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25 Acts of Body Language to Avoid

Posted Jun 10 2009 12:35am

Body Language

Our body language exhibits far more information about how we feel than it is possible to articulate verbally.  All of the physical gestures we make are subconsciously interpreted by others.  This can work for or against us depending on the kind of body language we use.  Some gestures project a very positive message, while others do nothing but set a negative tone.

Most people are totally oblivious to their own body language, so the discipline of controlling these gestures can be quite challenging.  Most of them are reflexive in nature, automatically matching up to what our minds are thinking at any given moment.  Nevertheless, with the right information and a little practice, we can train ourselves to overcome most of our negative body language habits.

Practice avoiding these 25 negative gestures:

I speak two languages, Body and English.
- Mae West

  1. Holding Objects in Front of Your Body – a coffee cup, notebook, hand bag, etc.  Holding objects in front of your body indicates shyness and resistance, such that you’re hiding behind the objects in an effort to separate yourself from others.  Instead of carrying objects in front of you, carry them at your side whenever possible.
  2. Checking the Time or Inspecting Your Fingernails – a strong sign of boredom.  Never glance at the time when you’re speaking with someone.  Likewise, completely avoid the act of inspecting your fingernails.
  3. Picking Lint Off of Your Clothes – If you pick lint off of your clothes during a conversation, especially in conjunction with looking downwards, most people will assume that you disapprove of their ideas and/or feel uneasy about giving them an honest opinion.  Leave the lint alone!
  4. Stroking Your Chin While Looking at Someone – “I’m judging you!”  People frequently stroke their chin during the decision-making process.  If you look at someone while you’re stroking your chin, they may assume that you’re making a judgmental decision about them.
  5. Narrowing Your Eyes – If you want to give someone the impression that you don’t like them (or their ideas), narrow your eyes while looking at them.  It immediately places a scowling expression on your face.  A slight narrowing of the eyes is an instinctual, universal expression of anger across various species in the animal kingdom (think about the angry expressions of tigers, dogs, etc.).  Some people make the mistake of narrowing their eyes during a conversation as a reflex of thinking.  Don’t send people the wrong message… don’t narrow your eyes.
  6. Standing Too Close – This just makes people feel uncomfortable.  Most people consider the 4 square feet of space immediately surrounding their body to be personal space.  Cross this invisible boundary with good friends and intimate mates only.
  7. Looking Down While in the Presence of Others – usually indicates disinterest.  Sometimes it’s even interpreted as a casual sign of arrogance.  Always look straight ahead and make eye contact when you see someone you know.
  8. Touching Your Face During a Conversation – Face touching, especially on the nose, is commonly interpreted as an indication of deception.  Also, covering up the mouth is a common gesture people make when they’re lying.  Always keep your hands away from your face when you’re speaking.
  9. Faking a Smile – another sign of deception commonly seen on the face of a fraud.  A genuine smile wrinkles the corners of the eyes and changes the expression of the entire face.  Fake smiles only involve the mouth and lips.  It’s easy to distinguish between the two.  Don’t force yourself to smile… unless it’s for the camera.
  10. Leaning Away From Someone You Like – a sign of being bored and disinterested.  Some people may also interpret it to mean: “I don’t like you.”  People typically lean towards people they like and away from people they dislike.  This is especially true when they are sitting around a table.  If you lean away from someone you like, you’re sending them the wrong message.
  11. Resting Hands Behind the Head or on the Hips – usually interpreted as a sign of superiority or bigheadedness.  Only use these gestures when you’re in the presence of close friends.
  12. Not Directly Facing the Person You’re Speaking To – This indicates a certain level of discomfort or a lack of interest.  When we’re happily engaged in a conversation we face the person we’re speaking to with our feet and torso facing directly forward.  When we’re unsure of the other person, or not completely committed to the conversation, we tend to angle our feet and torso to the side.  Face directly forward during a conversation to give off the impression that you’re truly interested in what the other person is saying.
  13. Crossing Your Arms – a sign of defensive resistance.  Some people may also interpret it as a sign of egotism.  Always try to keep your arms open and at your sides.
  14. Displaying a Sluggish Posture – When you’re in an environment bustling with people your posture becomes an immediate telltale sign of your confidence and composure.  Your stance literally makes a stand for you, delivering a clear message about how you should be treated.  It can make a huge difference in the way strangers respond to you.  Place your feet a comfortable distance apart, keep your shoulders pulled back, head up and greet people with direct eye contact and a firm handshake.
  15. Scratching at the Backside of Your Head and Neck – a typical sign of doubt and uncertainty.  It can also be interpreted as an indication of lying.  Try to keep your hands away from your head when you’re communicating with others.
  16. Messing With the Collar of Your Shirt – It screams: “I feel horribly uncomfortable and/or nervous!”  Once again, keep track of your hands.  Don’t fidget.
  17. Increasing Your Rate of Blinking – a clear sign of anxiety.  Some people start blinking their eyes really fast (in conjunction with an increased heart rate) when they get nervous.  Since most people try to make eye contact, it becomes immediately obvious to others.  Be cognizant of your blinking habits when you’re nervous, especially if someone is looking at you from a close proximity.
  18. Slouching Your Shoulders – indicates low self-esteem.  People associate perked-up shoulders with strong self-confidence.  Always pull your shoulders back.  Not only will you look more confident, you’ll feel more confident as well.
  19. Standing with Your Hands Crossed Over Your Genitals – This casual posture almost guarantees that you’ll lose a little respect before you even have the chance to speak a single word.  People feeling nervous or unsure of themselves will unconsciously take a guarded stance.  Quite frequently they adopt a posture that guards one of their most vulnerable areas, their genitals.  This stance pushes your shoulders forward and makes your entire body look smaller and weaker.  Again, try to keep your hands at your sides and your shoulders back.
  20. Propping Up Your Head with Your Hands – “I’m getting bored!”  Never prop up your head with your elbows and hands during a conversation.  Place your hands on the table in front of you and keep them at rest.
  21. Wiping Sweaty Hands onto Your Clothes – a sign of frantic nervousness.  If your hands are sweating, just let them sweat.  Take a few deep breaths and try to relax.
  22. Sitting on the Edge of Your Chair – a clear indication of being mentally and physically uncomfortable.  It’s an apprehensive stance that will make others around you feel uncomfortable as well.  Keep your rear end firmly planted on the surface of the seat.  When you lean forward, use your back without moving your bottom.
  23. Foot and Finger Tapping – usually indicates stress, impatience or boredom.  Monitor your habits and practice keeping your limbs at rest.
  24. Using Your Hands to Fidget with Small Objects – a pen, paper ball, etc.  This is another sign of anxiety.  It can also be interpreted as a lack of preparedness.  It’s always best to keep your hands comfortably at rest when you’re in the presence of others.
  25. Repeatedly Shifting Body Weight from Foot to Foot – This is another gesture that usually indicates mental and physical discomfort.  People may also see this and assume that you’re ready to abandon the conversation, especially if you’re not directly facing them.  Don’t shift your feet around more than once every 2 to 3 minutes.

Additional Reading and Sources:

Photo by: Tony Blay

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