The Definitive Book of Body Language (2004) teaches readers how to read nonverbal communication as well as how to improve one’s own body language to come across as more confident and become effective speakers and communicators.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Understanding the Basics
- The Power Is in Your Hands
- The Magic of Smiles and Laughter
- Arms’ Signals
- Cultural Differences
- Hand and Thumb Gestures
- Evaluation and Deceit Signals
- Eye Signals
- Territories and Personal Space
- How the Legs Reveal the Mind
- The 13 Common Daily Gestures
- Mirroring – How We Build Rapport
- Cigarettes, Glasses & Make-Up
- Body Points Where The Mind Goes
- Courtship and Attraction Gestures
- Ownership, Territory & Height Signals
- Seating Arrangements
- Interviews, Office Politics & Power Plays
- Cultural differences are becoming less and less relevant in a globalized world
- Most basics of body language are the same for every human being
- Where the body points, the mind wants to go
About The Authors: Allan Pease, writing with her wife Barbara Pease, is an Australian coach of body language. He has written numerous books on body language and flies around the world delivering body language training.
Understanding the Basics
“The Definitive Book of Body Language,” says we quickly judge people upon meeting them the first time.
We quickly assess their friendliness, dominance, and whether they are a potential sexual partner. And we do it primarily with nonverbals.
Words are used primarily for conveying information and body language is for negotiating interpersonal attitudes.
Most People Are Unaware of Body Language
Barbara and Allan Pease say that Most people are unaware of the body language signals they send out.
Allan Pease makes the example of Australia’s prime minister Bob Hawke as he spoke about politicians’ salaries compared to executives.
He said politicians’ salaries had increased less than executives’ salaries, but his hands were always farther apart when talking about politicians, underlying that he actually believed politicians were getting it better.
Women Are Better At Reading Nonverbals
The Definitive Book of Body Language quotes an experiment showing movie scenes with the sound off showed that women read the situation accurately 87% of the time versus men 42%.
Female intuition is particularly evident in women who have raised children, and men in nurturing occupations such as artistic types, actors or nursing did almost as well as women. Gay men also scored well.
Women are mentally wired to do better than men: MRI scans show that women have 14 to 16 areas of the brain to evaluate nonverbal behavior while men have 4 to 6.
Inborn, genetic, or cultural?
I fully agree with Barbara and Allan Pease when they say cultural differences are many, but the basic signals are the same everywhere.
Sneering is a universal sign because it shows the teeth. The shoulder shrugs as well as it raises the shoulder to protect the throat, shows the palms, and raises the eyebrow, which is a universal submissive greeting.
3 Rules for Accurate Reading
- Read in Clusters: never interpret a gesture in isolation from other gestures or the overall circumstance.
- Look for Congruence: When verbal and nonverbal channels are incongruent people, especially women, rely on nonverbal
- Read in Context: One might just be cold and not defensive in winter; a woman in a short skirt will look less approachable if she’s wearing a miniskirt but it’s just because she can’t open her legs;
Kids are Easier to Read
Kids have more muscle tone in their faces and grown-up have learned better to mask their lies and body language.
A kid for example might fully cover his mouth, a teenager might rub his lips with a finger, and a grown-up might have the instinct to cover his mouth but then change in the last second into a nose rub. But the nose rub would still be born out of the same feeling of covering oneself.
Can you fake it?
I was surprised Barbara and Allan Pease say the general question to this answer is “no”. A few signs are easier to fake, such for example exposing the palms to appear honest, but pupil dilation, sweating, and blushing cannot be consciously faked.
And it’s much harder to fake for a longer period of time.
The Power Is in Your Hands
Hands send out major cues as to what our real intentions are.
How to Detect Openness
Barbara and Allan Pease say that when we want to be open or honest, we will often hold one or both palms out. Similarly, when people begin to open up or start being honest, they’ll likely expose their palms.
When we are hiding something, the tendency is to hide the palms. A man who doesn’t want to talk about his night out with the boys might put his hands into his pockets.
Men who don’t want to take part in a conversation also tend to put their hands in their pockets.
Women instead prefer to look busy as they lie.
Law of Cause and Effect
Allan and Barbara Pease say that if we force ourselves to use more open-palm gestures our tendency to tell lies diminishes and most people find it difficult to lie with their palms open.
The law of cause and effect also says that if you are not feeling defensive but cross your arms, then you will start feeling defensive. This is what Tony Robbins refers to when he says “emotion is created by motion”.
In a last twist, if you speak with your palms open, your speaking partner will also start feeling more pressure, to be honest and truthful.
Palm Power Dynamics
The palm-up is non-threatening, while the palm-down signals authority.
If you ask someone to do something for you with the same voice tone and facial expressions the palm down will sign you are pleading with them to do it and the other person will feel no pressure to do it and will not feel threatened. Asking with the palm down will make the other person feel like you’ve given them an order and he may start feeling antagonistic towards you.
If that person is of equal status, he might resist the palm down and is more likely to comply with a palm-up gesture.
Just imagine, say, Barbara and Allan Pease, if the nazi salute had been with the palm up. People would have laughed at it.
Also when couples walk holding hands the dominant partner will walk slightly ahead with his hand on top and the palm facing backward. Alla Pease says that looking at who’s got the upper hand immediately reveals who wears the pants in the house.
