Communicating with Nonverbal Cues: Examples of Body Language
Through body language, people can both consciously and unconsciously communicate and convey emotions without uttering a word. Understanding common cues can help you present yourself positively as well as read how others are receiving you. In this article, we define body language and provide examples of both positive and negative body language.
Related: How To Read Body Language
What is body language?
Body language refers to the nonverbal cues that communicate how people feel. Body language is often performed unconsciously; the facial expressions you make or how you hold your body can send a message to people whether you’ve verbally expressed it or not—and if you aren’t self-aware, whether you intend to or not.
But you can also be conscious of your gestures to reinforce your messaging. By holding eye contact, monitoring your tone of voice, smiling or holding your posture proud and tall, you can convey positive messages like good humor or competence, much like slouching or a furrowed brow might convey the opposite.
Examples of positive body language
Being aware of positive body language you can employ during conversation is crucial to communicating good intentions or charisma. Here are some examples of positive body language:
Maintain good eye contact
Maintaining good eye contact shows you're engaged and actively listening to what someone is telling you. However, if you stare too intensely, it can have the opposite effect by making the other person feel too targeted. Assess their body language in response to determine if they feel comfortable.
Read more: How To Engage in Eye Contact Communication
In addition to showing a speaker that you agree with their message, nodding your head shows others that you're listening to what they have to say. When you pair a head nod with a smile, you’re more likely to engage them with inclusive enthusiasm.
When you offer someone a firm handshake, it shows your confidence and respect. If you're the first one to reach out for a handshake, it further expresses your confidence. Firm does not mean intimidating (or painful), however. As with most physical communication, you want to be confident and present, not off-putting or forceful.
Having an open palm implies openness and honesty. The idea of “open arms” applies here, where you are comforting and accepting of what you are receiving. Much like being closed off suggests apprehension or guardedness. If you are hearing great ideas, receive them openly.
Upright and open posture
Having an upright and open posture means you're keeping the trunk of your body open and free from crossed arms or legs. This body stance may indicate not only how you're feeling, but also your particular personality. When you have an open posture, it often signals friendliness and openness.
Leaning in while speaking (and listening)
The distance you keep between others is also a nonverbal cue. While you never want to impose on someone’s personal space, leaning in and facing their direction when communicating indicates that you're comfortable with them and interested in the exchange.
Examples of negative body language
It's also important to be aware of negative cues that you could be sending—or receiving from—others. Consider the following examples of negative body language:
Minimal facial expressions
If you are trying to avoid showing any type of facial expression, it may be perceived as you having something to hide. Limited facial expression can also be interpreted as an intimidation tactic or that you aren’t interested in the conversation. Similarly, if you keep your eyes on the floor or maintain little to no eye contact with someone, it can indicate that you're uncomfortable, shy or even dishonest.
Related: How To Be Approachable at Work
Your eyes often express a lot about what you or someone else is feeling or thinking. When you engage with someone, consider their eye movements. While it's normal to blink, rapid blinking often indicates distress or discomfort with a particular situation. On the other hand, infrequent blinking may indicate that you are intentionally controlling your blinking to fool those around you. For example, if you're a part of a poker game, you may attempt to blink less frequently to not give away your excitement from getting dealt a good hand of cards.
Lip biting or pursed lips
While some mouth expressions align with positive emotions or cues, others may carry a negative connotation. For example, if you chew on your lips, it can signal to someone that you're worried about something or feel insecure in your current environment. If you purse or tighten your lips, it can indicate distaste or disapproval.
Head in hands
Placing your head in your hands demonstrates your boredom. For example, if you place your head in your hand while your manager leads a meeting, it indicates that you're not truly interested in what they have to say. If you place your head in your hands to hide your face, it may indicate that you're upset or ashamed about something.
The use of your arms can often convey several nonverbal cues. For example, when you cross your arms, it shows your defensiveness. It can also indicate that you're trying to protect yourself from something or that you're closing yourself off from further interaction with another person or a group of people.
Crossed legs away from a person
Crossing your legs away from a particular individual may indicate your dislike or discomfort with them. If you see someone do this to you, it may mean they need some space.
Hands on hips
While standing with your hands on your hips may show others that you feel in control, it can also indicate your aggression. Keep in mind that while you may feel powerful, this body movement has the potential to intimidate others and make them feel uncomfortable.
Rapid finger tapping or fidgeting
When you rapidly tap your fingers on a surface or you're constantly fidgeting or touching your face, it can show that you're nervous or fearful. Also, these body movements may indicate that you're bored, impatient or frustrated. When you continuously fidget with your hair or touch your face repeatedly during a job interview, it can even indicate that you're not trustworthy.