Gestures

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As well as overall body posture, the gestures we use can signal interest, attraction and invitation - or discomfort, dislike and rejection.

When flirting, it is important to be aware of these nonverbal cues, both in 'reading' your partner's body-language and in controlling the messages you are sending with your own gestures.

In conversation, gestures are mainly used to enliven, clarify and 'punctuate' our speech, or to show responsiveness to what the other person is saying. In a flirtatious encounter, the amount of gesticulation, the directions of the gestures and the co-ordination of gestures can indicate the degree of interest and involvement your partner feels towards you.

Different cultures vary widely in the amount of gesticulation that accompanies their speech (Italians say that you can silence an Italian by tying his hands behind his back), and even within a single culture, some people naturally express themselves more through gestures than others. Generally, however, someone who is interested in you will be more lively and animated in conversation, using more gestures when speaking in order to keep your attention, and more responsive gestures to show interest when you are speaking.

Similarly, you can signal interest in your partner, and keep his/her attention focused on you, by enhancing your speech with appropriate gestures: shifting your hands or head slightly at the end of sentences, using downward hand movements to emphasise a point, 'projecting' what you are saying towards your partner by open-palm hand movements and so on. When your partner is speaking, you can show responsiveness by nodding in agreement, throwing up your hands in surprise, bringing them together in a 'silent clap' of appreciation, etc.

Researchers have found that nodding can be used to 'regulate' conversations. If you make single, brief nods while your partner is speaking, these act as simple signs of attentiveness, which will maintain the flow of communication from the speaker. Double nods will change the rate at which the other person speaks, usually speeding up the flow, while triple nods or single, slow nods often interrupt the flow altogether, confusing speakers so much that they stop in their tracks. So, if you want to express interest and keep your partner chatting with you, stick to brief single nods.

You can also watch for gestures which indicate anxiety and nervousness, such as hand-clasping movements and palm-rubbing. As a general rule, anxious gestures are directed towards the anxious person's own body (known as 'proximal' movements), while 'distal' movements, directed away from the body, are a sign of confidence. As well as watching for these signals in your partner, you can control the impression you are making by using more confident, 'distal' gestures.

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As with posture, the greatest involvement and harmony is achieved when gestures are synchronised - when the movements of one person are echoed or reflected by the other. You may have noticed that this tends to happen naturally between people who like each other and get on well together. Watch pairs of lovers in a bar or pub, and you will see that they often tend to lift their drinks and take a sip at the same time, and that many of their other body movements and gestures will be similarly synchronised. Psychologists call this 'interactional synchrony' or 'gestural dance', and some of their research findings indicate that the timing of matched gestures may be accurate down to fractions of a second.

Although this synchronisation normally happens without conscious effort, you can use it as a highly effective flirting technique. If you feel the conversation is not flowing easily, or you and partner seem awkward and uncomfortable with each other, try to be more sensitive to the patterns of his/her gestures and body movements, and to reflect these in your own body language.

If your partner spontaneously begins to synchronise his/her body language with yours, this is a sign that he/she feels comfortable with you. Men should not assume that it necessarily indicates sexual interest, however. Women can avoid creating this impression by reducing synchronisation, adopting a more 'closed' posture and avoiding the use of gestures which are specifically associated with flirtatious behaviour. In experiments, female hair-flipping and head-tossing were among the (non-contact) gestures most often regarded as sexually flirtatious, along with repeated leg-crossing and movements designed to draw attention to the breasts.

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