Reading Body Language

Body language speaks louder than words; you reveal all your thoughts, moods, and attitudes through it. You can also read the conscious and subconscious thoughts of the person you're flirting with by simply observing what they are or are not doing.

Rule of four

I've heard so many people comment that somebody doesn't like them or is feeling defensive just because they've seen them cross their arms. Interpreting this gesture in these ways is a classic mistake: one movement alone doesn't create a mood or intention. The person could be feeling cold, trying to disguise a spare tyre, or even concealing a stain on their clothes. In the same way that you don't take a word in isolation and determine an exact meaning for it (you don't know whether the word 'tea' refers to a cup of tea or a meal until you see or hear it in a sentence, for example), you can't really know what an isolated gesture truly means. Just as you look for words in a sentence to extrapolate the meaning of other words, gestures come in sentences called clusters. A cluster needs at least three gestures, and ideally four, in it before you can accurately interpret its meaning.

^ Never interpret one body language movement or gesture in isolation, because you're likely to misinterpret what is being conveyed.

IfOjl Instead, stick to the 'Rule of four' when interpreting flirting

\ gestures: aim to spot four body language changes before deciding what you think the movements mean.

Signs revealing how they feel about you

'How can I tell if they like me?' is one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to the flirting game. The answer is simple - you look for increasingly positive changes in their body language.

As well as telling when someone likes you, being able to spot if your flirtation's going off the boil is also important. Cooling off can happen for many reasons, and thinking back to the time when their body language started to change can give you a good indication as to whether it was something you said or circumstances beyond your control.

Table 11-1 lists signs showing they like you and signs showing they don't. A minimum of three of the positive gestures (those on the 'They Like Me!' list) lets you know they're keen, but a cluster of four is the winning number of changes to be on the sure side. The same practice goes for the 'They Like Me Not' list. Of course, the more you like each other, the more of the positive signs you see.

Table 11-1 lists signs showing they like you and signs showing they don't. A minimum of three of the positive gestures (those on the 'They Like Me!' list) lets you know they're keen, but a cluster of four is the winning number of changes to be on the sure side. The same practice goes for the 'They Like Me Not' list. Of course, the more you like each other, the more of the positive signs you see.

Table 11-1 Clues to Whether They Like You

They Like Me!

They Like Me Not

Increasing eye contact

Declining eye contact

Increasing amount of smiling

Declining or no smiling

Creating closer proximity

Increasing the distance between


Touching intentionally

Touching isn't reciprocated

Getting a limb in

Retracting their limbs into a

smaller space than previously

Mirroring body language

Declining or no mirroring of body


Mirroring facial language

Declining or no mirroring of facial



Declining or no preening

Pointing their feet towards you

Pointing their feet away from you

Playing with objects, such as

Becoming less animated, more


still, and unresponsive

Getting colder

Jules and Andrew met by chance in a bar and were getting on famously; Andrew was receiving positive signs that Jules liked him. Suddenly he noticed that she was offering fewer signals and the flirtation seemed to be dwindling. He replayed their conversation in his head to the point at which he first started to notice that her body language was changing; it was when he mentioned that he was visiting his grandfather at the weekend. He couldn't decide if he'd said something to upset her or if she was just going off him. 'You've not been the same since I mentioned my grandfather; is everything okay?' he asked. She said that her grandfather had died recently and that his mention of spending time with his had upset her. Andrew could see she was upset, so he called her a cab and sent her home, taking care to get her number so that he could check she was okay. He called the next day and Jules was delighted to hear from him. She was also really touched that he'd noticed her distress the previous evening. Andrew could've misinterpreted the situation and wrongly assumed that she didn't fancy him; with a bit of detective work, however, he managed to get to the root of the problem and to retrieve the flirtation.

If the flirtation's waning, never assume that you're the problem; cooling off can happen for many reasons.

Avoiding Body Language Mistakes

Doing all the right body language stuff is great, but avoiding or correcting body language that could flatten or kill off your flirtation is equally important.

Lacking eye contact

Making eye contact is one of the most important body language signals. A lack of eye contact can convey:

✓ A lack of confidence, if the eyes are cast down

✓ Disinterest in the other person, if the eyes are focused on something else (for example, examining the fingernails, lingering reading a text, and so on)

✓ Arrogance or disdain, if the eyes are focused upward

You can see in Figure 11-7 that the woman is making conversation. The body language rules of conversation dictate that the listener should make more eye contact than the speaker. The man displays quite the opposite; his eyes raised to the ceiling convey arrogance and disinterest in her. This flirtation is doomed to fail.