The palms closed and finger-pointing is one of the most annoying gestures anyone can use. If you’re delivering a presentation the finger-pointing will turn off your audience, make them like you the least of all three, and even remember less of what you said.
The palm-up was the favorite.
If you tend to use the finger pointing a lot, Pease recommends instead using the “OK” gesture touching your thumb and index finger in a circle. The OK gesture will make you authoritative but not aggressive
When people turn your hand down and your palm up they are trying to dominate the handshake. Barbara and Allan Pease’s study of 350 executives showed that 88% of men and 31% of women used the dominant handshake position.
Power and control issues, says Pease, are generally less important to women.
Some women will give men a soft handshake in some social contexts to show submissiveness as a way to highlight their femininity. It should not be used in business contexts though: women displaying high femininity in business meetings are not taken seriously.
Pease adds that it doesn’t mean she needs to act in a masculine way, but she needs to avoid too many feminine signals such as soft handshakes, short skirts, and high heels.
Handshake to Create Rapport
To create rapport make sure that your and your partner’s palms are both in a vertical position and apply the same pressure you receive.
Disarming a Power Player
Trying to push your palm down, say, Barbara and Allan Pease, is typical of the overbearing person. Allan and Barbara Pease do a fantastic job of explaining a few practical moves to avoid accepting the submissive position. A simple one is the Double Hander: putting your second hand on top of his, grabbing his wrist as a last resort, or, for another genius technique, look at the pictures here.
There are a few situations when the power play goes well beyond turning your hand down and crushing your bones or starts pulling you in to show pure physical dominance. I wrote an article here based on a couple of real-life experiences: how to disarm an alpha male handshake.
Putting your second hand on top gives the feeling that the initiator is trustworthy and honest, but if you use it on someone you’ve just met it can leave the receiver feeling suspicious about you.
Indeed the Doubler Hander, says Barbara and Allan Pease, is a miniature hug and should only be used when a hug would also be acceptable.
Handshakes of Control: Two-Handed handshakes
Barbara and Allan Pease say that the intention of two-handed handshakes is to show sincerity or a depth of feelings. It’s a bit like using the second hand to show the willingness of hugging the other person, so the farther up it goes, the more intimacy it shows.
It’s also an invasion of personal space, so they are only acceptable when the person feels close to the other. If the intimate feelings are not mutual or the initiator doesn’t have a good reason for using both hands, the receiver will likely be suspicious.
Unless you have a good reason, it can be political or business suicide.
You can use the Two-Handed handshake to reclaim some power if you are on the left side of a picture or video and your partner will hence get the upper hand.
Allan and Barbara Peas go on to detail a few common handshake blunders, among which the Vise and Bone-Crusher, used out of a desire to dominate and assume early control of the relationship or “put people in their place”. Sometimes the person using feels weak and is afraid of being dominated.
The socket wrencher, such as pulling the arm in, wants the encounter to be on his terms.
The Magic of Smiles and Laughter
Smiling and laughing are universal signs of happiness.
Real and Fake Smile
The Definitive Book of Body Language tells us something we’ve already seen a few times on this website: an honest smile involves the muscles around the eyes.
The muscles that tense our mouth can be consciously activated, but not the ones around the eyes. So when we’re smiling without really meaning we can recognize it as the smile is only a mouth smile, without eyes.
Lines around the eyes can also appear in intense fake smiles and the cheeks can bunch up making it seem as if the smile were genuine. But when a smile is genuine, the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid moves downward and the ends of the eyebrows dip slightly.
Smiling is Submissive
Barbara and Allan Pease go into how primates use smiles with “fear faces” and “play faces”, both submissive gestures. The authors say that smiling serves much the same purpose in humans.
Smiling says you are non-threatening.
Subordinates are more likely to smile in the presence of dominant and superior people, both in friendly and unfriendly situations. Superior people instead smile around subordinate people only in friendly situations.
The superior person will also make subordinates laugh but without laughing himself -or laughing less- as a way to maintain his superiority.
Smiling is Contagious
Barbara and Allan Pease say we automatically copy the facial expressions we see in other people.
Allan Pease says that’s the reason why it’s important to be able to smile even when you don’t feel like it: it will influence other people’s attitudes and how they respond to you.
Science has indeed proven that the more you smile, the more positive reactions others will give you.
Allan Pease also found out that smiling at appropriate times -such as at the beginning of a negotiation-, produces positive responses on both sides of the table leading to higher sales ratios and more successful outcomes.
Common Types of Smiles
These are the different types of smiles according to Barbara and Allan Pease:
- Tight-Lipped Smile
The authors say the lips form a straight line and the teeth are concealed.
It communicates you have a secret, an opinion that you don’t want to share. Pease says that it’s typical of women who don’t want to reveal they don’t like someone and it’s a rejection signal (other women get it, men never).
You will also see in magazines pictures of successful businessmen who are saying “I got the secrets of success (but I won’t be telling you)”.
These people often talk about general rules to be successful but rarely give their details. Conversely, Richard Branson who always gives all he’s got always sports a full smile showing all his teeth.
- The Twisted Smile
The Twisted smile shows opposite emotions on each side of the face. It can only be done deliberately and conveys sarcasm.
