For over a decade, body language expert Robert Phipps has analysed and commentated on the ticks and tells of some of the world’s most powerful, famous and influential people. We asked him how he could identify seven of the most common feelings, thoughts and dynamics through the way people hold and conduct themselves – to help you truly understand what those around you think of you.
‘Studies show that the body language element is crucial to understanding another person fully,’ reveals Phipps, ‘as their body movements, gestures and signals give you the emotions behind the words.
‘It’s also part of active listening and, by observing their body language and using your own to show understanding with little nods or shakes of the head, facial expressions and hand signals, you can play a more active and successful part in interactions.’
So what body language can Phipps help us decode?
How can you tell if somebody is lying to you?
There is no definitive way to tell if someone is lying to you – as it depends on the type of lie and type of person lying. However there are some good rules to work with, and they are all concerned with changes in behaviour patterns.
Someone who normally gives you good eye contact suddenly stops and looks away may be trying to mislead you. Fidgeting is another reliable sign, as we tend to have to displace the nervous energy created in us when we are constructing and telling a lie.
How can you tell if somebody is upset with you?
Most people can see when they have upset someone. You wouldn’t have got to this point in your life without that ability, which is built in over time from childhood learning experiences.
Children are very good at picking up body language and as such take on certain behaviours to help them cope uncomfortable situations, which often is carried into adulthood. Facial expressions, body posture, breathing and blinking rate all change either to suppress or deliberately show our anger, frustration, hurt.
How can you tell if somebody is trying to leave, be it a date or meeting?
Again, there are changes in the body language – be it lack of eye contact or engaging in displacement activities like looking at their watch, phone, picking bits of fluff of clothing etc. Usually the body posture will angle toward the exit and you start to see arm barriers, crossed arms, or one hand to the face covering part of the chest with the arm.
How can you tell if somebody is attracted to you?
Mirroring is the thing to watch for in terms of physical attraction because we want to be in sync with the other person. Our bodies will naturally mirror or match them. As they pick up their glass to drink, you follow, so you actually mirror each other’s movements. The more there is synchronicity with the body movements the more attractive the other person will come across to you.
How can you tell if someone is hiding something?
As with lying, there is change in behaviour that doesn’t fit. The body movements and the words no longer match because the synchronicity that is there when everything is fine is lost when people are withholding and under stress. Holding back puts physical pressure on people, and this strain can be seen in the body.
How can you tell if someone thinks a lot of themselves?
They will use confident body language, which reinforces their chosen words. They tend to have a confident walk with slightly wider steps than normal. They stand tall and upright with shoulders back, which opens the chest and allows for better breathing – which, in turn, allows more oxygen to the brain so they think better, quicker.
How can you tell if somebody is feeling self-conscious?
When people feel uncomfortable in a situation, the natural tendency is to close up and make yourself smaller so as not to bring attention to yourself. People create barriers using handbags, folders, or drinks to cover the front of the body – particularly the chest. They may even put bigger items or pieces of furniture in front of them as de facto shields, such as standing with their hands on a back of a chair.