What You’re Not Saying: Breaking Down Body Language

Image Coach and Writer Amber Evans helps us break down body language.


Speak your mind without saying a word! Before you utter a single word, your mannerisms, no matter how subtle, send a message that’s loud and clear. Words may have been called the building blocks of communication, but it’s what you don’t say that speaks volumes. Although we often identify communication with speech, communication is actually composed of two dimensions – verbal and nonverbal. Research shows that the majority of our communication is nonverbal. Nonverbal communication, or body language, can communicate powerful information conveyed by our facial expressions, body movements (gestures), eye contact, posture, and even the tone of our voice. Non-verbal Communication consists of 90% body language and paralinguistic cues (which are vocally produced sounds). Research has suggested that 60% of the 90% is derived from what body language communicates and 30 % from voice tone. Only 10% of communication consists of words. However, much of the study of nonverbal communication has focused on face-to-face interaction, where it can be classified into three principal areas: environmental conditions where communication takes place, the physical characteristics of the communicators, and behaviors of communicators during interaction. Body language comes in a cluster of signs, indicators, stances, and postures, depending on the person’s inner emotions. Being able to identify the entire cluster is thus far more dependable than trying to construe individual characteristics.

Aggressive body language:

Facial expression: Disapproving frown, full snarls, face may appear red (red patches on check or neck), and pursed lips with slanted eyebrows.

Eye Contact: Squinting, sneering, staring or long gazing.

Body Gesture: Hovering, rounded shoulders, leaning forward, clenched fists and tense movements throughout the whole body.

What does this communicate about me? I feel physically threatened. I feel attacked and disturbed.

How can I turn that impression around? Open my body language, have upright posture, improve eye contact, and be open to listening.

Bored body language:

Facial expression: Yawning, talking with others and sighing. The color of the skin is generally normal, being neither reddened by anger or embarrassment, nor pale with fear.

Eye Contact: You see eyes looking at things other than the speaker, eye seem to be focused on a door or a window, a watch or clock.

Body Gesture: Tapping toes, swinging feet, drumming fingers, drooping of the body, and leaning back with hands on head.

What does this communicate about me? I am disinterested, indifferent, and unconcerned.

How can I turn that impression around? Be more alert and attentive, be a better listener, erect posture, smile and show that you care about what others are saying.

Closed body language:

Facial expression: Lips pursed, no smiling, eyes glazed and squinting.

Eye Contact: Blank stare, minimal eye contact, eyes look at wall or floor, eyes glance up rapidly then down.

Body Gesture: Body in closed position, limbs brought together, arms folded, hands clasped together, legs crossed, tension in arms and shoulders, neck and jaw tense.

What does this communicate about me? Cautious, careful, not open-minded, defensive, threatened.

How can I turn that impression around? Open body posture up, roll shoulders back, relax hands, face the person at a 90 degree angle, look more trusting, have better eye contact. With women, knees are together or legs are parallel. With men, legs may be stretched apart. The feet may point forward, to the side or at someone of interest.

Dominant body language:

Facial expression: Intimating, head leans forward, scowling.

Eye Contact: Solid eye contact, slightly squinting with focused concentration.

Body Gesture: Sitting or standing upright, leaning, putting feet up on furniture, may seem over friendly. Hands are placed on hips making the elbows go wider and the body seem larger. They stand upright and erect, with the chin up and the chest thrust out. Legs may be placed apart to increase size.

What does this communicate about me? “That I am important” (you are not), shows disrespect and controlling actions, an invasion of others personal space or territory.

How can I turn that impression around? Relax body, smile, keep body upright, roll shoulders down then take a deep breath.

Deceptive body language:
Facial expression: Smiling without reflecting it through the eyes, forced smile not genuine, biting the mouth, changes in voice tone and speed.

Eye Contact: Eyes do not smile, eyes look around showing lack of trust of environment or others.

Body Gesture: Tension, sweating, sudden movement, muscle twitches, hands in pockets, clumsiness, control, attempted friendly body language with forced smiles and/or jerky movements.

What does this communicate about me? Seeking to cover-up, lying, phony, sly.

How can I turn that impression around? Smile without grimacing, relax muscles in the face, take slower movements, keep arms down by sides and stabilize eye brows, relax and uncross legs, be genuine in intent.

Defensive body language:

Facial expression: Chin is held down, open mouth, face shows reactive expressions or feelings,
Eye Contact: Eyes are widened, flicking the eyes from side to side (looking for a way out), avoids looking at the person.

Body Gesture: Body is erect, covering body parts, thrusting forward with attacking movements, sudden backwards movement.

What does this communicate about me? Protecting self from attack, on high alert.

How can I turn that impression around? Close mouth and give a smile, lighten up eyes and relax limbs. Round the arms and turn palms sideways to show openness and understanding, almost like offering an ‘air hug’.

Emotional body language:

Facial expression: Feelings show obviously the on face, baring of the teeth, snarling, red face, pale face, trembling lips, varying speech errors.
Eye Contact: Eyes are moist, red or swollen.

Body Gesture: Visible pulse, cold sweats, clenched fists, leaning, swaying back and forth and trembling.

What does this communicate about me? Fervent, impetuous, responsive, hot-blooded, poignant or one who is trying to identify feelings.

How can I turn that impression around? Breath in deeply to slow circulation, speak in even calm tones, relax.

Evaluation body language:

Facial expression: Fingers touching lips, pursing lips, stroking the side of the nose, head tilted, thinking.

Eye Contact: Going back and forth in deep thought, staring in concentration.