- Sideways-Looking-UP Smile
With the head turned down and away while looking up with a tight-lipped smile. It looks secretive but in a juvenile and playful way. It’s a men’s favorite as it generates parental male feelings.
- Laughing Makes You Happier
Intentionally producing smiles and laughter will make you spontaneously happy.
- Smiling and Laughing to Bond
Laughing is more than 30 times more likely to happen in social situations than when one is alone. Laughter has less to do with jokes and more to do with relationships.
- Smiling for Women & Men
Barbara and Allan Pease say Women smile far more than men in both social and business settings, which can make a woman appear subordinate or weak in the presence of an unsmiling man.
Pictures of unsmiling men were seen as less attractive and decoded as a sign of sadness. Pictures of unsmiling men were decoded as a sign of dominance.
Women should smile less with dominant men in business situations and -or mirror the amount of smiles of men- and probably more in social and dating scenarios.
Pease says that if men want to be more persuasive with women, they would do well to smile more in all contexts.
- Laughter and Love
The authors say women laugh more than men in courtship. The ability to make others laugh is a dominant trait, so the more a man can make a woman laugh, the more she will find him attractive (women love dominant men and men love subordinate women).
Humor makes you attractive to women: women laugh at men they’re attracted and men are attracted to women who laugh at them.
Very interestingly, Pease says men also become annoyed when one man dominates the joke-telling, particularly so when there are women around who are laughing. The men who are not laughing will think the joke teller is a jerk and not funny either.
Hiding behind barriers is an innate behavior of human beings. Folding one or both arms across the chest we form a barrier as an unconscious attempt to block out threats or undesirable circumstances.
Crossing arms in front of the chest is a sign that someone is nervous, negative or defensive.
As long as someone keeps an arms folded position, a negative attitude will persist. A good idea can be then to give the person something to hold on to that will lead them to unfold their arms.
“I’m Just Comfortable”
The Definitive Book of Body Language goes into something I have experienced a few times.
Some people will deny the significance of certain body language signals by saying they’re just comfortable that way. Pease says that of course, you’re more comfortable: if you’re nervous, arms crossed will make you feel more comfortable.
For the law of cause and effect, having neutral people crossing arms in front of your chest also give you more negative thoughts about the speaker and you will retain less information.
Arms crossing will also send out a message to the people around you though, and that message is likely to be negative. So the message is simple: avoid crossing your arms unless you specifically intend to don’t agree or don’t want to participate.
Clenched fists with crossed arms show hostility on top of defensiveness. If there’s a tight-lipped smile or clenched teeth and red face, an attack, either verbal or physical might be imminent. A conciliatory approach is recommended.
In the Doubled Arm Grip, the person tightly grips both his upper arms to further strengthen his barrier.
It’s also a way to comfort oneself with a form of self-hug. You can sometimes see it in doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms or with first-time air travelers. It shows a negative, restrained attitude.
Pease says that in court, the claimant may be using a fist clenched arms crossed while the defendant may have adopted the double arm grip position.
Boss VS Staff
Barbara and Allan Pease say that status influences arm gestures too. A general manager greeting new employees, for example, will not cross his hands and will either keep his hands to his side, behind his back (superiority), or in his pockets (noninvolvement). The employees instead might cross their arms for the apprehension of being around the company’s top person.
If the GM now met a young up-and-coming superior type, the younger gun might cross his arm but keep his thumbs sticking out and pointing up. The thumbs-up show a positive and self-confident attitude.
Also very interestingly, the authors say that defensive and submissive will be shown in symmetrical positions, while defensive and dominant will take an asymmetrical pose.
If the Thumbs-Up-Arms-Crossed appears towards the end of a presentation, chances are you can go ahead and ask for the order.
Barbara and Allan Pease say we hug ourselves when are stressed or we find ourselves in tense situations.
Of course, our self-hugs are more masked.
For example, one arm might reach out to the other upper arm -mostly used by women- and recreate the feeling of how their mothers held them.
Or holding both hands in front of our body -mostly used by men- and called the “broken zipper position”, recreating the feeling of someone else holding our hands.
Famous and VIPs Arms’ Crossing
The authors say that celebrities who tend to be more aware of body language will more rarely be seen with an obvious self-hugging gesture.
But their nervousness will still often leak.
For example, they might reach out with an arm to the bag on the other side, or fix their watches or bracelet, or shirt cuffs.
Women can often clasp their purses.
Gauging Our Speaking Partner
Offering a refreshment is a great way of gauging where the other person stands.
Do they place the cup on the side -open and accepting what you’re saying- or in front -closed and not accepting-?
They can also hold it to the side, thus crossing their arm in front of their body, or hold it to the side, thus opening up.
Arms and Armrest
Planting your elbows on the armrest is a position of power.
Letting your arms fall on the inside of the chair is the position that humble, defeated individuals will take.
The Power of Touch
Barbara and Allan Pease say that Touching someone with your left hand while shaking hands can create some powerful results.
The Phone Booth Test showed that people who were being touched lightly on the elbow for less than 3 seconds gave back a coin 68% of the time VS the 23% of people who didn’t.
Pease said that worked well because the elbow is a safe area to touch, second because touching a stranger is not considered normal so it created a powerful impression and third, the most important of all, a touch creates a momentary bond between two people.
