Read My Body


Communication is far more than the words coming from your mouth or fingertips. Body language is not always a subtle science either. Your body screams your mood, even when your mouth is completely still. Do you know how to read your audience to see if they are listening… or want to listen?

I do not like what you are saying, and I am not listening.”

This statement is translated by quite a few different body language expressions:

  • Body language.
    Crossed arms, hands or feet
  • Turned or hung head (avoiding eye contact)
  • Body turned to one side
  • Exaggerated leaning back (especially combined with crossing)
  • Fidgeting
  • Frowning, pursed lips
  • Raised eyebrow

What does it mean?


This is the bodily version of the “NO” symbol. Crossing arms over your chest is symbolic of protecting your heart. Crossing of legs signifies an unwillingness to act. If the hands are crossed in the lap, often it is in conjunction with other “not listening”, non-receptive body language.


Head position is important to listening. Ears work best when the head is facing the speaker…they are designed that way.

Head down signifies both shame and a struggle for control. Your information either has triggered a guilt response or sufficient emotion your audience needs to look down, concentrate and wrap its brain around what you have said.

The turned head is indicative of disagreement. It is the personification of not seeing eye-to-eye.

Turned Body

In essence, you audience is already headed for the door… away from what you are saying. Whether the information is painful, annoying or irrelevant, not only is no one listening to what you have to say, they are plotting their escape.


Consider this verbal limbo. Your information is the bar. Audience is leaning back to see if it is possible to slide beneath it unscathed. During the calculations, audience is not listening, especially if also sporting crosses… even hands crossed behind head.


Many people claim fidgeting is an automatic response they cannot control. While some disorders (like ASD) are characterized by stereotypical behaviors, your average audience rarely is. What they do shows how they feel about the subject.

  1. Leg bounce: A cross with irritation or nervousness about subject.
  2. Finger tapping: Beating out a solution or escape from subject.
  3. Object fingering: Connecting with reality. Subject is surreal.
  4. Clothing or hair fingering: Information reflects badly on audience’s self-esteem.
  5. Smoothing clothing, table cloth, papers: Desire for conflict resolution.

Lemon FaceLemon Face

Whether you are telling them about you or them or a situation, the information is not well-received. This is a sign of distaste, similar to tasting something rotten. Just as eye-watering is a symptom of eating truly sour foods, this body language is audience being unhappy with the subject, regardless of ability to rectify the situation.

Combined with covering the mouth, a sign for no more input, lemon face is telling the speaker, I am not hungry enough to stomach this.


Disbelief, not to put too fine a point on it. Either complete shock at your statement or tacitly saying,

Do you really think I am stupid enough to believe that?”

The raised eyebrow means audience knows better than what you are saying. Often, it precedes crossed arms and leaning back.


Non-receptive body language is often layered. As with the picture beside “Lemon Face”, adding the layers together sends a strong signal your message is not getting through to your audience.

What other “not listening” body language do you employ or see?

© Red Dwyer 2011
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  1. I agree, but in church I fold my arms while listening otherwise I’d fidget!

    I also have a nervous knee jiggle when I’m somewhere where I feel uncomfortable or I’m under stress – part of the problem with Paranoid Schizophrenia! 🙂

    When I was talking to Doctor Jiva and the young lady I was leaning forward with my elbows on my knees and my hands were clasped – I respect Doctor Jiva and was uncomfortable complaining about the Pharmacy which left me without medication for five days.

    I also failed to tell him that his receptionist told me to go to the Hospital – I didn’t go off my own bat as he believed!

    Put it down to issues with authority figures… 🙁

    God Bless!


    • Your good posture with the doctor is one we will discuss in another post. And I think we all have our own issues with authority figures…so, don’t feel like it is just you! 😉

      Your knee is a tell you are not relaxed. It is a form of body language which is neither positive nor negative, but one those around you should recognize. And *giggles* about church 😉 {HUGZ} Red.

  2. spending most of my adult life in the public eye has cued me in to all of what you’ve just posted. Just realized that the recent ‘leaning’ thing for me is a result of a failed back surgery last year -there is no other way to be comfortable in a chair.
    Hmmmm wonder how much this will influence others who also take note of the nuances of body language?
    Good piece, especially for those in a work/office environment or position of authority.
    Damn, kids are so much easier to read -grin-.

    • Amen, Rachael, but I think it is only because their little repertoires are not as diverse. I have used being able to read body language in many a meeting to ascertain who was going to flub an assignment.

