What Does Your Body Language Say That Your Words Do Not?

Updated on June 15, 2020
What does your body language really say?
What does your body language really say? | Source

Body Language Is Universal: Everyone Speaks It

Body language accounts for 80% of what we are telling others. It’s universal because we all have brains and our brains control our body's "voice". The limbic brain system is the first to receive emotion and "tattle". Blushing is a good example of this. You can say you weren't embarrassed, but your embarrassment was received in the limbic system, and it sent blood to your cheeks that others saw.

Through body language, you can postulate what others are thinking and feeling—even when their words do not align with their body language. It can also give you insight into what you're saying with your body.

Here you will find signs that reveal honesty, attraction, power, deception, and more.

An example of a false smile.
An example of a false smile. | Source


Primalogist Signe Preuschoft traces the smile back over 30 million years of evolution to a "fear grin" stemming from monkeys and apes who often used barely clenched teeth to portray to predators that they were harmless (Wikipedia).

Smiles are recognized universally in this way. It is received as a greeting, a declaration of no intent to harm, a welcoming, and a gesture of warmth.

But are all smiles really warm?

The Courtesy Smile

Smiles are genuine when they reach the eyes. Let's be honest, we've all given a courtesy smile. These smiles don't reach the eyes, and oftentimes the smile will pull the left side of the face higher as we force a false emotion. Although we have good intentions when giving a courtesy smile, now you know that your lack of genuineness could be betrayed by that overzealous left side of your face.

Don't point!
Don't point! | Source


People use their hands without awareness when they speak. The hands can tell a story, betray a lie, and also show innocence or genuineness.

Palms Up or Down?

When palms are up, as if to say "I didn't do it" or "what more can I do?" It is often accompanied by truth. You have heard of the saying "clean hands"? Think of how you would show someone your hands are clean: palms up. This is the same gesture used when being truthful.

Palms down suggests hiding something, and can even be received as powerful.

When I am talking to someone about body language I ask them to ask me for a drink of water twice; the first time with their palms up, and the second time with their palms down (normally on a table/desk).

Palms up, the asking person seems equal, honest, and as if a response is necessary. Palms down, it is more of a command, even when the voice is not stern. It is interesting how powerful the palms down question is perceived by both parties, as if the asking person is making a declaration rather than a request. Try it. You will almost feel compelled to run and fill up a glass of water for that person.

Hitler was well-known for his palms-down commands. In his commands, his palms were down, being perceived as powerful and in control. Thus his one-hand palm-down salute is known throughout the world.

Hands in Pockets

When hands are put in pockets in response to an incriminating question, this is perceived as having something to hide. It is as if the body is telling what the mind is thinking. You hide what you don't want seen. Think about children depicted in cartoons or shows that are lying. They typically look down, with hands in the pockets. Look for this if you have children!

Pointing Fingers

When people point their fingers while talking, it is received as hostile-almost accusatory. A person feels singled out when a finger is pointing at them. Which is why you'll see many professional and public speakers put their forefinger to their thumb while talking to avoid evoking a hostile or negative response from the crowd.

Crossed Arms vs. Open Arms

Finally crossed arms say "I'm not interested in what you have to say, or I'm no longer participating in this". It is as if the body is blocking the communication from reaching it.

Open arms are the opposite, welcoming the information and the person showing that the person is genuinely interested, or are open to what you are saying.

Not all crossed legs are cross!
Not all crossed legs are cross!


Feet /Legs take you where you want to go! They can betray your thoughts. Have you ever been caught up in a business meeting that ended and your talkative co-worker won't let you leave? Look down at your feet when you're in a situation like that-likely, your feet are pointing toward the door without you being aware! They are sending the message your words could not!

Legs Pointing Towards You vs. Away From You

When speaking with someone and their legs are squared up to you, pointed or crossed toward you, they are interested in what you have to say (or you!). They literally show that the body wants to engage in what the person is saying by pointing toward them.

If when talking to someone, their legs are pointed away from you or crossed, often the person wants to exit the conversation, or is not interested or in agreement with you.