Touching above or below the elbow did not produce the same positive effects, and touching for more than 3 seconds also had a negative response.
I was both appealed to and had to laugh when I saw that the same experiment with elbow touching gave an 85% return rate in Germany, 50% of French, and… A paltry 22% of coin returns in Italy. But Pease said that it’s because, in the Italian culture, it’s more normal to touch, so the elbow touch didn’t create such a special moment.
Looking at conversation outside cafes indeed showed 220 touches an hour in Rome, 142 in Paris, 25 in Sindey, 4 in NY, and 0 in London.
Women were four times more likely to touch another woman than a man or another man.
A famous experiment with a librarian slightly brushing the hand while issuing a book also had powerful effects, with the borrowers being touched responding more favorably to all the questions and more likely to recall the name of the librarian.
Read also: 4 ways men touch women wrong.
I fully agree with Barbara and Allan Pease when they say the world is becoming more and more similar and the basics are the same almost everywhere.
Pictures of happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise in 21 different cultures registered mostly the same responses everywhere. Japan was the exception which described fear as a surprise.
The biggest cultural differences exist mainly in relation to territorial space, eye contact, touch frequency, and insult gestures.
The regions with the most local signals are Arab countries, parts of Asia, and Japan.
Pease says that we do business with people who make us feel comfortable and it comes down to sincerity and good manners. The author suggests that when you’re in a foreign country and unsure of the local customs and gestures it could be a good idea to reduce the range of your body language signals until you can better understand the local ones.
Hand and Thumb Gestures
How to Spot Which Option We Prefer
Right-handed people give their favorite point of view or summarize their favorite contestant with their right hand and left-handed people with their left.
Hand, Attention & Impact
Hand gestures grab attention, increase the impact, and help individuals on the receiving end of the communication remember more of the message (up to a third higher recall in an experiment).
Rubbing the palms together is a sign of positive expectation. A quick rub signals the person expects the benefits to be for you, Slow rubbing signals the expectation is for them to profit.
Salespeople are instructed to rub their hands quickly indeed. When a buyer rubs his palms waiting for you to present your product it’s a positive sign that he has high expectations it can be a good option.
Hands Clenched Together
Barbara and Allan Pease say Hands Clenched Together can be mistaken for a signal of confidence as people are often seen smiling when using it. It is though a gesture showing an anxious, restrained, or negative attitude.
During negotiation, it can be a frustrating gesture signaling a negative or anxious attitude. The person using feels they are either not convincing the other person or felt like they were losing the negotiation.
The hands can be held in front of the face, on a desk on the lap, or low in front of the crotch.
There seems to be a correlation between height and frustration: the higher the hands clenched position, the higher the degree of frustration.
As for arms crossed then, you should take action to let the person un-clench his hands.
Barbara and Allan Pease say the Steeple can be the exception confirming the “cluster rule” as it can often occur in isolation.
A favorite of Angela Merkel, The steeple is frequently used in interactions between superiors and subordinates and it shows a confident, self-assured personality.
It is often used when giving instructions or advice and it’s common among accountants, lawyers, and managers.
The steeple is usually held high when speaking and held lower when listening. Women tend to use the lower steeple more often.
The raised steeple with the head tilted back gives more arrogant and smug air.
The steeple can also be a sign of negative confidence. If you are delivering a presentation or a sale and the client was folding their arms, crossing their legs, looking away, and having many hand-to-face gestures, and then assuming a steeple your prospect is feeling confident he will say and that he will easily get rid of you.
When you want to persuade or win the other person’s confidence Pease recommends not to use it as it can come across as smug or arrogant.
The Face Platter
Resting the face on both hands can be a gesture used by women during romantic encounters or dates.
She is placing her face there for you to admire and to attract your attention.
If you are interested in more sex signals, take a look at “does she like me“.
Holding Hands Behind the Back
Barbara and Allan Pease say that holding one’s hand behind the back is a sign of authority.
High military, headmasters at school, royalty, and policemen will usually use it.
The person is fully exposing his body in a show of fearlessness.
Cause and effect also apply, so if you use this pose in high-stress situations you will also begin to feel confident and even authoritative (albeit it does not change your hormonal state as Amy Cuddy originally implied).
If however, the person is holding his wrist behind his back it communicates frustration and an attempt to self-restraint, and the higher up the grip, the higher the frustration.
If you catch yourself doing it, change to a palm-in-palm position instead and you’ll begin to feel more relaxed and confident.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that thumbs denote superiority, and body language gestures using the thumb show self-important attitudes. Thumbs indeed are used to display dominance, assertiveness, and sometimes even aggressive attitude.
A man will use protruding thumbs around women he likes, even when he’s wearing high-status clothing. You will rarely see low-status individuals using it.
If someone is verbally showing humbleness and shows his thumb, you can probably guess he’s not being fully forthcoming.
Thumbs coming out of back pockets are a bit of a tamer pose as if the person was trying to hide the dominant attitude.
Pointing at someone with the thumb is usually a gesture of ridicule and disrespect towards the person you point your thumb at. Usually, it is not directly pointed at the person you’re speaking to, but it’s pointed toward a third party.
Thumbs from Coat Pockets
It’s common for people to feel in a superior position.