      And lean back to be comfy…I will be looking for the raised brow or the occasional eye roll for my cue 😉

  3. Bear

     /  December 22, 2011

    As always this is right on the money. I am able to watch a persons reaction and read almost what they are thinking, deceit, truth, whatever the case may be and one of the questions that is asked of me is how did you know? I always read between the lines. Bear

  4. Blinking too often can betray both the liar and a person in denial; eyes widening show a person can be either intensely surprised and interested –or if speaking –is trying to be convincing, even to exaggerate and stretch the truth. Eyes narrowing suggest evaluation of an existing situation or fact; and can also be advance notice of contest of that fact–particularly devious thought to that end.
    Failure to look directly at a person’s face can be subconscious discomfort with that person, in some cultures apparently it is also a sign of respect for elders. Rubbing hands together very slowly can be a sign of contemplation or deep thought, while twitching, tightly squirming hands can indicate fear, discomfort, or contemplation of opportunism or strike. Looking “through” or past a person in a hostile situation can be a warning of imminent physical attack.
    Interestingly, as an observer I find it as easy to read people as open books. Body language is a fascinating subject, Red!

  5. Red, you may well be qualified to practice medicine. When I see a patient I listen with my ears and see the body language with the skills I have learned over the years. Just sitting across the room from a patient is most revealing to me.
    I don’t want to seem to brag, but once was criticized in a sarcastic manner by a colleague who said upon meeting me, “So you are the doctor who can walk in a room and know immediately what’s going on with you patient!”
    I knew when I heard that that he did not know a lot about physical diagnosis and had not bothered to sharpen his skills. Of course I was saddened by the intended harshness of his criticism but forgave him his ignorance.
    In spite if my insight and ability to perform such analysis I spend much more time with my patients reassuring them that I am compulsively going over all the necessary details of diagnosis. That is what I expect of myself and they expect of me.
    In the end though, body language and a verbal history are 90% of what is required to understand to practice the art of medicine

    • Ironically, Ted, it is 90% of practicing the art of relationships. My mother, as recently as last year, still wants to kick me for not going to medical school. The only medicine which interests me is forensic pathology…and I have teased mightily for it. Meanwhile, I stitch calamities at home.

      For fear of zombies, I stay away from brain surgery 😉 Thanks for taking the time to stop by for a comment! Red.

  6. I tend to be a bit too tuned in to body nuances, but I’m working on it. Looking to the left is a sign or lying (or is that to the right?). Anyway, the other way is reflective thinking, trying to dig up a memory. I’m guessing you’re pretty good at the bl reading game 🙂

    • I have to be. I have non-verbal children. Knowing what the movements mean is uber-important!

  7. I LOVE this post because it talks about what I love…non-verbal communication. I LOVE the part in the semester where I get to talk about this stuff. Did you know that approximately 95% (some scholars say 97%) of messages are embedded in our nonverbal cues? Spoken words aren’t really very powerful, or even meaningful until you match it up with the appropriate nonverbal cues. Good stuff!!!

    • I like the word “really”. I overuse it. Coupled with body language it means anything from “Is that true?” (honest inquiry) to “Is that true?” (How *@$&ing stupid do you think I am?). More proof, to quote John, words suck. 😉

  8. A rather informative posting. I do believe that you’ve missed my all time favorites, the “moves hair from over eyes to behind ear while coyly smiling” move, This may fall into hair fingering, but also into a completely different genre of body moves.

    But when teenage daughters are concerned (just when do they stop being daughters and become vibrant, successful women?) there are just too many “moves” and “tells” that anyone over the age of 30 (AKA, ancient people) has little idea of what they mean and the reciprocating moves or speeches for each.

    • Ah, but that, Marc, is a signal she is listening…just not to her father.

      And they never stop being daughters. They stop being the little girl you helped tie her shoes, but they never, ever, never stop being daughters.


  9. @Marc Having brought 3 of them up and listened to them in their early 20’s I am so glad I never understood what half the signs meant lol

    I have always been an arm crosser and lounger and have been pulled up on it on many occasions during classes, seminars, lectures etc.

    As I grew older I realised I sat like that because I was comfortable. I would share this with whatever group of people I was with saying “if you think I’m not interested judge me afterwards when you see how much I contribute to your lecture, class, seminar etc.”

    My only point here is don’t always believe everything you ‘see’

    • Reclining for comfort looks different than reclining out of disinterest. The shoulders are often unlevel (signifying discord), torso muscles are tense (tension, anxiety) and/or any other layer. This is completely different from the reclining to ease pain or make oneself comfortable enough to withstand the length of the message.

      I am a leg-crosser. Even when seated on the floor, my legs are crossed (not yoga style, but wrapped around one another). I show different listening layers to overcome this, as for my back, I absolutely must have my hips unlevel, hence cross my legs.

      You need to be careful one of the layers is not rotten 😉 Red.

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