Body Language For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book is Organised

Part I: In the Beginning was the Gesture

Part II: Starting at the Top

Part III: The Trunk: Limbs and Roots

Part IV: Putting the Body Into Social and Business Context

Part V: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : In the Beginning was the Gesture

Chapter 1: Defining Body Language

Discovering How Body Language Conveys Messages

Projecting an image in the first 30 seconds

Transmitting messages unconsciously

Substituting behaviour for the spoken word

Gesturing to illustrate what you’re saying

Physically supporting the spoken word

Revealing thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs

Key Types of Gestures

Unintentional gestures

Signature gestures: Gestures that define who you are

Fake gestures: Pulling the wool

Micro gestures: A little gesture means a lot

Displacement gestures

Universal gestures

Getting the Most Out of Body Language

Becoming spatially aware

Anticipating movements

Creating rapport through reflecting gestures

Becoming who you want to be

Reading the signs and responding appropriately

Appreciating Cultural Differences

Chapter 2: Looking Closer at Non-verbal Gestures

The History of Body Language

Aping our ancestors

Gestures first, language second

The Nuts and Bolts of Body Language

Kinesics: The categories of gesture

Inborn responses

Learned gestures

A Final Word on Non-Verbal Gestures

Part II : Starting at the Top

Chapter 3: Heading to the Heart of the Matter

Demonstrating Power and Authority

Signalling superiority

Demonstrating arrogance

Displaying aggression

Showing disapproval

Conveying rejection

Catapulting for intimidation

Tossing your head in defiance

Beckoning with your head

Touching someone on the head

Showing Agreement and Encouragement: The Nod

Encouraging the speaker to continue

Showing understanding

Micro nodding

Displaying Attention and Interest

Tilting and canting

The head cock

Sitting tête à tête

Indicating Submissiveness or Worry

Dipping and ducking

Cradling for comfort

The head clasp

Showing Boredom

Showing You’re Deep in Thought

Head resting on hand

Chin stroking

Chapter 4: Facial Expressions

Communicating Feelings When Words Are Inappropriate

Recognising Facial Expressions that Reinforce the Spoken Message

Masking Emotions

Expressing a Range of Emotions

Showing happiness

Revealing sadness

Demonstrating disgust and contempt

Showing anger

Recognising surprise and revealing fear

Demonstrating interest

Chapter 5: The Eyes Have It

The Power of the Held Gaze

To show interest

To show disapproval, disagreement, and other not-so-pleasant feelings

To show dominance

Effective gazes in business situations

The Wandering Eye: Breaking Eye Contact

The eye shuttle

The sideways glance

The eye dip

Other Ways Your Eyes Tell a Tale

Winkin’ and blinkin’

Active eyebrows: The Eyebrow Flash

Widening your eyes

Flicking, flashing, and fluttering

Chapter 6: Lip Reading

Revealing Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions

Tight lips

Loose lips

Chewing on lips

Maintaining a stiff upper lip

Pouting for effect

Pursing as a sign of disagreement

Tensing your lips and biting back your words

Changing thoughts and behaviours

Differentiating Smiles

The tight-lipped smile

The lop-sided smile

The drop-jaw smile

The turn-away smile

The closed-lip grin

The full-blown grin

Laughter’s the Best Medicine

Part III : The Trunk: Limbs and Roots

Chapter 7: Take It From the Torso

Gaining Insights into the Impact of Posture

Evaluating what your own posture says about you

Showing intensity of feelings

Revealing personality and character

Three Main Types of Posture



Lying down

Changing Attitudes by Changing Posture

Using Posture to Aid Communication

Showing high and low status through postural positions

Leaning forward to show interest and liking

Shrugging Signals

Signalling lack of knowledge

Showing unwillingness to get involved

Implying a submissive apology

Chapter 8: Arming Yourself

Building Defensive Barriers

Arms crossed on your chest

Touching yourself: Hugs, strokes, and more

Placing objects in front of yourself

Giving the cold shoulder

Conveying Friendliness and Honesty

Touching to Convey Messages

Creating a bond

Demonstrating dominance

Reinforcing the message

Increasing your influence

Embracing during greetings and departures

Chapter 9 : It’s in the Palm of Your Hand

Up or Down: Reading Palms

The open palm

The downward facing palm

Closed-palm, finger-pointed

Hands Up!

Hiding your hands

The hand rub: Good for you or good for me?

