Saturday, March 26, 2016

Body Language: Upper Body

"What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our needs, feelings, thoughts, emotions, and intentions are processed elegantly by what is known as the "limbic system" of the brain. It doesn't have to think, it just reacts to the world in real time and our bodies show how we feel. We blush when we receive a compliment, compress our lips when we receive bad news, and while in the presence of someone whom we feel affection, we actually mirror their behavior and our pupils dilate. In this part of the series we are going to explore specifically the upper body.


When a woman is attracted to you she’s going to give you a lot of positive body language.  Her face, chest, and feet will all point in your direction. Men also thrust their chest out to display their strong pectorals (and perhaps hide their bulging gut). Enlarged pectorals are, along with biceps, the most common muscles that are used to assess overall strength.


Gestures - hand and arm movements - are an important part of our visual picture when we speak in public. They are reinforcements of the words and ideas we are trying to convey and a non-verbal representation of how we feel. 

Arms can act as the doorway to the body and the self. When they are crossed, they form a closed defensive shield, blocking out the outside world. Shields act in two ways: one is to block incoming attacks and the other is a place behind which the person can hide and perhaps not be noticed.

Note that not all crossed arms are defensive, for example when the person is relaxed (as indicated above). Crossed arms are also used when the person is cold (this is typically done with hands tucked under armpits to keep them warm).

A common method sales people use with a customer in order to break the customer's crossed-arms closed position is to give the person something to hold or otherwise ask them to use their hands.

Some other Gestures to note:
  • Hands on hips = condescending, parental, overbearing
  • Hands crossed in front (fig leaf) = feeling weak, timid, needing protection.
  • Hands joined behind your back = vulnerability. This can signal submission.
  • Hands in pockets = nervousness.  This can result in jingling any change or keys, making it even more obvious you don’t know what to do with your hands!
And lastly, three gestures used to convey messages when speaking

  • Symbolic Gestures communicate words, numbers, position.

    • A raised hand signals for a stop
    • A thumbs-up showing you agree
    • Three fingers for the number three
    • Pointing to show a position – up, down, behind, beside.

  • Descriptive Gestures communicate an idea or movement.
    • Spreading hands apart to show length
    • Using hands to show a shape.
    • Swaying hands to show a flow of movement.

  • Emotional Gestures suggest feelings.
    • A clenched fist to show anger. It is hostile and threatening.  It could also convey the sense you are hiding something.
    • Hands clasped to show pleading.
    • Using a pointed finger.  This makes you look accusatory, even if that wasn't your intent.

Shoulders hunched up, often with arms folded tight or crossed and holding the body, can be a sign of extreme tension, often from anxiety or fear.

Raising the shoulders and lowering the head protects the neck when the person fears attack (actual or virtual).

We often carry tension in the shoulders and a person who is truly relaxed will have their shoulders held low, with arms that can move naturally, without jerkiness and swinging free.

Curving the shoulders forward happens naturally when arms are folded. When curled forward with the hands down this reduces the width of the body and can thus be a defensive posture or a subconscious desire not to be seen, for example when the person is feeling threatened or when they want to stay 'under cover'.


If the mouth moves little, perhaps including incoherent mumbling, this may indicate an unwillingness to speak, for example from shyness or from a fear of betraying themselves.

A mouth that moves a lot during speech can indicate excitement or dominance as it sends clear signals that 'I am speaking, do not interrupt!'

Careful shaping of words can also indicate a person with auditory preferences or a concern for precision and neatness.

Fast speakers are often visual thinkers who are trying to get out what they are seeing. They may also be looking upwards.

Slow speakers may be deep thinkers who are being careful about finding the right words. They may also have an auditory preference as they carefully enunciate each word.

We hope this helps you, follow us on Facebook!

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