Tag Archive for Gesture

Comfort and Discomfort Body Language

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

We have covered many signals of comfort and discomfort throughout the book and have even eluded to their use in lie detection. To simplify things, I wanted to take the time to cover the cues we can use to detect lying as it relates to comfort and discomfort. We have seen how open and closed language can signal a desire to allow access to the body. Ventral displays shows that a person is open and trusting of someone and this sort of response is difficult when we feel we are hiding emotions. Comfort is displayed through proximity and people do this by moving their torsos closer or leaning inward rather than away and will remove objects that impede their view so as to establish more intimacy.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable people will hold their bodies loose rather than rigid, and their body will move with fluidity. They will gesture with their speech instead of freezing instantly or awkwardly, called “flash frozen.” Sometimes people will slow to catch their thoughts, but this will be obvious to the body language reader and will come at appropriate times and in context when thought is actually required to produce accurate answers. Comfortable people mirror others around them instead of avoiding synchrony. Their breath rate will be similar and they will adopt like postures instead of showing differences.

Bodies show discomfort by increased heart rate, breath rate, sweating, a change in normal colour in the face or neck, trembling or shaking in the hands lips, or elsewhere, compressing the lips, fidgeting, drumming the fingers and other repetitive behaviours. Voices often crack when under stress, mouths might dry up producing noticeable swallowing, “hard swallows”, or frequent throat clearing. Liars might use objects as barriers. They might hold drinking glasses to hide parts of their face or use walls and chairs while standing to lean against to gain support. Liars might engage in eye blocking behaviours by covering their eyes with their hands or seem to talk through them or even squint so as to impede what is being said from entering their minds. The eyes might also begin to flutter or increase in overall blink rate showing an internal struggle.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy - discomfort.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy – discomfort.

We’ve hit on the fact that stress creates nonverbal language such as preening to show detachment from a conversation (picking lint), energy displacement gestures such as scratching the body or rubbing the neck or wiping the side of the nose. Palm up displays show that a person has some doubt, and indicates a desire for other to believe them while palm down displays show confidence and authority. Microexpressions can also be particularly revealing since they happen instantaneously and subconsciously. Watch for movements that happen first especially if they are negative in nature as these are more honest than positive body language. Positive language is used by people to appear more in control and polite instead of appearing vulnerable. Fake smiles are an excellent example of an expression that can sometimes be put on to appear to disguise stress. We know smiles are faked when they seem to last for much longer than what would be considered natural.

Lack of touching, or touch reduction also signals discomfort and a divergence of ideas. When people’s ideas differ they find it hard to come close to others as part of the natural fear response. Head movements that are inconsistent with speech such as slightly nodding affirmatively though making a denial or vice versa, or delaying head nodding until after speech is made such that speech and gestures lack synchrony can give liars away. When gestures are done out of sync they tell us that a person is adding the gesture on as support for their statement. The entire affair appears to be out of the normal order of flow in communication which liars can often do. When affirmative nodding happens during denial statements such as nodding “yes” while saying “I did not do it” usually happens very subtly, but is obvious to the conscious observer. Keep in mind while reading these cues that they do not indicate lying per se, but rather indicate discomfort and stress. The job of the body language reader is to decide why a person is stressed. Are they stressed because they are being put on the spot, because they fear being mislabeled, or because they are actually telling lies?

Nose Language


When people are stressed, blood flushes into the skin.  Our hands are then drawn to the areas most affected due to increased sensitivity and heat so we tend to point out our stress.  Enlarged capillaries in the nose can induce our hands in it’s direction to sooth it.  As blood flows to the nose, it enlarges, giving credence to the ‘Pinocchio effect.’

Nose touching might also stem from lying. It can happen as a quick but purposeful touch, the finger might graze the side of the nose, or it can be a persistent rubbing. Sometimes the touch is quick and dirty in an up and down motion, other times it is a brief almost unnoticeable touch to the base of the nose or its side. Face touching can come in two forms, one that serves a real function to alleviate an itch, and one that is the result of negative feelings such as being uncomfortable and stressed. Face touching that is due to an emotion is meant as a fix behind the sensation, the emotion, and not due to any physical need.

In order to appear more honest in front of others, either reduce or eliminate all face touching, make them appear more natural, or make them consistent in affect across all situations. Itching is usually a repetitive isolated gesture, which happens regardless of what is said, and happens at times when it would be impossible to assume a connection to what is being said. For example, saying something of questionable truthfulness, then brushing the side of the nose with an index finger is likely to raise suspicion, whereas bumping the nose when not speaking or when describing insignificant details would go unnoticed. Always try to make gestures appear natural and functional instead and also be particularly conscious of nose and face touching when you think someone is trying to peg you a liar. Over time it is your baseline that will give you away, so if you remain consistent across all situations, you’re less likely to give up tells. Most will find that their minds are more active and busy during lying, so it’s easier to avoid gestures altogether instead of adding honest gestures. This makes eliminating face touching one of the easiest ways to appear honest with minimal effort.