The folded hand

Hands clenched

Letting the Fingers Do the Talking

The precision grip

The power grip

The power chop

The steeple

Gripping hands, wrists, and arms

Gesturing with your thumbs

Analysing Handshakes

Deciding who reaches out first

Conveying attitude

Displacing Your Energy

Drumming for relief

Fiddling for comfort

Hand to nose

Hand to cheek

Hand to chin

Chapter 10: Standing Your Ground

Showing Commitment and Attitude through Your Stance

Straddle stance

Parallel stance

Buttress stance

Scissor stance

Entwining your legs

Reflecting Your Feelings by the Way You Position Your Feet

Pointing towards the desired place

Fidgeting feet

Knotted ankles

Twitching, flicking, or going in circles

Walking Styles

Chapter 11: Playing with Props

Using Accessories to Reflect Mental States

Showing inner turmoil

Pausing for thought

Through the Looking Glasses

Stalling for time

Scrutinising the situation

Controlling the conversation

Showing resistance

Appearing cool

Spectacles at the office

Holy Smokes

Smoking and sexual displays

Ways of smoking

Making It Up as You Go Along

Make-up at the office

Making up for play

Clothing: Dressing the Part

Women’s accessories

Men’s accessories

Part IV : Putting the Body Into Social and Business Context

Chapter 12: Territorial Rights and Regulations

Understanding the Effect of Space

Knowing Your Space

The five zones

Other territorial positions

Using Space

Demonstrating ownership

Showing submission

Guarding your space

Revealing comfort or discomfort

Maintaining your personal space

Seating Arrangements

Speaking in a relaxed setting


Combating and defending

Keeping to yourself

Creating equality

Orientating Yourself




Chapter 13: Dating and Mating

Attracting Someone’s Attention

Going courting: The five stages

Highlighting gender differences

Showing That You’re Free

Courting gestures of women

Courting gestures of men

A universal sign of attraction: Dilated pupils

Progressing Through the Romance

Matching each other’s behaviours

Showing that you belong together

Chapter 14: Interviewing, Influencing, and Playing Politics

Making the First Impression: The Interview

Minimal gestures for maximum effect

Standing tall and holding your ground

Moving with purpose

Pointing Your Body in the Right Direction

Creating a relaxed attitude with the 45 degree angle

Facing directly for serious answers

Picking the power seats

Negotiating Styles

Claiming your space

Displaying confidence

Avoiding nervous gestures

Chapter 15: Crossing the Cultural Divide

Greetings and Farewells

Expecting to be touched

Acknowledging the no-touching rule

A word about waving farewell

Higher and Lower Status Behaviour

Bowing, kneeling, and curtseying

Standing to attention

Positioning and Setting Boundaries

Common Gestures, Multiple Interpretations

Thumbs up

The ‘okay’ sign


Smoothing Over Difficult Situations

Playing by the Local Rules: Eye Contact

Adapting Your Style for Clear Communication

Chapter 16: Reading the Signs

Taking an Interest in Other People

Drawing Conclusions from What You Observe

Looking at the sum total of the gestures

Dealing with a mismatch between spoken and non-verbal messages

Considering the context

Practice Makes Perfect: Improving Your Reading

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 17: Ten Ways to Spot Deception

Catching Fleeting Expressions Crossing the Face

Suppressing Facial Expressions

Eyeing Someone Up

Covering the Source of Deception

Touching the Nose

Faking a Smile

Minimising Hand Gestures

Maximising Body Touches

Shifting Positions and Fidgeting Feet

Changing Speech Patterns

Chapter 18: Ten Ways to Reveal Your Attractiveness

Using Eye Contact

Showing Liveliness in Your Face

Offering Encouragement

Using Open Gestures

Showing Interest Through Your Posture

Positioning Yourself

Touching to Connect

Being on Time

Synchronising Your Gestures

Balancing Your Non-Verbal Aspects of Speech

Chapter 19: Ten Ways to Find Out About Someone Without Asking

Observing Eye Movements

Looking at Facial Expressions

Watching for Head Movements

Noticing Hand and Arm Gestures

Observing Posture

Considering Proximity and Orientation

Paying Attention to Touching

Responding to Appearance

Checking Timing and Synchronisation

Scrutinising Non-verbal Aspects of Speech

Chapter 20: Ten Ways to Improve Your Silent Communication

Taking an Interest

Knowing What You Want to Express

Modelling Excellence

Mirroring Others

Practising Gestures

Developing Timing and Synchronisation

Dressing the Part

Acting the Way You Want to Be Perceived

Demonstrating Awareness

Asking for Feedback

Body Language For Dummies®

by Elizabeth Kuhnke


About the Author

Elizabeth Kuhnke holds a Bachelor’s degree in Speech and Communications from Northwestern University, and a Masters degree in Theatre Arts. For over 20 years, Elizabeth has worked with individuals and groups to bolster their personal impact and communication skills.