Lacking Eye Contact
Figure 11-7: Lacking eye contact.

If you're not used to making eye contact, practise looking at the bridge of the other person's nose or the top of their head, dropping your eye contact to meet theirs for a time, and taking your gaze back to the top of their head in between. This little routine trains you to get used to looking in the right direction until you're comfortable enough to make proper eye contact; it also creates an impression of supreme confidence!

Floor gazing may be a comfortable habit for you but is extremely unnerving for the other person. Floor gazers generally have rounded shoulders and poor posture. To achieve great deportment and an instantly confident look, hold your head high, roll your shoulders back, and keep your stomach tucked in.

Smile, you're on camera

A group of delegates were being filmed giving a presentation for a body language feedback session I was doing the next day. One delegate in particular stood out; he made no eye contact with his fellow presenters and spent most of the time looking at the floor. He looked as if he lacked confidence and didn't seem to gel well with his colleagues. Then I noticed his hand creeping up and down his arm; it was an odd movement and looked like he wanted to scratch his nose. Eventually he bowed his head even lower and had a good rummage up his nose. It wasn't the most professional of things to do in a presentation, never mind one that was being filmed! The next day we replayed the tapes and he was very embarrassed. I asked why he picked his nose during the presentation and he said he didn't think anyone would see; he'd spent his life looking at the floor and assumed everyone else did too. It turned out that he was much more confident than he appeared and was actually regarded as a valued member of the team. Simply correcting where he trained his eyes made him appear more confident and engaging.

Unless you've got your eye on the game you won't know what's going on around you. Keep your gaze focusing upward to remain in the action and avoid unnecessary social gaffes.

Wrapping like a python

People who python wrap try to take up as little space as possible. They touch themselves all over for reassurance and to be as unnoticeable as possible. Unfortunately they then stand out for all the wrong reasons.

You can see in Figure 11-8 that the man's posture is very negative, which significantly affects his attitude and makes him more defensive and resistant to approaches. By having such a closed posture, he's effectively making a barrier between himself and the rest of the world.

To avoid the python wrap, roll your shoulders back and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Try holding something in your hands, such as a pen, glass, or paper, to stop them crossing over your chest.

Figure 11-8: The python wrap.

Leaning away

People who lean away from another person aren't closing the proximity gap, they're making it bigger. Doing so makes building rapport harder and flirting slower. Figure 11-9 shows the man angled away because the woman is leaning away from him.

jftNG/ If you do fancy the other person - and they like the look of you -

but are leaning away because you're shy, you could inadvertently mirror each other's negative body language and make the flirtation spiral backwards.

Always lean in slightly and make good eye contact when you talk to avoid sending the wrong signals.

Letting it all hang out

The body language of Saddam Hussein when he was being interviewed just before Iraq was invaded spoke volumes about him and his attitude toward the threats from the West. He sat slumped back in his big chair, gesticulating casually as he talked, with his legs spread wide apart. I can't care less, his posture said, I'm so nonplussed I can't even bother to look aggressive.

Whether standing or sitting, this kind of bad body language screams disinterested slob. If you can't even make the effort to stand or sit properly, how on earth are you going to carry off a flirtation? Any flirt worth their salt is going to pass you by for a better prospect.

The guy in Figure 11-10 doesn't care and can't make the effort to stand up straight. He'll struggle making an effort on any other front, too, including flirting. Even the line of his clothes is ruined where he's bunched his hands up in his pockets.

Aim to stand or sit two inches higher than your actual height. Ask close friends and colleagues to tell you when you're slumping to get used to holding a good posture at all times.

Figure 11-10: Letting it all hang out.


Playing, twirling, and fiddling can be indicative of a number of emotions. For example, children that bite their nails and frequently pull or play with their hair may be nervous or have low self-esteem. Hair twirling may be a comforting action for a child who is tense and anxious, and may become habitual later in life in stressful situations.

Fiddling can make you look nervous or untrustworthy, neither of which are good looks when flirting. Excessive fiddling can also indicate anxiety or nerves and can be seen demonstrated in a number of areas:

✓ Clothes, particularly buttons, zips, cuffs, and collars

✓ Necklaces

✓ Cigarettes

Ask a friend whether you have a tendency to fiddle and what you play around with most. Break your fiddling habit by using diversionary tactics, for example if you click pens, carry a pencil instead; wear a brooch rather than a necklace if you can't stop pulling at it.

