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Your Guide to Nonverbal Interpretation

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Every waking moment of your day, you're communicating. You may not realize what you're saying, but you're sending a message. Your non-verbal signals say a lot about what you're thinking and feeling, and they are usually sent unconsciously. Here's a guide to what your body is telling the world.

Facial Expressions

Frowning- You may just be thinking really hard, but it tells everyone around you that you may be upset.

Smiling- This simple gesture conveys confidence, compassion and a willingness to listen.

Blank Face- A lack of facial expression conveys disinterest in whatever is happening around you.


Crossed Arms- Crossing your arms across your chest is a defensive stance that communicates an unwillingness to listen or take in what is happening around you. It makes you appear self-protective and closed off.

Hands on your Hips- This is another defensive pose that is more aggressive in nature. It communicates a level of assertiveness and a willingness to attack.

Hands Behind Your Back- Standing with one or both arms behind your back shows a lack of trust in yourself, as you are literally holding your arms back. Other interpretations may include thinking someone is too self-involved.

Slouching- The curling in of your shoulders or spine to hunch over your hips is a protective stance that shows fear of attack and lack of confidence.

Standing Up Straight- Standing tall with your shoulders back shows a willingness to leave your chest exposed and vulnerable, conveying confidence and assertiveness.


Pointing- While you may think you're simply directing attention somewhere, pointing is an aggressive nonverbal signal that indicates blame more than it does emphasis.

Palm Up Gesture- This movement is an open one. When used to emphasize a point, it serves as an invitation to accept what is being said while indicating importance of the issue. When used in lieu of pointing, it can help to direct attention in a non-confrontational manner.

Palm Down Gesture- This movement also emphasizes the importance of what is being said, and is typically used to indicate gravitas.

Fisted Gesture- This is a more aggressive gesture that can be used to indicate increasing tension.

Outward Moving Gesture- This movement, where the hand or arm moves away from the body, is used to indicate expansion, large size, or the encompassing of the listeners in a particular issue.

Inward Moving Gesture- By moving your towards the center of your body, you indicate a decrease, small size, or limitation.

Upward Moving Gesture- When you move one or both hands upwards, you are indicating growth or increase.

Downward Moving Gesture- By moving one or both of your hands downward, you are indicating shrinking or decreasing.

Circular Motion Gesture- Moving one or both of your hands in a circular motion indicates that something is cyclical or part of a chain of events. It can sometimes be used to emphasize a concise explanation of how something works.

Karate Chop Gesture- This gesture, where your open palm is perpendicular to the ground, is an aggressive gesture used to emphasize critical parts of what you're saying, usually associated with action or negative consequences.

Bouncing Gestures- If you're moving a hand or both of your hands up and down without resting your arms, you are completing a bouncing gesture. These are usually more distracting than they are emphatic.

Flailing Gestures- If your hands and arms are flapping around, or you are gesturing on a very frequent, very fluid basis, you are more flailing than you are emphasizing anything. These can be incredibly distracting, and should not be used in any formal presentation.

Vocal Elements

Low Volume- Speaking softly usually indicates a lack of confidence or lack of desire for audience interaction.

High Volume- Speaking loudly usually indicates high confidence and concern for the audience. Speaking too loudly can be abrasive, though.

Sarcastic Tone- Speaking in a sarcastic manner usually comes off as dismissive and condescending, which can still be useful with proper execution. For example, speaking in a sarcastic tone about how wonderful a speaker smoking marijuana makes you may work as a humorous aside in a speech about the dangers of drugs.

Serious Tone- Speaking in a way that conveys seriousness sends a message that the subject is no joking matter and is something that everyone in the room should care about. Over use of this tone can cause an audience to stop caring.

Light Tone- Speaking in a way that indicates light subject matter tends to instill hope and a sense of entertainment to the content you present.

High Pitch- A message delivered at a high pitch comes off as frantic and intense. This can make you look unprofessional and scared if used consistently throughout a presentation, but can help to emphasize more serious parts of a speech if used sparingly.

Low Pitch- Speaking in a lower register indicates a sense of finality to what you are saying. This pitch is most successfully used at the end of a point, but can become tedious if used throughout a presentation.



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