The boss will walk around the office with the thumbs out of his coat pockets and when he’s not there the second in the line of command is likely to do so. None of the subordinates is likely to do it around the boss.
You can sometimes see people with their hands in their pockets and thumbs sticking out but their arms folded. The folded arms are defensive or negative, while the thumbs out show a superior attitude.
Also, see the pictures in:
Evaluation and Deceit Signals
I love when Barbara and Allan Pease say that lying is the oil greasing social interactions.
Research shows that social liars are more popular than people who continually tell the truth even though we know the social liar is not being fully forthcoming.
Malicious lies, of course, are a different beast.
The Three Wise Monkeys
The authors say that when we see, speak, or hear lies or deceit or something we don’t wanna hear or witness, our tendency is to use our hands to cover our mouths, ear, or eyes.
Women are Better Liars
Allan and Barbara Pease say women are better at reading emotions and even better at telling lies.
How to Lie Better
A good way of getting away with lies is to decrease your overall body movement so that you won’t send any negative signals.
Lying is easier behind something that will cover part or all of your body. Behind a desk, for example, peering over a fence, from behind a door or, of course, via telephone or email.
How the Face Reveals the Truth
When we lie indeed we increase our hand-to-face gestures and increase the number of gulps of saliva and while there’s no guaranteed movement that will let you know someone is lying you can learn a few clusters that will dramatically increase your chances of spotting a liar.
Allan and Baraba Pease here seem quite encouraging about the fact you can spot lies. This is in contrast to FBI agent Joe Navarro who takes a strong stand in saying spotting lies is notoriously difficult and unreliable.
These are some indicators of lies:
- Mouth Cover, or anything similar, could be a fake cough. If they cover their mouth while you’re speaking they think you’re hiding something.
- Nose Touch can be such an indicator and people tend to smile less when lying. The itching can actually be real
- Eye Rub. Men do it harder, women tend to just get closer to the eye and both genders can look away
- Ear Grab, another sign of anxiety
- Neck Scratch is a sign of doubt and uncertainty which says “I’m not sure I agree”
- Collar Pull
- Fingers in Mouth, a sign someone is in need of reassurance
- Eye contact, some people won’t be able to hold eye contact when lying, and they get caught the easiest. But since most people are aware of that, they will swing in the other direction keeping eye contact more than they normally would -and get rarely caught-
- Foot Movement
Supporting the hand with your hands is a sign of boredom.
Drumming of the fingers or of the feet is often misinterpreted as boredom but they’re actually signs of impatience (the degree of impatience is related to the speed of the taps).
Barbara and Allan Pease say that a closed hand resting on the cheek’s face, sometimes with the index finger pointing upward, signals the person is evaluating something.
If they want to feign interest but are starting to the bored the palm will start supporting the head.
If the thumb supports the chin it’s a sign of critical thoughts about the speaker or the topic. The index can rub or pull the eye if the negative thoughts persist. It can be mistaken for interest, but the difference is the supporting thumb under the chin.
Chin-stroking is a sign that a person is thinking about what to say or what to decide.
People wearing glasses can take them off and put one arm of the frame in their mouth, a smoker will take a puff of smoke and someone with a pen can put them in their mouth.
Putting objects in the mouth is a sign that the person feels like he needs more time and wants to delay an answer.
Head Rubbing and Slapping
When someone forgot something or did a blunder they might slap their own head to communicate forgetfulness.
If they slap their forehead they signal they are not intimidated by you, if they slap the back of the neck it says you are actually a pain in the neck.
Habitually rubbing the back of the neck says that someone tends to be more negative or critical, while those rubbing the forehead tend to be more open and easygoing.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that women have a wider peripheral vision, while men tend to have more tunnel vision. Women can look at you better without moving their eyes.
Dilated pupils are a sign of attraction.
This is why lighter eyes are considered more attractive: because you can more clearly recognize a dilated pupil and this is why romantic encounters tend to be more successful in dimly lit places: the pupil dilates naturally.
In a direct mail campaign, Allan Pease was able to increase the sales of a lipstick brand by 45% simply enlarging the pupil size of the model.
Interestingly, people are better at decoding eye signals than they are at decoding body language. Women do better as usual, but men didn’t fare poorly.
If someone is looking at you for more than 2/3 of the time he can either be interested in you, in which case he’ll have dilated pupils, or he’ll be hostile -in which case he’ll have constricted pupils-. Women are good at deciphering it, men not as much.
The eyebrow flash is eyebrow-raising rapidly for a split second, and it’s a universal, friendly gesture to say hello.
We don’t give the eyebrow flash to people we don’t like and to strangers and people who don’t use it upon first meeting someone are perceived as potentially aggressive.
Jack Schafer in The Like Switch says you can use it to feign liking for someone, and Pease says that you should always Eyebrow Flash people you like or those whom you want to like you.
Women raise their eyebrows and eyelids to make their eyes appear bigger and create the “baby face effect” which makes men want to protect them.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that lowering the head and looking up is a submissive gesture women use to appeal to men.
It makes the eyes seem larger and makes the woman more childlike.
Pease says that Diana made an art out of lowering her head and looking up while exposing her neck.
