Subtleties of body language tell a lot about you

By Jane Greig

Cox News Service

Sit up straight. Stop pulling your hair. Look at me when I am talking to you.

Some parental edicts are more than just rules; they are keys to the mysterious world of nonverbal communication.

Ever see a man jiggle his leg up and down or bounce both legs in and out, slamming his knees together? What the heck is going on, since these jittery males seem to be everywhere -- movies, restaurants, waiting rooms.


Probably not a case of restless leg syndrome. Men do have more restless and fidgety legs than women, says Judith Hall, professor of psychology at Northeastern University. Research shows it. Research also demonstrates that men "engage in more expansive and relaxed-looking movements, such as legs apart and away from the body."

Walking the walk apparently speaks louder than talking the talk. Nonverbal cues often belie spoken words. Studies of nonverbal communication have been used to improve performance in the workplace as well as places of the heart.

Anne Warfield of Impression Management Professionals has studied workplace nonverbal communication and advises employers and employees alike to stand with shoulders back, walk with a spring in your step, make eye contact and smile. The effect? You exude confidence.

Want someone to notice you at the next party? Make eye contact but do not stare, experts advise. Staring may indicate a controlling personality. No eye contact at all? Folks will judge you to be untrustworthy or shifty. Folding your arms? Often a sign of defensiveness. Touching your cheek or jaw? Simply an indication what is being said is being evaluated.

OK, those are the obvious cues. What about the subtleties of body language? Warfield had catalogued a few.

Arms crossed? This may indicate someone is filtering information carefully. Hands clenched together? This suggests someone is holding back or is frustrated. Neck scratched? This cue may connote being caught in a lie. Rubbing eyes or scratching the nose? This may indicate someone is telling an untruth. (After the telltale scratch, male liars supposedly look at the floor; women, at the ceiling).

Hall reports some nonverbal signals have yet to be studied. For example, the hypothesis that rigid posture indicates lower status in the workplace; slouching, casual posture, higher status. One thing she is sure of -- women smile more than men in any venue. Those straight-faced males also look less at others in conversation and, when tested, have less ability to understand nonverbal cues.

But why do men have more fidgety legs? Hall says she can only speculate. "They may have more energy to burn off than women or it just may be that men are not as socially at ease."


So, are you touching your jaw as you read this?

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