Before moving to Britain, Elizabeth acted throughout the United States on the stage, radio, and television. In addition to designing and delivering university programmes in voice and movement, she also taught acting skills to students and professionals.

In the United Kingdom, Elizabeth applies her theatrical expertise and psychological insight with a rock-solid business approach. She works at top level with FTSE 100 companies and leading professional firms to provide both one-to-one and group coaching in key areas relating to interpersonal communication and image projection. Coming from diverse backgrounds including accountancy, law, and telecommunications, Elizabeth’s clients consistently achieve their goals and have fun getting there. Her keys to communication are based on the simple principle of demonstrating respect, establishing rapport, and achieving results.

A highly entertaining speaker, Elizabeth is a popular choice on the conference circuit, and is often quoted in the media addressing issues concerning confidence, voice, body language, and communication skills – all the ingredients that create a positive impact.

For further information about Elizabeth, visit her Web site at


To Mom – for fortitude, finances, and fun.

To Dad – for presence, perseverance, and all those clippings.

I love you both.

Author’s Acknowledgments

Without friends, family, clients, and colleagues encouraging, nurturing, and spurring me along, this book would not now be in your hands. Allow me, if you will, to acknowledge but a small sampling of the support team.

The Author’s Angels: Kate Burton, my buddy and fellow For Dummies author who believed I was the person for the job; Alison Yates who stuck with me when lesser mortals would have tossed in the towel; and Rachael Chilvers, whose marvellous cheerios brightened many a dark and dreary day.

Shaun Todd. An extraordinary coach and valued colleague.

Caroline Beery and Maria Jicheva who opened my eyes to diversity.

Neil Ginger and Jean Roberts for photos and fun.

All of my clients. You’re stars. Keep breathing.

Toby Blundell who keeps me on track and makes me laugh.

Karl, Max, and Kristina. My joys.

Henry, ever faithful, always there.

As for the rest of the gang, you’ll find yourselves within these pages. I am blessed to know you all.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Rachael Chilvers

Development Editor: Tracy Barr

Content Editor: Steve Edwards

Commissioning Editor: Alison Yates

Copy Editor: Anne O’Rorke

Proofreader: Andy Finch

Technical Editor: Dr Peter Bull

Executive Editor: Jason Dunne

Executive Project Editor: Martin Tribe

Cover Photo: © GettyImages/Tony Anderson

Photography: Ginger Photography

Cartoons: Rich Tennant

Special Help: Jennifer Bingham

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Erin Smith, Jennifer Theriot

Layout and Graphics: Barbara Moore, Brent Savage, Rashell Smith, Alicia B. South, Christine Williams

Proofreaders: John Greenough, Melanie Hoffman

Indexer: Claudia Bourbeau

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Body language speaks louder than any words you can ever utter. Whether you’re telling people that you love them, you’re angry with them, or don’t care less about them, your body movements reveal your thoughts, moods, and attitudes. Both consciously and sub-consciously your body tells observers what’s really going on with you.

In a competitive and complex world the ability to communicate with clarity, confidence and credibility is vital for success. Too frequently this ability is overlooked. Sound reasoning, logical conclusions and innovative solutions are rendered meaningless if they are not communicated in a way that persuades, motivates and inspires the listener.

All day every day your body is relaying messages about your attitude, your mood, and your general state of being. You can determine what messages you relay by the way you use your body.

Although body language began with our ancient ancestors and long before vocal sounds turned into sophisticated words, phrases, and paragraphs, only in the last 60 years or so has body language been seriously studied. During that time people have come to appreciate the value of body language as a tool for enhancing interpersonal communication. Politicians, actors, and high-profile individuals recognise the part that their bodies play in conveying their messages.

Each chapter of this book addresses a specific aspect of body language. In addition to focusing on individual body parts and the role they play in communicating your thoughts, feelings, and attitude, you discover how to interpret other people’s body language, giving you an insight into their mental state before they may be aware of it themselves. Remember that you need to read body language in clusters and context. One gesture doesn’t a story tell any more than does one word.

By performing specific actions and gestures, you can create corresponding mental states. By practising the gestures, you experience the positive impact of body language and discover how to create the image you want. You may actually become the person you want to be.

Are you ready? Read on.

About This Book

For a subject that’s relatively new to the study of evolution and social behaviour, a tremendous amount of research has been done on body language. The impact of culture, gender, and religious differences on body language could each have a book devoted to them! I’ve written this book from a mostly English-speaking western perspective – much more could be written about body language in a cross-cultural communication context. However, I’ve been selective in what I’ve chosen to include and focused on using body language to improve your non-verbal communication for your personal and business relationships.