Get a friend to give you a signal that you're fiddling. When you see the signal, put your hands on your lap (if you're sitting) and take three long breaths. Doing so calms you down, re-sets your breathing, and controls your nerves and anxiety.

Fiddling can sometimes signify different things in different situations. Take fiddling with your hair. Hair twirling can demonstrate interest and desire (as mentioned in Chapter 10), but in other situations it can signify anxiety, uncertainty, or shyness. Be careful that a provocative twiddle of your hair (or playing with the stem of your glass) doesn't become frenetic when you're nervous or excited and spoil the illusion of your super cool flirtation.

Using Your Hands

More connections exist between the hands and the brain than any other part of the body. As well as being a vital tool, throughout history hand gestures, particularly that of the open palm, have demonstrated honesty and trustworthiness, as well as allegiance and submission. Even today, many oaths are taken with the flat palm of the hand over the heart. You also have to show the palm of your hand when being sworn in in court. What better tool for showing the person you're flirting with that you're honest and trustworthy - vital keystones when building the foundations of relationships both at work and play.

Thumbs up

Assertive or dominant people usually have their thumbs on display. In palmistry, the thumbs are considered to denote strength of character and superiority. Men often fold their arms across their chest with their fingers under their arms and both thumbs visible and pointing upwards, signalling confidence. Confident women tend to leave their thumbs out when they put their hands in their pockets and angle their arms away from the side of the body, creating the impression of stature and of filling more space - as you can see in Figure 11-11.

Steepling, where the hands are placed together with just the finger and thumb tips touching, is also seen as a sign of self-confidence.

The hands reveal a lot about your emotional state and are very easy to see because they're always in front of you. Keep your eye out for the following common gestures - demonstrated by other people and also yourself.

Palms, hidden or exposed

When being truthful, you're likely to expose your palms; this completely natural gesture gives the other person an intuitive feeling that you're being honest. The palms are the vocal cords of body language. Hiding them is the equivalent of keeping your mouth shut.

Figure 11-11: Confident women with thumbs out.

Handy info

"^m^ Try not to turn your hands so their backs face the person you're flirting with; open palm and wrist displays are not only more aesthetically appealing, they also signal openness and honesty.

Auto-erotic gestures

Using auto-erotic gestures, such as putting your finger in your mouth, can be very sexy in a flirtation (see Figure 11-12). However, putting your fingers in your mouth and biting your nails isn't an attractive look, and the more nervous or anxious you become, the more of your hand you'll try to get in there. (Psychologists say this behaviour's an attempt to revert to the security of breastfeeding.)

Hand clenches

Hand clenching refers to the interlocking of your fingers in front of your body. This gesture can signify restraint, but if your hands start to clench so tightly that your fingers whiten, you're demonstrating nerves or anxiety. The higher the hands are clenched in front of you or the other person, the higher the degree of anxiety.

If the person you're flirting with is clenching their hands, get them to relax by giving them something to hold, such as a drink.

Interested evaluations

Often, when someone's evaluating what you've said, they rest a closed hand on their chin or cheek, sometimes with the index finger pointing skyward. This gesture's a positive sign because they're really considering what you're talking about.

Watch for the hand slipping to under the chin and becoming a support for the head - this person has moved from evaluation to boredom, as shown in Figure 11-13.

Heather Morris Leaked Photos Uncensored
Figure 11-13: A negative evaluation gesture.

Chin stroking

Chin stroking, as shown in Figure 11-14, shows that the person is thinking about your conversation and is reaching a mental decision. In flirting terms, that decision may relate to whether they like you or believe what you've said.

Chin stroking can also make someone look more contemplative and engrossed in what the other person is saying.

Pictures For Body Language Conversation
Figure 11-14: Chin stroking.

Making barriers

The hands can be effective tools to not only welcome somebody into your space, but also to keep them at a distance. For example, resting your clenched hand on the table in front of you not only demonstrates your reserve but also that you're defending this little bit of territory. This gesture's not very welcoming to the other person and is a clear signal that you want them to keep their distance.

You can avoid making barriers by keeping your palms on display at all times. See the earlier section 'Palms, hidden or exposed' for more info.

If you're faced with a hand barrier, use a diversionary tactic such as giving them something to hold, or moving to another location to get them to open up.

Spotting a Liar

Life would be easier if 'Liar, liar, pants on fire' were true and you could spot a fibber straight off. In fact, all the squirming and

wriggling that liars do does create the impression of their pants being on fire. Thanks to all the little clues that liars give us, though, you don't have to wait for them to spontaneously combust to see when they're telling porkies.

