How to Read and Use Body Language

When you walk into a room, even before speaking, you send all sorts of messages about yourself. So how can you use this to your advantage? By intentionally choosing how you move and hold your body, you can become more influential as a leader. You can also learn how to read your employees’ attitudes to better support and motivate them.

Body Language Basics

Body language is highly communicative. Research from UCLA shows that 7% of communication comes from words, 38% is based on tone of voice, and 55% comes from body language.

Correctly interpreting and consciously using body language can give you an advantage in the workplace. By understanding body cues, you will better discern your employees needs and help them progress. We’ll teach you the basics of body language and what certain expressions indicate.



1. Face and Head

Sometimes a person’s words don't match their facial expressions. It’s generally best to trust the face. Here’s what some facial expressions indicate:

  • Raised eyebrows portray that a person is lying or displeased with what they’re hearing. When someone’s eyebrows raise, they are usually experiencing surprise, worry, or fear.

  • Tight lips reveal an attitude of closure and defiance.

  • A clenched jaw signals stress.

Sometimes people smile in a conversation even though they have no idea what the other person is talking about. You can tell if people are actually happy when their eyes crinkle at the corners. Fake smiles end at the mouth. Real smiles are evident in the eyes.

Prolonged, unblinking eye contact can mean that someone is lying. Avoiding eye contact signals disinterest or lack of confidence. However, body language differs from culture to culture. For example, in many Asian cultures direct eye contact is considered aggressive, and it is especially rude to hold eye contact with a social superior.



2. Torso and arms

Spinal posture is a big teller of how people feel about their environment. Standing tall with shoulders back shows that you are in charge. Sinking in the shoulders or back expresses a lack of confidence.

Mirroring body language is a sign of agreement and acceptance between people. It shows a bond with the other person. When you feel aligned emotionally, the connection displays physically.



3. Lower Body and Legs

Crossed legs and arms provide a physical barrier, displaying resistance. Like a wall that keeps people out, this barrier shows that a person is unwilling to accept ideas. In a study of over 2,000 negotiations, none where either party crossed their legs ended in agreement.

Shaking legs or feet is an expression of anxiety. Oftentimes, stress and anxiety are present if someone is constantly shaking their leg or tapping their foot.


Use Body Language to Your Advantage

How you hold your body makes a huge difference in how people perceive you. If you want to appear in control but also approachable, stand tall, walk with purpose, and avoid crossing your arms and legs. People will respect your authority and still sense that you are invested in them.

Also, understanding how your employees feel is achieved more fully by seeing them rather than by sending them a survey. Knowing body language cues can help you discern how your employees feel about certain situations. Then you can better address their concerns and increase productivity.

For help transforming your organization, visit To learn more about how to support your employees, read How to Help Employees Perform Better in Front of an Audience.