While it'd sure be nice, in some scenarios, to know
exactly what someone's thinking, the best you can do is get a better idea by reading their body language. This is a skill anyone can work on, over time. And as you get the hang of it, you might notice that it gives you a better idea of how certain interactions are going.
"Once you know key indicators of body language, you can use your judgement to asses what someone is 'telling' you with their positioning, facial expressions, and movements," Leah Lupo, adjunct professor of interpersonal communications and public speaking at
Nassau Community College, tells Bustle.
Of course, you'll want to take into consideration all the ways we're different, and the fact some people may look or stand in a way that
doesn't match up with what we're thinking. But it's still possible to keep an eye out for common body language cues and consider their deeper meaning, in a variety of situations.
Think job interviews, networking events, parties, and even casual conversations. "If you study body language and learn to 'read' people," Lupo says, "it will be extremely helpful to re-calibrate your communication and work to achieve the response you are working toward." And have better interactions overall. Here, a few
body language signals and what they might reveal, according to experts.
They Look Up To Their Right
If you're worried someone might be lying to you, pay attention to where they look. "Most people will look up to the left (when you’re looking at them, so looking to their upper right), [when] fabricating a story or a portion of the story,"
Tiffany Toombs, life coach and body language expert, tells Bustle.
And there's an interesting reason for that. The right side of the brain is the creative side, so they may look up in that general direction as a way of determining what the situation
might have looked like, Toombs says.
By looking up to the right, they're able to access that part of the brain and think more creatively, while also buying time with a pause, in order to tell a more convincing lie.
How a person holds themselves can say a lot about what they're thinking, especially when it comes to their arms. For instance, crossed arms can mean someone is uncomfortable or closed off to what is being said, Toombs says. They are literally blocking and protecting themselves — whether they realize it or not.
On the flip side, if someone is comfortable or open to new information, they're more likely to stand with their arms relaxed at their sides, or in a more casual way. A comfortable stance shows they're down to talk.
If someone feels uncomfortable or disinterested, they may turn slightly away during a conversation, Toombs says. And by keeping an eye out for this subtle shift, you may be able to get a better "read" on the situation.
It can also help to look at their feet. Without realizing it, people tend to point their toes in the direction of where they like to go. So if someone's enjoying an interaction, their feet will point towards the person they're talking to. But if they desperately want to get away, their feet will most likely
point towards the nearest exit, instead.
They Make Sniffing Noises
While it may sound strange, many people make sniffing noises,
touch their nose, or breathe a bit heavier when they're under stress, and paying attention to that can give you a better idea of what they might be thinking.
As Lupo says, "We breathe to regulate our bodies and create ease as we speak. It’s about pausing and regathering our composure."
Of course, you'll want to ignore any sniffling going on if someone is sick or has a health issue, she says. But pay attention to repetitive sniffing or "fast breaths," which can indicate the person is off balance or trying to remain composed.
They Pause Before Speaking
While everyone goes at their own pace when it comes to speaking, if you notice a person is uncharacteristically pausing or stalling before talking, it could be a sign something isn't quite right.
In many cases, "someone who pauses before answering a question or making a statement is unsure of their answer or what they are communicating," Toombs says, "and may not be giving the full truth."
Again, this can be about buying time and allowing themselves a moment to think as they come up with the best way to explain a situation, or say something that isn't fully true.
They Have A "Tight" Smile
Not everyone smiles the same way, and many of us favor a close-lipped smile over a toothy grin. But even still, the way a smile looks can reveal a lot about what's on someone's mind.
Generally, when someone's authentically happy, their whole face will light up and their smile lines will extend up to the
corners of their eyes. But a closed mouth smile might mean they're masking a different emotion, Lupo says, and could even mean they're appeasing their audience in order to avoid conflict.
Pursed lips are another mouth-related clue to look for, as it can be a sign someone isn't entirely satisfied or aligned with what's being said, Lupo says. And it may even indicate they're angry.
"During conversation, when someone starts stroking the chin this often demonstrates interest in what is being said,"
marketing expert Jennifer Yan, tells Bustle. "It is [...] likely that the person will ask further questions to dig deeper on your topic." So, if you spot this cue, it may be a sign they're into your ideas, and would like more information.
Leaning back in a chair, with arms crossed, often signals that a person objects to whatever's going on, Yan says, which is why you might want to reconsider how an interaction is going, should you notice this cue.
If you're trying to win someone over or share an idea, Yan says you might want to ask further questions to determine how to re-engage them, and pull them back into the conversation. If they're interested, they might begin to lean forward. And again,
have open body language.
They Cross Their Ankles
If a person is feeling nervous, there's a good chance they'll sit with their ankles crossed, Yan says. And when that happens, it may be best to "ease their apprehensions by breaking the tension through the use of humor," she says. This tactic can be helpful in business or networking settings where you'll want to make people comfortable, in order to
form better connections.
They Slightly Close Their Eyes
If you're chatting with someone and they narrow their eyes, consider what it might mean. "Depending on the situation, tone and intensity of the conversation, this can reveal concentration, confusion, or suspicion," Lupo says. "It may [...] be an attempt to focus [but] it could also signify someone does not trust what you’re saying and they are expressing suspicion."
Whether you want to be on the lookout for body language signals — and attempt to use them in order to
have healthier interactions — is entirely up to you. Just keep in mind that they're not always 100 percent accurate, so you'll want to consider the context, as well as the person you're talking to.