Discovering that your flirtation is based on lies can be very demoralising and upsetting, depending on how big the lies are and how many you hear from someone. Being aware of lying behaviour and the clues that give it away enables you to walk away from a liar before you get unwittingly dragged into their web of deceit.

Going through life without telling a single lie is almost impossible. If you were completely honest all of the time, you'd probably be quite friendless before long. White lies are the little untruths that grease our social interaction with others and help us maintain friendly relationships; sometimes telling a white lie rather than the cold hard truth is kinder. However, malicious liars - those who deliberately attempt to deceive you for their personal benefit need to be avoided.

Here are a couple of interesting facts about liars and lying:

✓ Research shows that social liars are more popular than people who dogmatically tell the truth, even though you know that a social liar is lying to you.

Don't cast off the flirtatious advances of someone who's guilty of a bit of insincere flattery rather than being an outright liar.

✓ Women are better at spotting a lie. Many people think that this is because women have evolved as the carers and men as the hunter-gatherers, and so have more honed non-verbal reading skills from caring for infants who can't yet speak. This means that women have a more natural bent for spotting incongruencies between what's being said and how the person is behaving, which gives the lie away.

✓ People who routinely or compulsively lie, or who tell spectacularly elaborate lies are best avoided because this characteristic indicates that they find the truth difficult to handle, or that they can't deal with conflict.

Recognising a bad-un through body language

Reliable clues as to whether someone is lying can be spotted in their body language rather than their words. The liar gets a chance to rehearse their words and so can control that aspect of the lie. They have much less control over their gestures, however, as these happen automatically and are mostly subconscious.

They're definitely lying

When playing a game in which a group was asked to identify a liar from a line up of people telling a story, they were unanimous in their choice. 'It's definitely him. He stumbled and fidgeted his way through the story and looked so uncomfortable, he had to be lying,' agreed the group - with one exception, who was adamant it wasn't him. When he was asked to justify his decision, he replied, 'I'm his boss and he always acts like that.'

If someone is naturally fidgety and jumpy, they probably just experience high levels of nervous energy or anxiety. Look for behaviour that's out of context before you condemn an innocent person for lying.

When lying, the body sends out nervous energy, a subconscious clue, which manifests itself as a gesture that isn't congruent with what is being said. Accomplished liars often prefer to lie by omission and have managed to hone the lying process and refine their gestures to the point where they're very difficult to spot.

You need to be aware of a number of common gestures indicating deception. Thinking of the three wise monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil helps you remember them.

tB&l As with interpreting all gestures, they need to be read in context to be meaningful. It helps to know the person, because you can then measure their expressions and gestures against their normal behaviour. Look for at least three changes before you jump to conclusions. One nose touch could indicate a cold rather than a liar. Look at their gestures in the context of the conversations you've been having with them; are they markedly different? Has the pattern and pace of their conversation or their tone of voice changed in relation to the gestures you're observing? If not, they're probably just scratching an itch.

Hear no evil

Grabbing or pulling at the ear when someone is responding to something you've said can indicate that, although they're agreeing with you, they're actually covering up their true feelings. This gesture reveals anxiety in the other person.

See no evil

Rubbing of the eyes is the brain's attempt to ignore the deceit being acted out upon another person. Research shows that men are more likely to employ this gesture than women, who prefer a gentle rub of the eye or to look away altogether. Men rub the eye vigorously, but may also look away if telling a whopper.

The alternative to averting the eyes when lying is looking the person you're deceiving directly in the eye. Here, you'll notice them making more eye contact than usual; the eyes will be less friendly and they may dart before they speak. Liars have no control over this tiny movement.

Speak no evil

In this gesture, the hand covers the mouth as if the brain has subconsciously told it to prevent the fib from passing the lips. Whether the person uses a few fingers or the whole hand, the meaning's the same: they're attempting to cover a lie.

If they cover their mouths whilst you're speaking, they could be indicating that they think you're hiding something.

Rubbing and scratching

Pulling at the collar, rubbing the neck, and scratching or touching the nose are other indicators that a fib may be on the way. Lying increases the blood pressure, causing tissues to dilate and hence the nose to itch and the collar to feel tight.

Finding telltale clues in conversation

Whilst a liar may rehearse their words in order to deceive you, little clues in their language can give their game away.

When trying to deceive you, their pattern of speech and pitch are likely to change. They probably speak in a higher pitch than usual. They may also end their sentences with a rising inflection, as if questioning what they're saying themselves.