Hand To Mouth Gestures

When a child lies, she might bring her hand up quickly and slap her mouth closed, but when an adult lies, she holds back and might only lightly touch the side of the mouth.

When a child lies, she might bring her hand up quickly and slap her mouth closed, but when an adult lies, she holds back and might only lightly touch the side of the mouth.

Mouth covering is another way to reduce the pain of telling a lie. In this case, it is so as to “speak no evil.” Small children perform a full cover and even slap their mouths when they say something they shouldn’t. Grown adults will sometimes cup their hands to their mouths like children in effort to “jam the words back in their mouths” but usually use more subtle gestures such as talking through their hand or placing a finger softly over their lips. Talking with ones hand covering the mouth “talking through the hand” or resting the hand around the mouth by wrapping the fingers around the top, are significant clues indicating insecurity.

Subconsciously, hand-to-mouth gestures leads people to distrust others, and see them as less honest overall. The gesture can be done with a fist, a finger, or a ‘shushing’ motion with the index finger vertically placed over the lips. Other times the subconscious mind is so powerful that the hand comes up and slaps the mouth, but to cover this ‘tell’ up, a fake cough is added.

'Talking through the mouth' is seen as dishonest.

‘Talking through the mouth’ is seen as dishonest.

Neck Scratch And Collar Pull

Does this gesture means something or is her neck itchy?

Does this gesture means something or is her neck itchy?

When someone utters words such as “I completely agree with you, that sentiment is bang-on” but then punctuates the sentence with a neck scratch, it might mean that they in fact believe the opposite. Scratching the neck when no itch is present is a way to displace some of the nervous energy created by the lie and so distracts them from the pain of their dishonesty. Usually, the neck is scratched about five times, usually exactly. It seldom happens more than this, and rarely less. The collar pull is another form of self touching that is related to the neck. In this case, the idea is to reduce friction causes by an increase in blood flow to the neck. When stress increases, our face and necks flush with blood and we pull our collar away as an unconscious indication of this process. As blood flow increases to our neck, it stimulates nerves which in turn cause irritation and discomfort. Other times, the collar pull is a way to release heat created by our bodies while under pressure and discomfort from a neck that has become moist due to sweating.

Ear Pull

Tugging at the ears helps distract the mind from emotional stress.

Tugging at the ears helps distract the mind from emotional stress.

The ear rub or pull is as gesture done as a response to greater blood flow to the ears and as a result of an increase in body temperature. Lying ear language can come in the form of a pull downward on the lobe, or as a scratch, or swipe behind the ear. When we get hot, we flush, and the neck and ears are particularly sensitive to flushing. Flushing is the body’s response to an overactive metabolism as it prepares to either fight, or take flight. When this cue is as a result of hearing a lie from someone else, or hearing something that is distasteful, it is done in an attempt to inhibit what a person is hearing by blocking the hears. Only it is not a complete blocking, but rather an abbreviated blocking so instead of covering them completely, the hand merely grazes the ears or pulls on them. Other times liars respond to the stress associated with lying themselves, so the ears are being touched to “block” the hears from hearing their own fib. When someone manages their body in this way, it tells us that they are having an inner battle with their self-image. In other words, this gesture is likely to appear only in those people that are traditionally honest. Pathological liars don’t hold a positive self image, at least not about their honesty and integrity, so feel no remorse from telling a lie and therefore go free of the stress response lying can sometimes produce.

Examples of Microexpression

Keep in mind that microexpressions are useful when they appear out of congruency with other gestures or language. It is when the facial expression is out of tune with what is being said. For example, telling a positive story while smiling and momentarily flashing a microexpression can mean that the person is lying. Here are some microexpressions with respect to emotions. [note that images show true expressions which might be held for a time, whereas a microexpression will not persist, only flash quickly before disappearing]


Copy of BodyLanguageProjectCom - Anger 1Anger: Lowering the brow, flaring of the eyes and tightening of the mouth.


Copy (2) of BodyLanguageProjectCom - Fear Facial ExpressionFear: Raising the upper eyelids and showing the whites of the eyes, raising the inner brow and folding the eyebrows inward (activation of the grief muscle), lowering the brow and or tightening of the eyelid. A grimace usually comes across the face.


BodyLanguageProjectCom - Surprised Facial Expression Or SurprisedSurprise: Straight upward lift of the brows.


BodyLanguageProjectCom - DisgustDisgust: Baring of the teeth, lower of the eyebrows, tightening the eyelid, and wrinkling the nose.


