Did you know that pointing your torso toward your listener is a nonverbal sign of respect or that certain behaviors – like smiling – trigger mirror neurons in our brains and our faces automatically reflect what the eyes see?
Nonverbal communication is just as crucial as its verbal counterpart in any conversation. According to an Experience Life Magazine article, “An in-person exchange gives us the opportunity to see and be seen by our cohorts – a seemingly small detail with significant consequences. Body language and facial expressions allow for a more nuanced understanding of a person’s tone and overall message, which is key to building trust.”
Joe Navarro, former FBI agent and author of the book What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People (which explores nonverbal communication), believes the brain’s limbic system stimulates involuntary movements that stem from our basic survival system.
When you know how to read these involuntary signals, you can pick up honest clues about how the conversation is really going.
Here are the body language signs to watch for when having a conversation:
- Recognize signs of comfort (signs the conversation is going well): leaning in (indicates interest), touching an arm (communicates trust), looking away (can sometimes be a sign someone is comfortable enough to break eye contact to help focus their thinking)
- Recognize signs of discomfort (signs to change the topic): rapid eye blinking (signals nervousness), lip compression (sign of stress, anxiety), high shoulders (up around the ears – called the “turtle effect” indicates lack of confidence and embarrassment)
- Pay attention to the feet (“The lower limbs are the most honest part of the body.”): bouncing feet (sign of happiness, impatience or nervousness – context of conversation will tell), direction of feet (pointing at you = engaged, pointing toward door = eager to go, crossing legs (sign of comfort)
“What Everybody Is Saying by Joe Navarro,” Nathaniel Eliason, nateliason.com, accessed Sept. 9, 2021.
“The Art of Conversation,” Laine Bergeson Becco and Courtney Helgoe, experiencelife.lifetime.life, June 20, 2012.
“How to Make Someone Feel Like the Most Important Person in the World: 5 Tips,” Jessica Stillman, inc.com, Sept. 7, 2016.