Some women show sexual submissiveness by lowering their eyelids while simultaneously raising their eyebrows and looking up. It’s one of the trademarks of sex sirens such as Marilyn Monroe and Sharon Stone (more female seduction: attractive body language for women). This is also the expression that many women have during an orgasm.
Michael Argyle found that Westerners and European look at each other an average of 61% of the time while they speak. 40 to 60% when talking and 75-80% while listening. 31% is mutual gazing.
When one likes the other, he will look at him a lot. The person being looked at notices and he will likely like him in return as well. This means you should look at people a lot to make them like you. Your gaze should meet their 60-70% of the time.
When in foreign cultures though, the best course of action is to mirror the gaze time of your host.
The timid people who rarely meet our gaze are seen as untrustworthy.
When two people meet and make eye contact the subordinate is usually the one to look away first. This means that not looking away is a subtle way of delivering a challenge or showing disagreement.
Pease says that if the higher-status person is your boss you could keep your eye contact for a few seconds longer than is usually acceptable but that you shouldn’t do it regularly if you care about your job.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that when our eyes scan the surrounding from left to right we are looking for escape routes.
We do it naturally, even when we’re talking to someone boring. If sometimes we want to avoid looking like we’re bored to death, we could then swing to the opposite, the same as we do for lying, and look into our speaking partners’ eyes even more than normal.
In this case, we will often have a tight-lipped smile same similar to when we’re lying.
- Social Gaze: moving your gaze between the eyes and the mouth for about 90% of the gazing time. This is non-threatening and others will perceive you as nonaggressive
- Intimate Gaze: across the eyes and below the chin to lower parts of the person’s body.
From far away it’s eyes to the groin or below and standing nearby it’s between the eyes and the chest.
Intimate gaze is used to show interest and those who are interested will return this gaze. Intimate gaze too soon though would give the game away (men miss it anyway but women get it)
- Power Gaze: looking between the eyes and the center of the forehead.
Pease says the impact is huge, it changes the atmosphere to be very serious, and if your gaze doesn’t drop below the eye level you can keep the screws on him.
Never use it in friendly or romantic encounters, just on those whom you want to intimidate or quiet down
- Power Stare: when you are under attack, maintain eye contact without blinking, narrow your eyelids, and focus closely on him. If you have to move from one person to another, don’t blink first move your eyeballs and then let your head follow with your shoulders standing still
Starting a Great Job Interview
A man wants to check a woman’s hair, legs, and body shape and you should allow that to happen to make everyone feel at ease.
Shake hands then and give the interview a 2-3 seconds time window to scan you.
This strategy also helps to sell better.
For more on getting the job you want:
Territories and Personal Space
Barbara and Allan Pease go into the personal zones here which I won’t go into details here because it’s a well-known topic.
The distances tend to reduce between two women and increase between two men.
When people embrace the distance they keep their hips apart giving away information about their relationship.
We hate riding elevators because the cramped space gets other people into our Intimate Zone and Pease says the behavior we follow is called “masking”, which is everyone’s trying to hide their emotions by wearing a neutral mask. And the people riding in the subway at rush hour, the author says, aren’t really unhappy, they’re just masking their emotions.
I also found it particularly interesting that Pease says that the people who go around slapping everyone on the back are secretly disliked by everyone.
Why Mobs Get Angry
Barbara and Allan Pease say that one of the reasons why mobs get so angry is because everyone is in everyone’s personal space.
When the police break up the crow the dynamics change and the riot usually stops.
And, the author says, this is why areas with the highest crime and violence are also areas with the highest population density.
I’m not sure this makes any sense at all, places with the highest population density also happen to be the poorest areas, and poverty is correlated with violence and crime.
The authors say that when deciding where to seat people will usually pick the place that gives them the most space.
If there’s only one person sitting the person who’s just arrived will usually pick a place between the person sitting and the end (or front) row, so as not to offend the sitting person.
An Italian couple in Sidney was accused of hitting on everyone at a club they joined because the Italians, coming from a smaller personal space culture, were standing too close to the Australians.
Japanese also tend to stand rather close.
City dwellers also tend to have smaller spaces than country people.
Territory and Ownership
The Definitive Book of Body Language goes into a topic I have long observed before it became conscious: people can feel like a certain seat or space belongs to them in a place they often visit.
Or they might feel ownership of the kitchen in a house if they are using it.
To avoid offending anyone and starting a relationship on the wrong foot it’s a great idea too as when you visit someone’s house “which sit is yours”.
People driving cars tend to feel like they have a bigger personal space, and that’s why we see so many incidents of road races, Pease says.
How the Legs Reveal the Mind
The Definitive Book of Body Language says that the farther away a body part is from our mind, the less awareness we have of it. That’s why legs and feed are some of the most honest body parts.
Young and healthy people walk faster, resulting in their arms swinging the most, almost as if they were marching.
This walking style has been adopted by politicians and public figures who want to look younger and healthy.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that people walking slowly show they have plenty of time, are not interested in what they’re doing, or have nothing else to do.
It’s OK for retired millionaires but not for people who want to convey authority or health to a potential mate. Influential people commanding attention walk briskly at a medium pace with medium-length strides.
Also read: how to walk sexy.
Legs & Feet
Barbara and Allan Pease say that evolutionary speaking legs served the purpose of going towards what we want and running away from what we don’t want-, so the way we point our feet and legs tells us where we want to go.
