Have you ever been on a date and just gotten the vibe that the other person wasn’t into it, without exactly knowing why? It wasn’t anything that they were doing—they asked the right questions and offered to take the bill—but something was just… off. In situations like this, body language might be to blame. (Word to the wise: Next time this happens, feel free to “preen”—we’ll explain later.) Like scent, body language has the power to influence how others perceive and act around you—except most people aren’t aware of this power at all. Enter Tonya Reiman, body language expert and author of The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter. Reiman is a pro when it comes to revealing what people are really thinking and feeling based on their body language, as well as how you can use your posture and stance to your advantage. Curious (and needing any motivation we can get to ditch our perpetually slouched state), we asked Reiman to dissect what some of the most common stances—fidgeting and all—convey to the world. Let’s put it this way: We’re currently sitting very upright as we type. Keep scrolling to find out what your body language is telling the world!
We’re all guilty of it, and we’ve been chided about it by our mothers at the dinner table on more than one occasion (yes, even as adults). We’re talking about fidgeting and fiddling—aka the opposite of being calm and composed. In a business situation, Reiman says, playing with your hair, touching your face, or fidgeting in any other way can be a major distraction. “It demonstrates lack of power,” she says. “When we touch our faces or hair, it is because we need self-soothing.” And don’t forget your legs, either—if you’re sitting in a chair and keep crossing and uncrossing your legs, this may tell the person you’re with that you’re disinterested, according to Reiman (ah, so the previous lackluster dating scenario makes sense now).
However, in a dating context instead of business, touching your face and playing with your hair can actually make you seem more interested in the individual. “It’s called ‘preening’ and is a common indicator that you are doing your best to look good for and attract a potential partner,” Reiman explains. “You can often garner the same results by leaning slightly forward, tilting your head, and incorporating a touch that feels natural, like brushing up against your date.” She cites a study by Caress that found a guy is more than one and a half times as likely to notice a woman’s scent or touch as he is her eye color or name—so maybe give another thought to that perfume you were about to spritz. (More on that study here.)
The crossed-arm emoji got it right—according to Reiman, crossing your arms is a universal sign for “no” and can make a person appear defensive. “When you see this signal in any situation in which you are trying to persuade someone, you have some work to do,” she says. Even if done unintentionally, folded arms are generally perceived as a negative stance, and subconsciously, the other person may be getting vibes that you’re not open to him or her. Reiman cites this study, which indicates that even if you’re just crossing your arms for comfort (or warmth—icebox office temps are a real thing), doing so closes you off from absorbing up to 50% of the information you’re receiving. So think before you cross.
It’s not really surprising to know that slouching conveys everything from insecurity to laziness, but Reiman stresses the importance of avoiding it anyway. “How we feel affects how we stand,” Reiman says. “In order to be perceived as confident—and, as an extra bonus, feel confident—you must stand tall, with your neck elongated, ears and shoulders aligned, chest slightly protruding, and legs slightly apart, distributing weight evenly.”
Folding your hands into your lap might seem like a safe option—you’re not necessarily conveying a strong emotion or stance—but Reiman says to avoid doing it anytime you’re looking to leave an impression. “If you tend to keep your hands in your lap when you speak, you’re in danger of fading into the wallpaper!” she warns. “Try to develop a set of gestures that feels comfortable to you so you give your verbal message more power.” One instance in which it may be appropriate to fold your hands in your lap is if you are speaking with someone who is telling you something or giving your feedback (aka, when you are the listener, rather than the speaker).
If you naturally tend to put your weight on one leg and jut out your hip, you may be conveying a “slightly sarcastic or flirtatious position that denotes skepticism,” according to Reiman. “The woman who does this—and it’s almost always a woman—feels a little cocky or confident,” she says. “People tend to perceive women who do this stance as tough-minded.” In other words, maybe not the best when you are leading a meeting and trying to command respect, but a definite go-to when you just made a sassy remark about your S.O.’s hair (kidding… sort of).
And because we’re endlessly fascinated by non-verbal secrets (see our great pheromone experiment), we had to share one last thing Reiman left us with that may or may not change our dating game forever. “If you’re going on a date, draw attention to your neck by wearing a necklace that lands right at the base of your neck,” she says. “You can draw attention to that area during the date with a natural touch, too.” Just make sure your necklace doesn’t have a heart, though—Reiman says that signals to your date you’re already taken. Single ladies, it’s time to throw out any and all heart necklaces now.
Were you surprised by any of these? Do you believe in the power of body language? Sound off below!