Our communication is 80% nonverbal and 20% verbal. We as human beings are incredibly perceptive to others and are constantly picking up on the nonverbal cues. If you’re interested in the topic and want to learn more, one of the best books I’ve ever read on body language was by Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent. Navarro teaches that our body language is connected to the primitive parts of our brain that is telling us when we are comfortable or uncomfortable or when we should run away or fight.
Because this part of our brain is running completely without conscious thought it can be a really useful way to read someone else. Especially in a tense situation. Like a first date!
A word of caution: while reading body language can be a useful way to tell if someone is into you or nervous, it’s not completely reliable. Also, it’s connecting to the part of our brain associated with caveman/woman-type of behaviors. This isn’t the highly evolved version of yourself that I spend a lot of time coaching with my clients and is the part responsible for deeply connecting and communicating. So take all this with a grain of salt and use it as extra information.
Here is how I would recommend that you use the information on a date. When you read positive body language, it’s a sign that the person is comfortable and you should keep doing what you’re doing. If you read more negative body language, they are probably uncomfortable and you should change what you’re doing
Negative Body Language
Here are some common signs that someone is feeling uncomfortable. Pay close attention to someone’s feet because they will never lie to you. Feet that are jittery are feeling nervous or they want to run. Feet that are pulled away or pointing away from you are showing that they’re not interested. If someone isn’t into you or something that you just said, it will be reflected in their body posture. Do they create distance or turn away? This is why we have an expression “giving the cold shoulder” because turning the torso away and putting a shoulder between you and the other person is a protective move or a sign of dislike.
The areas of the body that are incredibly sensitive in humans are the neck and the stomach. When someone is uncomfortable, they will touch their neck. Men tend to rub or massage the back of the neck and women tend to play with the neck dimple. When someone is really uncomfortable, they will also protect their stomach and torso. For example, if you watch a woman sitting at a bar and someone said something that makes her uncomfortable, she will gather her things and put her purse in her lap.
One of the biggest objections I hear about body language is about arm crossing. People say it doesn’t mean anything because it’s comfortable. But that’s exactly what it means. We cross our arms in front of our chest because we feel uncomfortable and way to self soothe is to cross the arms. You have a habit of doing this in times of stress, so this body posture has become comfortable to you. Another way humans self-soothe is by rubbing the hands together. This is a tell-tale sign of nervousness.
What to do about it:
When someone shows these signs to you, it is an invitation for you to ask questions and try to understand him or her better. If you were sharing your desire to have kids someday and your date pushed their chair back and crossed their arms, it’s an opportunity to ask how they feel about kids. See if their words match their body language, and if it doesn’t you can call them out. “You seem a little uncomfortable when I mention kids… help me to understand what that’s about?”
Turn it into a fact finding mission and let the body language provide you clues about where to dig deep.
Positive Body Language
Maybe you have had that feeling where you just know that someone is into you. They don’t have to say it, you just know it. And that’s because there are some universal nonverbal signs from someone that expresses comfort and interest. If you see these signs, they are a green light to keep doing what you’re doing because the other person is into it!
Positive body language includes when someone moves closer to you, leans in or angles their torso and stomach towards you. You may also notice your partner leaves their neck exposed or tilts their head showing the length of their neck. We all know that a smile is a common expression of happiness, but there will also be playful eye contact. A person that is flirting will flit their eyes by making eye contact, looking down or away and then looking back. They may also look up through their eyelashes at you.
The feet are another big clue here. When someone is interested in you, they will point their feet in your direction. If they really like you, the feet will dangle playfully or will make contact with yours. This is a big win! (and gives us all a clue about what the hell “footsies” is all about) Playful or light touches also begins to release the feel good hormone oxytocin and can begin to build a bond between two people.
When two people are getting in sync with each other they will begin to mirror one another in their movements and body posture. This is also a subtle way to help someone feel more relaxed and comfortable around you if you’re noticing signs of nervousness.
What to do about it:
Keep doing what you’re doing! They are into you!
Reading body language can give you an insight into how someone is thinking and feeling. However, don’t lose the fun of a date by getting so consumed by the body language that you forget to connect. Let nonverbal communication be a way that you can gather data and continue to explore deeper connections. Let it give you courage to ask some harder questions so that you can understand the other person better. They’ll wonder how you can read their mind. ;)
Did anything from this list surprise you? And what is one thing you can do differently when you are out there in the world to help you be more in tune with nonverbal cues?
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