As a rule of thumb, open or uncrossed legs show an open or dominant attitude and crossed positions reveal closed attitudes or uncertainty
- At Attention: standing with your feet close together is a formal and neutral position showing no signs of commitment toward any particular course of action.
With men and women interacting women use it mostly, and employees use it with bosses
- Legs Apart: predominantly a male position and the equivalent of a crotch display
- Foot Forward: the foot forward points in the direction our mind wants to go. In groups, we point our forward foot to the person we find most interesting or attractive
- Leg Cross: the standing leg cross and scissors show that someone wants to stay, but has a closed, submissive, or defensive attitude.
It is usually adopted in the presence of people we feel superior to us and studies show it’s usually people who lack confidence who uses it
From Closed to Open
When meeting someone we don’t know often we start with crossed arms and legs. First, are the legs uncross, and next are the arms.
We can start with one arm only and flash the palm. Then both arms uncross. Finally, one person takes the foot forward position to show acceptance of the other.
(American) Figure Four
Sitting with one leg horizontally on top of the other is the seated version of a Crotch Display.
The authors say it’s American or of any Americanized culture, but I find it just a very common and natural way of sitting.
Men sitting this way are perceived as more dominant, relaxed, and even youthful. Women using this position usually only do it around other women as they don’t want to appear too masculine or signal too strong sexual availability.
It’s not conducive to final decision making though as studies show most final decisions are done with both feet planted on the ground.
Figure Four Leg Clamp
Same as Figure four, with the leg on top being held by the hands. It’s a sign of tough-mindedness and stubbornness in rejecting any idea.
The Ankle Lock
Barbara and Allan Pease say that locking ankles is the equivalent of biting one’s lips and holding back.
It can also show uncertainty and fear. If the feet are pushed far back beneath the chair it also highlights a withdrawn attitude as people who are very into the conversation put their feet “in” the conversation.
When an interviewee locks his ankles, he is mentally “biting his lip.” The gesture shows that he is holding back a negative emotion, uncertainty or fear. The feet are usually withdrawn under the chair, showing that the person also has a withdrawn attitude. When people are involved in a conversation, they also put their feet into the conversation.
During negotiations, it means the party is holding back on a concession.
If the ankle lock happens during an interview, questions can be reasonably effective in getting the interviewee to relax and unlock but going around the table and sitting beside them is probably the most effective.
I had to laugh when Barbara and Allan Pease said that 88% of dental patients lock their ankles as soon as they sit on the dentist’s chair as I had to think back about my teenager’s days and indeed I was doing the same as far as I can remember.
Almost exclusively used by women, and it’s a sign of shyness and timidity.
Parallel Legs are the most attractive seating position for a woman. Since it would be difficult for men to sit this way, it’s a sign of femininity.
Legs for Women
Men will watch TV shows with the female presenter for longer if she has a short dress.
However, men will also remember less of what she said. In business, it’s best if a woman avoids short dresses and skirts (and best if men keep their knees closer together)
The 13 Common Daily Gestures
Barbara and Allan Pease go into common gestures of people who don’t realize what they’re actually doing.
Patting during a hug for example signals it’s time to end the hugging, and starting to pat even before you hug is a sign you didn’t wanna hug in the first place at all.
Kissing in the air as you’re about to hug someone is pretty much the same.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that nodding regularly in groups of three nods leads to people talking for three to four times longer than they would have normally spoken.
Nodding slowly communicates interest, while fast nodding communicates it’s time to stop talking or that you want to talk now.
The authors say that people will talk three to four times more than usual when the listener nods their head using groups of three nods at regular intervals.
The speed of the nod signals the patience—or lack of patience—of the listener.
Slow nodding communicates that the listener is interested in what the speaker is saying so give slow, deliberate clusters of three head nods when the other person is making a point. Fast nodding tells the speaker you’ve heard enough or that you want them to finish or give you a turn to speak.
Head Nod to Get Agreement
Finishing the sentence with a “wouldn’t you” or “isn’t it” as you nod will raise the chances the other person will agree with you.
Head Nods to Get More Information
A technique to get people to talk more and give you more information is to nod your head during his answer.
After he replies, you keep nodding your head another five times with one nod per second.
Pease says that by the time you counted to 4, he will usually resume speaking and give you more information.
Do it as you keep your hand on your chin and give it a few light strokes in an evaluation position, so you don’t come across like an interrogator and it will seem natural
Basic Head Positions
- Head Up: neutral attitude.
- Chin Forward: When the head is lifted high and the chin pushed out and high it signals superiority, fearlessness or arrogance. It allows people to look down their nose
- Head Tilt: it’s a submission signal as it exposes the throat and neck. Women will use it to show interest in men they like
- Head Down: a chin down signals a negative, judgmental, or aggressive attitude. Critical evaluations are normally made with the head down
Raising the shoulders and lowering the head signal submissiveness, and it’s often used to show apology.
When someone walks past others who are talking or looking at a view or, as it’s more and more often the case these days, taking a picture, they will usually use the Head Duck.
It’s also used by subordinates approaching superiors and it reveals the status and power play between individuals.
Looking away while picking imaginary lint is a sign of disapproval.
