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Body Language

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Social Cues


170 Examples of Body Language

Body language is any element of your physical presence and performance that communicates to others. This includes your physical appearance, gestures, posture, movements, facial expressions, eye contact and touch. The meaning of body language is vague, cultural and is often unintended. For example, someone may look angry to you when they are really just stuck in deep thought. As such, it can be a bad idea to read too much into body language but it is important to be aware of your own body language as others commonly do read meaning from your every movement and expression.
Angry Looking Face
Arms Pumping in Air
Authentic / Natural Movements
Avoiding Eye Contact
Backing Away
Baring Your Teeth
Biting Lower Lip
Blinking Rapidly
Body Tension
Bored / Disengaged Face
Checking the Time
Chewing a Pencil
Clammy Hands (e.g. during handshake)
Clamping Hands Over Ears
Clasping Arms Behind You
Clenching Fists
Cough / Sneeze Etiquette
Coughing / Sneezing
Covering Eyes
Covering Mouth / Touching Mouth
Crossing Fingers
Crossing Your Legs
Crushing Handshake
Crying / Sobbing / Wet Eyes
Darting Eyes
Dead Fish Handshake (offering your slack hand)
Depicting an Object / Size With Your Hands
Dismissive Gestures
Eating Etiquette
Explanatory Gestures
Eye Contact
Faire la Bise / Cheek Kissing
Fake Smile / Uncomfortable Smile
Feet Up on Something
Firm Handshake
Flowing Movements
Folding Your Arms
Foot Tapping
Forced / Awkward Movements
Forming a Cross With Your Arms (means no in some cultures)
Forming a Thin Line With the Lips
Forming an "O" With Your Arms (means yes in some cultures)
Freezing Your Body (usually indicates attention or fear)
Furrowed Brow
Gritting Teeth
Grooming Yourself (e.g. fixing your hair)
Hair Flipping
Hand Gestures
Hand On Shoulder
Hand on Forehead
Hands Around Mouth (i.e. to form a loudspeaker)
Hands in Pocket
Handshake with Arm Clasp
Happy Looking Face
Head Shaking
Head Tilt
High Fives / Special Handshakes
Hitting Your Forehead With Your Hand
Holding Arm Rests / Other Supportive Things
How You Write (e.g. confident and fast / slow and considered)
Hunched Shoulders
Impolite Gestures
Inattention (e.g. playing with phone during a meal)
Leaning Back
Leaning Forward
Leg Bouncing
Licking Lips
Look Over Top of Glasses
Look Up Through Eyelashes
Looking At Self (e.g. inspecting your well-manicured nails)
Looking Down Your Nose
Looking Sleepy / Nodding Off
Massaging Your Face / Temples
Narrow Stance
Narrowing Your Eyes
Nudging Someone
Opening Mouth in Amazement
Peace Sign
Pinching Your Nose
Placing Bag / Items In Front of You
Play Fighting / Rough and Tumble Play
Playfully Pushing Someone
Playing With Your Jewelry
Pointing Your Ear At Someone (indicates inability to hear the person)
Polite Gestures
Power Walk
Precise Movements
Pressed Lips
Proximity to Others
Puffing Up Your Upper Body
Pulling / Pushing Handshake
Pumping Handshake
Putting Hand to Heart
Putting Hands Out Protectively
Quick Head Nod (e.g. hurry up)
Raising Eye Brows
Rapid Breathing
Red Eyes
Relaxed Movements
Relaxed Walk
Resting Head on Hands
Robotic / Mechanical Movements
Rocking Back and Forth
Rolling Eyes
Rubbing Eyes
Running Hands Through Your Hair
Sarcastic Smile
Shaking a Fist
Shallow Breathing
Showing Your Tongue / Pointing Your Tongue
Shrinking Away From Others
Sitting Up Straight
Sitting on Things That Aren't Chairs (e.g. sitting on desk)
Slack Jaw
Slack Posture
Slapping Your Leg
Slapping a Table
Sparkling Eyes
Squinting Your Eyes
Standing Back
Standing Close
Standing Tall
Staring Into Space / Out a Window
Staring Someone Down
Stop Gesture (palms up, arms out)
Straightening Your Clothing
Stroking a Beard
Sweating / Pallor
Swinging Arms
Table Manners
Taking Notes
Taking a Deep Breath
Tapping Fingers
Thumbs In Your Belt
Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down
Trying to Catch Someone's Eye
Tucking Your Chin
Twirling a Pencil
Twisted Lips
Two-handed Handshake
Upright Posture
Walking Briskly
Waving Goodbye / Hello
Waving Hand Away From You
Waving Hand Towards You
Weak Handshake
Wide Eyes
Wide Stance

Ambiguity, Biases & Cultural Context

As a vague form of communication that can be difficult to shape, body language can generate inaccuracies and biases. For example, someone who avoids eye contact may be perceived as dishonest when really they may be simply distracted, nervous or from a culture where certain types of eye contact can be viewed as arrogant and disrespectful.

Good & Bad

The idea there there is positive and negative body language is overly simplistic and neglects the nuance of human communication. For example, crossing arms could be used by a teacher to establish authority in a difficult situation. This may be perceived negatively in one situation but may be perfectly appropriate and useful in another.

Cultural Competence

The basic understanding that body language is not universal is important to cultural competence. When communicating with people with whom you lack shared norms and language, body language is incredibly helpful. However, it is also important to drop your assumptions as to what a particularly gesture, facial expression or movement may mean to others.
Overview: Body Language
Any element of physical presence and performance that communicates information or emotion.
Physical Appearance
Facial Expressions
Eye Contact
Related Concepts

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