When recounting their fib, liars are prone to make errors in their speech and may hesitate more. They'll also babble to fill in the gaps in conversation.

The words a liar may use can also lead you to conclude they're not being completely honest with you. If a person talks about absolutes but uses words such as 'probably', 'likely', or 'sort of', they may be lying to you. For example, if someone said they stood you up because they 'sort of' got held up so they didn't 'quite' make it, and they 'think' they left their phone at home so couldn't 'really' call you, their words may not be completely truthful. If that person had been telling the truth, their words would have been different: 'I'd been held up and was therefore unable to make it; plus I'd left my phone at home and I'm sorry I didn't call you'.

What's not your birthday present?

My daughter, Lucy, was a spectacular fibber as a child. She was so gorgeous looking that everybody let her get away with it. Thankfully, I was just as cunning at finding her out. One year my father bought her birthday present and hid it in a spare room in our house. I told Lucy not to go into the room. Being Lucy, however, she couldn't resist, and she took her brother along as accomplice to the naughty deed. Calum couldn't lie for toffee. His face said, 'Please catch me out, I can't live with the guilt' and I immediately knew where they'd been. On being interrogated, Calum stayed quiet and Lucy, very convincingly, did all the talking, denying any such act and claiming she didn't know what grandpa had bought her for her birthday. Eventually, to prove she hadn't been into the room, I asked her to guess what her grandfather hadn't bought her for her birthday. 'Well, I don't think he's bought me an air hockey game,' she announced in a high pitched voice, raised in a question - and actually he had.

Getting your story straight before telling a lie is easy, but if any interrogation, albeit mild, follows, the lies have a habit of showing themselves.

Research shows that women are better liars than men and prefer more complicated stories. Men prefer to stick to simple lies. Interestingly, attractive people are more believable than unattractive people.

Disentangling from a liar

Some people prefer to stay flirting with a liar because:

✓ Believing that the person is being truthful is easier than facing the fact that you're being deceived.

✓ They don't like conflict and prefer to ignore the situation, hoping that the liar modifies their own behaviour of their own accord.

Either of these scenarios can be a recipe for disaster because a liar believing they've convincingly deceived the other person can lead to bigger and more elaborate lies.

If you think a person has lied to you over just one thing and they've not yet spun a web of lies, then they may have a reason for the deceit. If you can get to the bottom of it, you may have a basis for continuing the flirtation; if not, then it's time to walk away.



If you think that someone has told you several lies, you can either confront the liar and ask them to validate what they've said or ask them lots of open questions until they trip themselves up. All this actually achieves, though, is proving that the person is a liar. If someone can't be honest with you this early on in a relationship, your best option is simply to walk away.

Letting Them Down Gently

Sometimes, for whatever reason, you decide that the other person isn't for you. Regardless of whether you've given them no encouragement, they're just a friend, or you're in the middle of a flirtation, stopping their advances can be very difficult and awkward. Thankfully, you can let that person down very gently, without the need for words, by sending them appropriate messages through your body language.

Don't wait until you're at breaking point to deflect unwanted attention; tackling it sooner rather than later is the most effective option.

Subtly showing you're not interested

By using a cluster of gestures you can let the other person know you're not interested without saying a word. The hand gestures mentioned in the preceding section are a great way to start getting your message across.

A chin stroke followed by a lean back in your seat, or a head resting on your hand, accompanied by less smiling, less eye contact, and shorter responses, lets them clearly see that you're not interested. Maintaining rapport without the essential body language is impossible and they'll eventually give up. If they don't get the message, check out Chapter 18 on how to off-load overly persistent admirers.

Using barriers to slow them down

If you're not sure if you like someone and you want them to tone their approach down, use barriers to stall them. Consider these tactics:

✓ Use the hand clench extended on the table, as described in the earlier section 'Making barriers', to create more space and defend yourself.

✓ Use props (anything from a menu to your handbag) to create a physical barrier between you. When they detect that things are cooling off, they'll back off. Figure 11-15 shows a woman using her handbag as a barrier. Also notice the other signs that she's no longer interested: she's angled away and her knees and feet are pointing in the direction in which she'd like to go. Within a couple of sentences this chap will be getting the message loud and clear that she's not interested.

If you want to get away from someone, point your feet in the direction in which you'd like to travel. Doing so provides a message to yourself that you intend to leave and one to them that you're going.

Figure 11-15: Using barriers.

Continue reading here: Reading Secret Flirting Signals

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  • silke
    When a man puts his hands in his pants pockets does that exhibit disdain in body language?
    6 years ago