people? When did you decide that the way you normally move your body isn’t good enough? What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t adopt the “right” body language? What would people think of you?
Understanding why you have an insecurity is often the key to freeing yourself from it. Insecurities about how we move our bodies, and more generally about how we appear to people, tend to arise from a felt need to defend ourselves against others. Perhaps we’re afraid others will ridicule, ignore, attack, or harm us in some other way. We have to make our bodies look “right,” we believe, to prevent these things from happening. These fears tend to develop in our childhoods, when we’re at our most vulnerable, but unfortunately they can stick with us as we mature.
When you bring your full attention to your fears about the way you’re coming across, you’re likely to discover that many of those fears are obsolete. They arose out of conditions of your childhood environment that no longer exist today. The people you were afraid would criticize, exclude or attack you can’t hurt you anymore. When you have this realization, you feel freer to drop your insecurities-your defense mechanisms-and move through the world in a way that feels right to you.
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