Copy of BodyLanguageProjectCom - ScornScorn: A combination of anger and disgust that happens by wrinkling of the nose, raising and tightening of the upper lip. To visualize this expression think of a bad smell.



Copy of BodyLanguageProjectCom - Down-Turned Smile Or Reverse SmileReverse smile: While smiling the corners of the mouth curl downwards momentarily displaying a caught/suppressed frown.


BodyLanguageProjectCom - False Smile Or Ohoney SmileFalse smile: Where the eyes play no part (no wrinkles in the corners of the eyes as in the Duchenne smile and the mouth is stretched across the face).


Doubt or disbelief: While answering a question in the affirmative saying “yes” the head is seen shaking from side-to-side in a ‘no-gesture.’



Never gesture too much because subconsciously it will appear that we are at a loss for words. Don’t restrict gestures either, as they will make us seem uptight and will inhibit our speech flow and always return your hands to your lap after each bout of movement. High status individuals use gestures much less than low status individuals so keep your gestures deliberate, clear and meaningful. If possible and appropriate, mirror the subtle gestures of your interviewer to try to build rapport. The more similar you can make them think you are to them, the more confident they will be in your ability to do the job and fit in.

Power Sitting For Women – What To Do, What To Avoid

Women in the workplace are always walking a thin line between their sexuality and authority. Women all know that their looks can be used to manipulate others around them, especially men, however physical attractiveness in the workplace has been repeatedly shown to lead others to dismiss women’s thoughts. However, one way women can combat this and still maintain their sexuality is as follows: sit with legs crossed leg over knee and have the high heel pointed horizontally at someone they wish to intimidate. Most dominant cues that work for men, such as the full body steeple, are ineffective when used by women. However, the heel is something men don’t have so it doesn’t come across as being a typically dominant male gesture. The heel acts like a dagger against its prey and neutralizes it. The posture shows assertiveness and that she is willing and able to emasculate men.

One sitting position women should particularly avoid is sitting with arms up and behind the head in the full steeple position as mentioned. This posture has the effect of putting the breasts on full display which counteracts any dominant aspects it might otherwise impart. Even having the legs crossed in the figure four looks odd when performed by women. A crotch display is not effective for women as it is for men, so it should be eliminated altogether. Hand steepling is another gender neutral dominance stance and can be used with effectiveness. Women want to pick up cues that suite their overall personality without putting people off. Assertive women often described as “bitchy” to others, usually because they take things too far. Women seeking powerful positions often think they need to go over-the-top because the fear being discounted. However, this isn’t so, and like men, need to balance being dominant and “mean” and demonstrating leadership qualities.

The Types Of Handshakes

“Pressing the flesh” or handshakes are a very important ritualized greeting gesture that has gained worldwide popularity. How someone presents their hand during a handshake tells us a lot about how they see their relationship with us. There are three main palm orientations that can occur during handshakes. They are palm down (dominance or superiority), palm up (submissiveness) and palm even (equality). A palm down orientation emphasizes that a person wishes to control and dominant by taking the upper position forcing the other person’s palm down into a subordinate position. The palm down orientation is similar to placing the hand on the shoulder, which a boss might do to an intern to keep him in his place or a father might do to his son to settle him down. Conversely, the palm up offering shows a desire to submit since the hand is passively turned over allowing someone else to dominate them. Finally, the palm even or vertical is an attempt to build a cooperative, egalitarian relationship and shows a desire to produce a positive relationship.

The most universally appropriate orientation for the handshake is to have palms even and vertical, especially on a first meeting. Handshakes set the tone for the rest of the relationship though, and are often the only time two people will ever touch, so sometimes we might use alternate orientations depending on the goals we seek. A palm down technique can be used against a more subordinate individual to keep them in their place, and due to their lower rank, would tolerate it, perhaps even expect it. Anyone lower in the food chain is fair game for the palm down technique, although, I still recommend that people try to show their desire for equality from others rather than trying to show dominance. A boss will rarely tolerate the palm down maneuver from a subordinate. You may notice a strong visceral reaction from handshake jousting as it were, so heed these tips with caution. Pulling off dominance type handshakes usually amounts to not much more than negative feelings and makes others feel uncomfortable rather than making them feel subordinate as intended. If you really wish to dominate and control people than using territorial displays, invading people’s space and using strong eye language is much more permitted and effective.

It is common for people in equally powerful positions to jockey for the upper hand. Failing to show dominance through nonverbal means in the workplace can be disastrous when one intends to rise in the ranks. When performing the palm down handshake it is not necessary to thrust your arm forward with palm perfectly parallel with the ground. Doing so might even make the handshake impossible or confusing to your counterpart because it can be mistaken for some other gesture. Instead, move the hand forward with a slight downward angle such that it forces their hand to meet and rotate upwards. Once hands meet don’t try to twist, instead maintain the same angle and begin your two to three pumps. For best results always be sure to hold eye contact while shaking hands, smile slightly, use good but not excessive pressure and leaning forward slightly to convey extra interest.

