People - Top Tips - Body Language

Body Language

This document is designed as a quick reference guide to body language.

This will enable you to gain knowledge of a particular skill, task or process in the workplace. This means you can quickly find the key information that you need and refer to it on an ongoing basis whenever you need to refresh your knowledge.



It has been suggested that when we communicate, the meaning is perceived as follows:


7% by the words

38% by the tone of voice

55% by the body language


So what is this body language that’s so important? Body language is a term used to describe the combination of gestures, posture, and expressions that ‘set the scene’ for anything you may be saying.

For example when you are asking your team to get behind the latest promotion and give it their best shot, you need to come across as enthusiastic yourself. This will involve using the appropriate body language and tone of voice, as well as choosing the right words. It will have the opposite effect if you appear to be unenthusiastic about the promotion; your team are not likely to be keen themselves.

 People - Top Tips - Body Language

What you need to know

The components that make up body may be divided into 3 main areas as shown below, with some examples taken in the context of a conversation:


Head & face

     Eye contact – generally positive, although when eye contact continues and becomes staring it may be interpreted as aggressive. It can play a key role in establishing rapport and failing to make eye contact in some cultures is associated with being dishonest or having something to hide.


     Smiling – generally positive although it needs to be genuine, a brief smile that never reaches the eyes will seem insincere.


     Frowning – generally indicates disagreement or disbelief, may show that the listener does not understand


     Nodding – generally agreement, or a symptom of active listening

     Shaking the head – generally disagreement, may be showing agreement that something is unbelievable


     Raised eyebrows – may indicate surprise or disbelief



     Rubbing the nose, ear or collar may indicate that a person feels under pressure and may be less than truthful


     Steepling the fingers may indicate judgement


     Tapping the fingers usually shows impatience, either to say something or to end a discussion


     A hand over the mouth may indicate an untruth


     Resting the chin on a hand can also indicate judgement


     Playing with hair often shows a lack of concentration


     A jabbing finger will usually be seen as aggressive


     Straightening the tie often indicates a mental ‘pull yourself together’


     Palms up gestures are often seen as speaking the truth


Body & legs

     Folding the arms may show a barrier or rejection – but may just feel comfortable! If however they are wrapped tightly around the body it may indicate uncertainty or a need for self-protection


     Standing with hands on hips will be seen as aggressive in most situations


     Sitting with the hands behind the head may be seen as aggressive or a ‘power play’


     Leaning towards someone generally shows interest whereas leaning away from them may indicate not wanting to be involved


     Sitting slumped with the head down will usually indicate boredom


     Twining the legs around each other may indicate unease or tension, or a need to protect yourself


     Swinging the feet may show impatience or boredom



Generally, open gestures can be considered as positive, whereas closed gestures may be considered to be negative. However, if you are dealing with someone from a different country, bear in mind that different components may mean different things in that culture, remember some cultures regard eye contact as challenging or untrustworthy. There are also several examples of hand signals that mean one thing in some countries and something quite different in others! Many good speakers and storytellers use hand gestures to illustrate their narrative.



 Brand Trainingclick to expand contents

 Personal Developmentclick to collapse contents

 Customerclick to expand contents
 Financeclick to expand contents
 Peopleclick to collapse contents
 Top Tipsclick to collapse contents

      Adapting to change


      Body Language

      Buddying Up

      Building Rapport

      Celebrating success

      Creating vision and strategy

      Dealing with stress

      Decision making


      Effective meeting management



      Guidance on employing a 'young worker'


      Learning Styles


      Managing Conflict

      Managing difficult situations

      Managing under performance



      Personal Impact

      Personal Organisation


      Role Models

      Team Roles

      The GROW model

 Development Challengesclick to expand contents
 Self Coachingclick to expand contents
 Processclick to expand contents

      My Progress

      My Training Record

      Forthcoming Training

Logged in as: Adam Bramwell

People - Top Tips - Body Language

Reading and using body language to help you

So we know that body language is powerful and the messages it can give off, but how do we use this to help when we are communicating?

We need to think about our own body language and what this indicates to others. You may also want to be aware or the body language other people are displaying, and try to read ‘between the lines’ of what they are saying, such as when trying to get to the root cause of an issue or problem. This may help you decide when to probe deeper into an answer given during an interview or a one to one meeting for example. Considering each of the following points will help you to use body language to help you in your day to day role.


Combining components:

Most of the components in the lists above are described as ’may show…’ or ‘generally…’. One of these components on its own should not be taken to indicate anything, but several together may give an indication of the other party’s feelings. For example, a person may rub their nose because they have an itch, but if they also rub their collar and ear and cover their mouth while they speak, they may be about to be economical with the truth! The meaning of such combinations of gestures may need to be checked out dependant on the context, for instance if during a conversation the other person does as described in this example you might want to ask ‘Are you sure that’s right?’


False components:

A person may be aware of the body language they are showing, and try to correct it. Although this can be done successfully, there may be odd components that don’t match the general picture they are portraying. This may indicate that a person is trying to use body language deliberately to give an impression of – for example - strength while not feeling confident in their position. It is therefore generally unwise to try to send out false messages through, for example, your posture, as the components of other body language will give you away sooner or later. If you wish to show enthusiasm, the best way is to be genuinely enthusiastic!


Personal space

Positioning yourself too far from the other person distances you from the conversation and sets up communication barriers, whereas positioning yourself too close invades that person’s personal space, and you will find that they will back away. This can change with the situation, for example, we stand close to total strangers in a crowded train or a queue without too much concern, but if we chose to stand that close to a stranger in a large unoccupied room, they would feel threatened.


Seating arrangements

Although not strictly part of body language, seating arrangements are a development of some of the ideas above. Sitting or standing face to face is confrontational for most people; it feels preferable to sit or stand at right angles to the person with whom you are communicating. Side by side is a friendly arrangement, but not comfortable for conversation. Similarly sitting on a similar chair of equal height is the best position for conversation. Sitting on a higher chair gives unconscious dominance; sitting at a lower level implies subservience. It is vital to bear this in mind when you are conducting an interview, One to one or a scorecard meeting.