But, don't be so quick to judge crossed legs: sometimes it is not because a person is not interested in the topic it may be because its cold, or because she is wearing a skirt.

Dilated pupils.
Dilated pupils. | Source


Your eyes are mirrors to your soul! Have you ever talked to someone and you didn't feel like they were being honest? Like something wasn't quite right but you weren't sure why? It could have been because of the inconsistency between their eyes and their words. I go back to the example where a child won't look an authority figure in the eye when they lie. The deceiver is afraid that the person can SEE dishonesty in their eyes.

Using the Eyes to Detect Honesty

To know when someone is being honest, follow the below guide.

When a person is asked a question:

  • Eyes looking Up and to the Right are actually recalling an event or task
  • Eyes looking Down and to the Left are actually recalling a feeling
  • Eyes looking Up and to the Left: Imagining or constructing a story/image
  • Eyes looking Down and Right: Having internal dialogue before speaking: rehearsing a story

I bet a bunch of parents of teenage children just wrote that down.

Did Their Pupils Contract?

Bonus: If you're really good, and can home in on the pupils: if they contract when asked a question, it typically is because they are afraid of being caught. If you are an animal parent, you will also see this contraction in animal pupils when they hear something that causes freezing and fear, their eyes first dilate to hone in on the sound, and when fear sets in, they contract. Likely that occurs before they scamper in place for a few seconds before ripping up your couch and taking cover in another room.

The American Figure Four pose that displays power.
The American Figure Four pose that displays power. | Source

Power and Attraction

Power: You'll see this in offices often and it is no different than how animals act in the wild when they want to display power-they try to appear bigger. Humans do this too. They will spread their legs when standing to take up more room, they will shake hands harder or more dominantly to exhibit strength over the other person. They will sit in a coined "American Figure Four" position to give off power and arrogance.


There are also numerous types of handshakes to demonstrate power. Typically turning your hand slightly over the other person's hand will be received as power. Grabbing the elbow or shoulder conveys dominance. Also, stepping into someone's 'comfort zone' while shaking hands is received as an alpha behavior.

I highly recommend Barbara and Alan Pease's full book of The Definitive Book of Body Language to explore some very interesting handshakes and their meanings. Not only are they received as dominant by the shaker, if you so happen to be photographed while shaking hands--the end result is the manifestation of how the person felt as you shook their hand is received by the viewer. You APPEAR powerful, simply by the arrangement of your hand/s.

Displaying Attraction

As for attraction, not surprisingly, humans are a lot like animals when displaying attraction for another, without knowing it. Grooming oneself such as playing with hair, exposing vulnerable parts of the body to another like wrists, or necks suggests trust. Eyes dilate when attracted, and as previously discussed, arms, legs, and hands can also send additional messages.

There is a very interesting body pose called the 'face platter' which has been played up in cartoons where when a person is interested in another, more often women than men, will interlace their fingers with elbows on a table and place their chin on their laced fingers, effectively offering their face up on a platter. Yes ladies, we do this.


In turn, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” Words are not the main attraction when it comes to communication. It is 'how' it was received.

As electronic communication replaces so much personal communication, having this insight is invaluable in interviews, dates, parenting, and more. We may eventually replace the spoken word with text, but we can never undo the universal language our bodies will always speak.


Life and Barbara and Alan Pease: The Definitive Book of Body Language

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      4 years ago from Cincinnati

      Agreed, knowing about about body language helps people speak it more effectively. However, it's very difficult to master due to the way our brains work. It's hard to hide involuntary reactions.

    • Besarien profile image


      4 years ago from South Florida

      The problem is that not everyone is the same. My husband has Asperger's which makes eye contact of any sort terribly uncomfortable for him. People read it as dishonesty when it is nothing of the sort and more akin to a painful shyness. People with physical disabilities are also at a disadvantage. The other problem is that many people can control their body language to a high degree. Actors and con people learn how to do this. Body language can be a clue, but can also be deceiving.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      6 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Very interesting hub. Well worth reading. Glad to have found you on hubpages.


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