In this book I explain ways of recognising and identifying specific gestures, actions, and expressions that convey and support both the spoken and non-spoken message. By improving your reading of body language, understanding how your body conveys messages, and recognising how mood and attitude are reflected in your gestures and expressions, you have the upper hand in your interpersonal communications. By recognising and responding to body signals you can direct the flow of the conversation and facilitate meetings easily and effectively. I show you how your thoughts and feelings impact your gestures and expressions and how the same is true for others.

The point of the book is for you to become conscious of body language, both your own and other people’s. It’s also intended to aid you in correctly interpreting gestures, movements, and expressions. Finally, this book augments and develops the signs and signals you send out to enhance your communication.

Conventions Used in This Book

This book is a jargon-free zone. When I introduce a new term, I italicise it and then define it. The only other conventions in this book are that Web and e-mail addresses are in monofont, and the action part of numbered steps and the key concepts in a list are in bold. I alternate between using female and male pronouns in odd- and even-numbered chapters to be fair to both!

Foolish Assumptions

I assume, perhaps wrongly, that you:

Are interested in body language and know a little bit about it

Want to improve your interpersonal communications

Are willing to reflect and respond

Expect the best

How This Book is Organised

The cool thing about the For Dummies books is that you can dip in and out as you please. You don’t need to read the first chapter to understand the last and if you read the last chapter first you won’t ruin the story. The table of contents and index can help you find what you need. If you prefer to just dive in, please do – there’s water in the pool. Read on for what lies ahead.

Part I: In the Beginning was the Gesture

In this part I explore the foundations of body language, the silent communicator. You discover the origins of body language, how it evolved, and the impact it has on all your communications and relationships.

Part II: Starting at the Top

Focusing on the head and its parts and positions, I continue exploring body language and the messages it conveys. You discover how the tilt of your head, the lift of your brow, and the tremble of your lip reveal more than the words that tumble from your mouth.

Part III: The Trunk: Limbs and Roots

In this part I explore the impact of your posture on your thinking, attitudes, and perceptions. You see how feelings, behaviour, and perceptions are intertwined. I look at the body’s limbs, its arms, legs, feet, hands, and fingers, and how their movements reflect inner states and create impressions. Finally, you see how your accessories add to the picture of who you are.

Part IV: Putting the Body Into Social and Business Context

In this part you discover how to gesture effectively and appropriately according to the situation you’re in. You find out where to place and position yourself for greatest effect. You discover how to read and reveal signs of interest and dismissal and how to engage with a possible romantic partner. Back at the office you discover the power positions and how to demonstrate confidence and positive impact.

Addressing cultural diversity you get a glimpse into behaviours different from your own and pick up adaptive strategies for avoiding potential pitfalls.

Part V: The Part of Tens

If you’re keen to get a handle on body language quickly and concisely, start with Part V. Stop here if you want top ten tips for spotting when someone’s being economical with the truth. I also show you how to enlarge your fan base and engage with your admirers. For developing your skills as a silent communicator, gaining self-awareness, and honing your observation skills, this is the place to be.

Icons Used in This Book

For sharpening your thinking and focusing your attention, let these icons be your guide.

anecdote.eps This icon highlights stories to entertain and inform you about friends of mine, or people I’ve seen, and the clues they’ve revealed through body language.

peoplewatching.eps Here’s a chance for you to stand back and observe without being seen. By distancing yourself and taking a bird’s eye view you can watch how others behave and reflect on the outcome.

remember.eps This icon underscores a valuable point to keep in mind.

tip.eps These are practical and immediate remedies for honing your body language skills.

trythis.eps Here you can have a go at putting theory into practice. Some of the practical exercises are designed to enhance your image and create an impact.

Where to Go from Here

Although all the material in this book is designed to support you in being yourself at your best, not all the information may be pertinent to your specific needs or interests. Read what you want, when you want. You don’t have to read the book in order, nor is there a sell by date for covering the material.

If you’re interested in how body language conveys messages, begin with Part I. If you’re seeking to improve your body language for a job interview or for playing the political and corporate game at work, have a look at Chapter 14. If you’re curious about facial expressions have a look at Chapter 4.

Now, flip to a page, chapter, or section that interests you and read away. Feel free to dip and dive from section to section and page to page. Most importantly, enjoy the read.

Part I

In the Beginning was the Gesture

In this part . . .

Here’s where we explore the foundations of body language, the way of silently communicating that can improve your impact factor and relationships once you grasp even the basics. In this part we go back in time to the origins of body language, how it’s evolved, and its subtle power.