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What Can I Learn from Reading and Observing Body Language?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

If you are out with friends, or at the office, the body language of the people around you holds a wealth of information and can speak volumes. In fact, body language constitutes for “more than 60% of what we communicate, so learning to read the nonverbal cues people send is a valuable skill.” Words can easily be fabricated, or people can come up with lies or excuses, but body language has a way of revealing what a person is really thinking. The valuable tips below can help you to read body language and better understand the people you interact with. 

Study the eyes

When you are communicating with someone, pay attention to if they are making direct eye contact or looking away. If someone is struggling to make direct eye contact with you, it could indicate boredom, disinterest or even deceit – particularly when someone looks away and to the side. Looking down can indicate nervousness or submissiveness. Typically, when someone is responding favorably to you, their pupils tend to dilate a bit. This is a sign of an increase of cognitive effort. Blinking rate increases when people are thinking more, or stressed, or it can indicate lying, particularly when accompanied by touching the face. Interestingly enough, typically when people look upwards and to the right, it could suggest a lie has been told, while looking upwards and to the left could suggest that the person is telling the truth. The reason this happens is because when you look to the right, you are accessing the right part of your brain, which is responsible for imagination or stories, while the left part of your brain maintains recall and an actual memory. 

Facial movements

We have more control over our facial movements, but important cues can still be picked up when you pay close attention. When looking at the mouth, pay attention to smiles, which there are two types of – genuine and fake. A genuine smile engages the whole face, whereas a fake smile only uses the mouth. Naturally, a genuine smile indicates that the person is happy and enjoying the company of the people around them. On the contrary, a fake smile is meant to convey pleasure or approval but suggests that the smiler is actually feeling something else. Half smiles can indicate either sarcasm or uncertainty. Additionally, you can sometimes notice a slight grimace that is short lived (less than a second) before someone smiles. This indicates that the person is hiding discomfort behind a fake smile. Tight pursed lips indicate displeasure, while a relaxed mouth indicates a relaxed attitude and positive mood. 


Proximity is “the distance between you and the other person.” A useful indicator or rapport is the proximity in which someone has to you. The closeness of how someone sits or stands next to you can determine if they view you favorably. A lot of information about two people can be gained by looking at how close they stand to one another. However, proximity is not always an accurate indicator of affinity with someone as many cultures vary drastically with norms they uphold. 

Interesting stuff, right? Well, there is more. Check out the next part to this two-part blog series to learn more about reading and observing body language. Part two will include information about mirroring, head movements, feet and hand signals, and more!  


How to read body language – revealing the secrets behind common nonverbal cues. Fremont college. Retrieved from:

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