Research has shown that most of the information we take in from a conversation is nonverbal. In fact, according to the original research, as much as 55% of all communication is through body language.
Despite this, most of us could be far better at picking up on those nonverbal signals, especially body language.
Body language provides us with an interesting sort of power, much like reading someone’s mind. It allows us to peer into the person and ascertain things they haven’t communicated (or aren’t willing to communicate) verbally.
It’s also important to keep in mind, though, that the same research also made light that it’s important not to judge a single gesture. Instead, look for clusters of signals that might lend weight to a conclusion (i.e. their posture is slouched and they’re looking at the ground = they’re probably feeling unconfident).
Body language and tone of voice – not words – are our most powerful assessment tools.
– Christopher Voss
But what signals should you look for? And what can these various body language signals tell you that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to pick up from just their words or tone of voice?
There are many, but some are easier to notice than others. Here are five easy-to-miss body language signals you should pick up on during any kind of interaction.
1. Raised eyebrows = A telling sign of fear, worry, surprise, or fakery
There are only three occasions where a person raises their eyebrows:
If the person is raising their eyebrows, they’re likely feeling one of the above emotions.
However, keep in mind that there’s also a fourth reason: when they’re being dishonest. Unlike most of the other signals on this list, it’s important to mention this here because, like a fake smile which we’ll discuss later, raising one’s eyebrows is something people often do to make it seem like they care about what you’re saying.
For that reason, this isn’t typically a signal you can gain any sort of reliable information from by itself but it’s a useful one when paired with other signals.
2. Excessive nodding = They’re worried you doubt their ability
If you are, or have ever been, in a position of authority, you might have seen this one a number of times.
However, this extends to any situation where a person is worrying excessively about what you think of them or when they believe you doubt their ability.
3. Copy-catting = You’re creating a bond
While the first two signals were mostly negative, this one is entirely positive.
Have you ever been around someone who, or perhaps yourself, copied your or the other person’s mannerisms or posture? This is a sign that we’re feeling a positive connection to the other person. Think of it as a kind of unconscious desire to come in “sync” with the other person.
This is a powerful sign to look for because it tells you when things are going well and when it’s appropriate to move the conversation forward.
4. Posture = Confidence level
Someone’s posture is one of the most reliable signals you can pick up on in virtually any face-to-face interaction. That’s probably because it encompasses the entire body, sitting or not.
Posture is mostly relate to confidence, a telling sign of how they feel both about themselves and about themselves in contrast with you. When a person enters a room with slouching posture or looking at the ground or when sitting curls up, and moves their hands to their lap they’re exhibiting low self-esteem.
However, when they sit upright, lean back, stretch their legs out, pull their shoulders back, and generally spread out so that they appear to take up more space, they’re exhibiting great confidence both about themselves and the situation.
The easiest way to remember this is contracting = low confidence while expanding = high confidence.
You’ll notice those in charge almost always exhibit some level of this high-confidence body language. But when you’re not in a situation where it’s clear who is in charge, viewing their body language can tell you quite a bit about the dynamic of a room or group of people.
5. Crinkled eyelids = Fake smile
Most of us know that shifty eyes and a general lack of eye contact means someone is likely acting dishonestly or hiding something. However, it’s easy for someone aware of this fact to simply lock eyes with another, making it very difficult to tell if they’re being truthful or deceptive.
However, one very easy to miss body language signal you should look out for to help you search out disingenuous behavior is located in their smile. Specifically, the space around their eyes.
It’s common for people to use their smile to hide things, whether it’s pain or worry or untrustworthy intentions, but a fake smile is very easy to spot.
When we smile, a real smile, crinkles amass around the edge of our eyelids that arch out to each side. When someone forces a fake smile, they tend to focus on their lips and cheeks and don’t realize that a real smile involves the entire face, sort of pulling the entire face toward itself.
So, if you don’t see the crinkles around their eyes, that’s probably not a real smile.