Body Gesture: Hands clasped together, stroking the chin (or other parts of the body), fidgeting with fingers, and the body is open and relaxed. Movements may be synchronized.

What does this communicate about me? Careful, concerned, contemplative.

How can I turn that impression around? Look at the person to whom you are speaking, open up the body and slightly smile.

Impatient body language:

Facial expression: Head nodding, sighing, biting lips.

Eye Contact: You see rolling eyes, looking at a watch or wall clock, and eyes glaring at the door.

Body Gesture: Fingers and toes tapping or seated on hands. The body anxiously leans forward, with jerky forward and/or backwards movements.

What does this communicate about me? In a hurry, hasty, anxious, and abrupt.

How can I turn that impression around? Slow down, relax, look forward.

Indecisive body language:

Facial expression: Mouth is open and eyes are squinting.

Eye Contact: The head may be directed towards something or someone, but the eyes will be looking around or staring. Eyes are squinted, considering or reflecting a decision.

Body Gesture: The torso may sag slightly to one angel, head will tilt, and fingers may go into the mouth or on the chin. Shoulders are tense.

What does this communicate about me? Unsure, doubtful, wavering, and changeable.
How can I turn that impression around? Follow the guidelines for the attentive body language.
Insecure body language:
Facial expression: Lips quivering, biting lips, tight facial muscles.
Eye Contact: Poor eye contact, jerky eye movements.
Body Gesture: Shoulders hovered over, posture droopy, fidgeting, nervous ticks, fingers wiggling, sweating, uncoordinated body movements, trembling, shaking.
What does this communicate about me? Fearful, anxious, low self worth.
How can I turn that impression around? Follow the guidelines for the attentive body language.
Relaxed body language:
Facial expression: Smiling gently or broadly without signs of grimacing. Face is still with minimal signs of heavy breathing. Eyebrows are stable.
Eye Contact: Eyes smile with mouth, particularly in the little creases at the sides of the eyes. Relaxed gaze looking directly at another person without staring and with little blinking.
Body Gesture: Body lacks tension, muscles are relaxed and loose. Movement is fluid and unconcerned, torso sags slightly to one side, shoulders are not tense and hang calm, and body is open and gentle. Limbs are stress free and hang loosely or move slowly.

What does this communicate about me? Comfortable, carefree, casual, easy-going.

How can I turn that impression around? Stand more erect, focus eyes without staring. Overall relaxed body language is helpful to have in most social situations.

Romantic body language:

Facial expression: Smirking, licking lips, pursing lips with a gleaming eye, head directed toward the other person, signaling.

Eye Contact: Staring gently longer than usual, eyes showing many signals.

Body Gesture: Gestures which say, “I am making myself look good for you”: tossing of the head, brushing hair with hand, brushing clothes, exposing attractive body parts, trusting, forward, leaning, getting closer, light touching.

What does this communicate about me? Charming, dreamy, mysterious, passionate, starry-eyed, tender, visionary, flirtatious.

How can I turn that impression around? Look straight forward, no touching, slightly smile without smirking.

Submissive body language:

Facial expression: Smile with the mouth but not eyes, not authentic or real.

Eye Contact: Widened with fear showing vulnerability, eyes that keep glancing downward, poor eye contact, not confrontational or assertive.

Body Gesture: Stance is closed, hunching inward, reducing size of body, arms held in, hair tugging, face touching, jerky movements, sweating.

What does this communicate about me? Lowly, meek, subdued, tame, yielding.

How can I turn that impression around? Stand upright, look forward or into the other persons eyes, open up body, smile.

The Ultimate Goal is to express ‘Attentive’ body language:

Facial expression: Smile with the mouth and the eyes, showing your authenticity and genuineness. Concentration may also be appearing in the forehead as the eyebrows are brought together as the listener seeks to hear and understand the person.

Eye Contact: An attentive head may be slightly forward. An attentive person seeks not just to hear, but to understand what’s being said so they use every opportunity to look at the person without taking their gaze away. They will likely blink less, almost for fear of missing something.

Body Gesture: Body is open which shows being mentally open to what others have to say. Head is nodding which showing agreement and also encourages the other person to keep talking. Posture is vertical and shoulders are rolled back. Arms are relaxed without fidgeting or jerking movements showing no distracting thoughts or feelings. A person with attentive body language angles their body toward the other person and leans slightly forward as they are interested in what others have to say. Their head may tilt depending on the variation or intensity of listening.

What does this communicate about me? When I express attentive body language I am showing that I am confident, assertive, and emotionally available.

By Amber Michelle Evans, © 2010, All rights reserved.


Amber Evans is a Beauty Expert, Writer, Former Miss NY Teen USA, and Judge for the Miss America and Miss USA organizations, model, actress, and development coach. For fifteen years Amber was the New Faces Director at the McCarty Talent Agency and has been a fashion coordinator, helping to market top celebrities. Collectively she has worked in the fashion and entertainment industries for over 20 years, gaining knowledge and expertise in most aspects of the business. She was also part of a treatment team; helping teens with issues like addiction and/or dependency problems, eating disorders, attention seeking, entitlement, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, as well as lack of self-esteem and self-worth. She currently lives in Draper, Utah. Although, she is passionate about her profession, she feels her most monumental accomplishment is that of being a wife and mother of 5 beautiful children.

Email comments or stories to redefiningbeauty@hotmail.com. For questions in regard to public speaking, seminars, or Amber’s book series email inquiries. For personal development lessons, beauty makeovers or etiquette coaching call the McCarty Agency at (801) 581-9292 and request Amber Evans or email her directly at redefiningbeauty@hotmail.com.

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