interpreting body language

March 4, 2011

I had several e-mails from people who read my blog posts on body language. Each of them asked something along the lines of “What does it mean when someone… (insert gesture/posture)?”

I gave the same answer to each of these questions: it depends.

There’s no body language dictionary that can give you the correct interpretation of every gesture in every situation. Body language needs to be interpreted in context and in clusters.

The same gesture or posture could mean different things, depending on circumstances and on what other gestures accompany it.

Someone who crosses his or her arms could feel defensive or they could simply be cold or trying to hide a stain on his or her shirt.

I once had a client who kept licking his lips and touching his face. At first, I thought he was highly uncomfortable, maybe even hiding something, but his body language was relaxed and open otherwise. It turned out he had a dentist appointment earlier in the day. His lips and cheeks still felt numb and he kept checking to make sure he wasn’t drooling on my desk 🙂

So be careful not to interpret isolated gestures.



  1. Interesting and a good point. Especially women tend to over-interpret body language. From childhood on we are taught to do this… since men aren’t big on talking about feelings, I guess 🙂
    And no – I don’t generalize much *g*

    • You’re right. Sometimes, we overinterpret. Sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar 🙂

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