How to Read Body Language Like a Pro


Ever wonder what’s going on in someone else’s mind? Think someone’s not being completely honest with you? Despite their words, do you often get a vibe from someone that you can’t quite put your finger on? Understanding body language and non-verbal communication can often tell you the meanings and information that people’s words aren’t saying.

Some studies suggest that speech makes up only 25% of communication.

Many times, non-verbal cues are more important than the words being said. Why? Because people have much less conscious control over their non-verbal messages than their verbal ones. As a result, non-verbal cues almost always give away true feelings and intentions. Just remember that like ALL communication, it goes both ways! So, while we all want to figure what other people “aren’t” saying – it’s important to be aware of what messages YOUR BODY is sending as well.

DISCLAIMER: This article only skims the surface of all that has been studied on non-verbal communication and is not intended to be an all-encompassing list… just some tips to give you an edge over the other guy!

TIP #1: A LACK of non-verbal messages is a signal too – it suggests an attempt to carefully control body language so as not to give something away (which often means hiding something).

TIP #2: When verbal messages and non-verbal messages conflict, trust the non-verbal.


Body Movements

  • Saying no while nodding yes: hiding something (usually the truth)
  • Scratching, adjusting glasses, and biting fingernails: nervousness, anxiety or hostility
  • Clenched fist: anger, solidarity
  • Touching nose while speaking: lying, exaggerating
  • Neck scratching: doubt, disbelief
  • Pursed lips: distaste, disapproval, distrust
  • Lip biting: worry, anxiety, stress
  • Head titled to one side: thoughtfulness
  • Head tilted downward: criticism
  • Handshake with both hands: seeking control
  • Handshake with arm clasp: seeking control, paternalism


  • Closed (arms folded or crossed, legs crossed, body positioned at a slight angle from the person they are communicating with): discomfort, disinterest
  • Open (directly facing the other person, hands apart or on the arms of a chair): openness, interest, readiness to listen
  • Crossed arms: defensive, self-protective
  • Gripping own upper arms: insecurity (self-hugging)
  • Arms behind body with clasped hands: confidence, authority, anger
  • Holding anything across chest or in front of body: nervousness
  • Hands in pockets: boredom
  • Figure 4 leg cross: stubborn, independent
  • Open leg sitting: arrogance, combative
  • Ankle lock sitting: defensiveness
  • Splayed legs standing: aggression, ready for action
  • Standing at attention: respectful
  • Feet or foot direction: indicates direction of interest
  • Hands on hips, standing: ready, in control, angry


  • Consistent eye contact: listening, engaged

Pupil dilation is an involuntary reaction to the sight of someone attractive.

  • Lack of eye contact: disinterest, dislike

Pupil size is often reduced when we encounter someone we dislike.

  • Constant eye contact: trying too hard – may well be lying
  • Looking left: recalling, remembering (left brain)
  • Looking right: imagining, creating (right brain)
  • Looking right & up: fabricating, lying
  • Rapid blinking: distress, uncomfortable
  • Infrequent blinking: hiding something, trying to control blinking

Pitch, Tone & Speed:

  • Higher pitch to voice: nervousness (caused by a tightening of the larynx)
  • Fast speech: nervousness

Remember, this is not an exact science and none of these cues, standing alone, are accurate indicators 100% of the time. In other words, if you’re talking to your boss tomorrow and his eyes dart left, I’d hold off on calling him a stinking liar or reporting him to the board.

Alright – you’re ready to go out and conquer the world! If you love this article and you’re really into this type of thing – or if you want to improve your knowledge & skills… check out Lie To Me on Netflix and follow Joe Navarro on Twitter at @navarrotells. Let me know what you think in the comments!

As always, if we can help you communicate with your audience, no matter who or where they are, online or in person, we’d love the opportunity to help you grow.

Marie Mallory, Communication and PR Specialist, Irons Media Group


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