It might seem that the palm-up orientation has no place at all in the handshake world, but this is not so. It can be used to placate higher authorities in order to demonstrate your desire to please them. Such is the case when a boss of much higher status meets an employee low in the ranks. The palm up shows that he is keen to keep his job and doesn’t present any threat. Someone who has crossed the line at work and is facing reprimand is best suited to at least feign his intent to set the record straight. There will be times too, that it is unfeasible to reverse the palm down technique which can cause very negative feelings so going with the flow is the second best course of action. To initiate a more equal relationship, despite taking up a palm-up orientation, you can add additional pressure at the beginning of the handshake which shows that you aren’t a complete pushover. This tells others nonverbally that you deserve a second look and that you aren’t interested in sucking up.

Duration and pressure are two other very important aspects of a good handshake. A handshake that is too short indicates lack of interest, warmth and enthusiasm, whereas a handshake that is of proper duration shows interest, attention and empathy. However, if the length of time increases much more than ordinary, the positive characteristics quickly vanish only to be replaced by negative ones. When handshakes last too long they aren’t usually aggressively protested, but your partner may seem to pulling back or away slightly. The greatest damage to over-shaking will be seen in their impression of you and will be carried forward possibly creating problems later on. The handshake is usually the first time two people touch and so is an important gesture in our first impressions, and because touch happens so rarely handshakes become etched in our minds.

Pressure and duration testing are great ways to decide if, or how strongly, someone will resist your authority. During the handshake add more pressure and increase the length of your handshake, if it’s not met with additional pressure or is met with an attempt to pull away, you can be fairly certain that your demands will be met with little resistance.
If pulling away does happen, check to see how it is done because this can be indicative of the method and strength by which people use to cause issues later on. If the attempt is weak or ineffective, than there is a good chance resistance will appear in hidden forms later on, but if they pull back confidently you can expect an open battle.

We can also tell a lot about a person by the texture of their hand. A skilled tradesmen who works fulltime building houses will have callused hands, whereas a lawyer would not. Sometimes a mixture of the two is present as is the case with the lawyer who runs a hobby carpentry outfit on his weekends. So while we can use hand features to determine congruencies, we also must exercise some caution. Regardless, hands, their strength and character can give away some tells about a person and their habits so while we are at it, meaning shaking hands, we might as well collect these cues as they may come in “handy” in the future.

Hiking The Skirt And Showing Skin

The 'skirt hike' happens totally subconsciously.  When a woman gets hot and bothered she might begin to play with the bottom of her skirt to show a bit of extra leg.

The ‘skirt hike’ happens totally subconsciously. When a woman gets hot and bothered she might begin to play with the bottom of her skirt to show a bit of extra leg.

The skirt hike is an interesting body language cue because it happens completely subconsciously with little, and usually no awareness at all. It is so subtle though that only those looking specifically for it will actually see it.

The “skirt hike” happens by fingering and play with the bottom ridge of the skirt. Other times, the skirt hike happens in a more pronounced way by grabbing the bottom of the skirt and pulling it up a few inches or more, to reveal more leg. This motion is usually done toward a man of interest and followed by eye contact, but other times like the parade, happens as advertisement of the woman’s availability. If she catches someone else notice this gesture which she isn’t interested in, she will quickly force it back down and break eye contact.

Any gesture like the skirt hike that exposes more skin can be a sexual signal. We are all familiar with the cliché scene in movies where the woman suggestively says that she’ll return in something more comfortable. As always, she reappears in sexy lingerie. Most times, men don’t get such an obvious cue of interest but women still remove clothing to peek interest. Removing a heavy shirt or jacket to be more comfortable, or loosening buttons from a shirt, or even removing shoes or dangling the shoes from the toe, all show comfort at worst, and interest at best. “Shoe play” is also a great indicator of the level of comfort experienced between a man and women and is a way for a woman to get noticed because movement draws attention. Movement is the opposite to the fear-freeze response when people are scared. While in conversation, if the man does something to startle the woman, she’ll pull her shoe back on in short order! It’s also a good way to measure a cold approach because she’ll slip her shoe back on immediately if she doesn’t like the approach. She’ll make her displeasure more salient by slightly or fully turning away, holding a fixed gaze with her friends or across the room or pretend to be distracted. Her movements will also minimize so as to become less noticeable in the hopes that her “male predator” moves onto new prey.

Seated skirt hike.

Seated skirt hike.

'Shoe play' indicates high comfort.  Test it by doing something creepy and watch just how fast the shoes go back on in preparation for escape!

‘Shoe play’ indicates high comfort. Test it by doing something creepy and watch just how fast the shoes go back on in preparation for escape!