The Definitive Book of Body Language says that placing the hands on the hips and pointing the elbows out shows readiness to dominate.
It’s a nonverbal challenge to other men who enter their territory.
One hand on the hip is similar, especially if the elbow is pointed towards the person we are issuing the challenge.
It’s also been called the “achiever” pose as it shows readiness to tackle the issues and get down to it. Men use it around women to display an assertive male attitude.
Thumbs into the belt or in the pockets are a gesture to frame the genital area and are used mostly by men to signal a sexually aggressive attitude.
Men use this gesture to stake their territory or to show other men they mean business.
Pease says it’s regular for men on the prowl.
If it is used while talking to women, especially with dilated pupils and a foot pointing toward her, it immediately gives the game away as to what are his intentions.
- Also read: signs he likes her
Leg Over Arm Chair
Mostly a man gesture as it also uses the legs spread.
It communicates ownership and signals an informal and aggressive attitude. If someone is having a serious discussion, it also communicates superiority and indifference.
Straddling a Chair
Barbara and Allan Pease say that the person straddling a chair wants to dominate (the crotch display) while at the same time using the back of the chair for protection).
Straddlers tend to be dominant types who will try to take control of others when they get bored with the conversation.
The Definitive Book of Body Language says the Catapult is the seated version of the hands on hips.
The heads are behind the head with the elbows pointing outward. It gives an air of superiority like the person knows it all.
Legs are usually in Figure Four or Crotch Display.
Pease says that women quickly grow to dislike men who use the catapult during business meetings and women can’t really use it as it would show their chest too obviously even flat-chested ones are described as aggressive by both men and women.
Show of Readiness
Barbara and Allan Pease say that leaning forward with one hand on the knee, or both hands on the knees as it were the start of a race, signals that a person has reached a decision.
If it comes after closed-body signs, it’s usually a negative answer. If it comes after decision-making clusters (chin-stroking) then the decision can often be positive.
It also signals the desire to end the meeting and move out.
Mirroring – How We Build Rapport
You’ve probably heard of mirroring a thousand times.
Basically, mirroring says, nonverbally, that you two are similar and share the same attitudes.
When people refer to having a good vibe or that it feels right they are unknowingly referring to mirroring and synchronous behavior.
Mirroring is also a way of saying we’re in agreement with someone.
Usually, the person with the highest status makes the first move and the others copy.
Men VS Women Mirroring
Barbara and Allan Pease say that women are four times more likely to mirror another woman than a man to mirror man.
Women mirror men too but men mirror women less unless he’s in courtship mode.
Women mirroring men should mirror their body language and use fewer facial expressions rather than trying to mimic what they think he’s feeling.
Facial Feedback: Men, Women & Dating
Men use fewer facial expressions than women and tend to have expressionless faces when listening.
Men feel awkward at the idea of using facial feedback while listening as it makes them feel effeminate.
But it’s the opposite.
Women judge men who use facial feedback as caring, intelligent, interesting, and attractive.
Intonation, voice inflection, rate of speech, and even accents tend to synchronize.
Pease suggests never speaking quicker than the other person as that makes them feel pressured.
It’s extremely interesting when Pease says that a person’s rate of speech is the rate at which their brains can analyze information, so either speak at the same speed or slower.
It’s possible to influence others by mirroring their positive gestures and posture, which will make the other person feel relaxed and receptive.
It’s a good strategy to mirror people who adopt superior body language with you to disconcert them. Don’t do it with the boss though Pease recommends.
Do not mirror their negative signals though in order to create rapport.
Subordinate – Boss Mirroring
Barbara and Allan Pease say that when the leader adopts a pose, the subordinates will usually copy, often in ranking order.
Leaders also tend to be the first of a group to walk through a doorway and like to sit at the end of a sofa rather than in the middle. In a conference room, the boss usually sits at the head of the table, often farthest away from the door.
In a boardroom, people who will mirror your position are also the most likely to vote for you.
When you present your product to couples, noticing who mirrors whom will let you know who’s got the ultimate decision power.
Cigarettes, Glasses & Make-Up
I was not too surprised to read Barbara and Allan Pease saying that smoking is an outward signal of inner distress.
But I was very surprised to read them say that smoking has less to do with nicotine addiction than it has to do with the need for reassurance.
Smoking then is one of the many displacement activities people use while non-smokers chew gums, bite their nails, groom, tap their feet, scratch their heads, or play with something.
Blowing the smoke of a cigarette up is a positive sign.
Conversely blowing down is a sign the smoker is in a negative, secretive, or suspicious frame of mind. Blowing down from the corner of the mouth further reinforces the negative sign.
In sales scenarios, those who want to buy will blow upward, and those who don’t blow downward.
Speed of Blowing Smoke
The speed at which the smoke is blown is an indicator of the intensity of the feelings.
Barbara and Allan Pease note that if a smoker extinguishes the cigarette before it’s finished it’s an indicator he wants to terminate the conversation.
You can then change course and terminate it earlier so it seems it was your decision.
The Definitive Book of Body Language quotes Desmond Morris when he noted that putting objects against the lips or the mouth is an attempt to relieve the security a baby had when he was breastfeeding.
A person wearing glasses putting the arm of the frame in or near the mouth is looking for reassurance. As we’ve already seen, it’s also a stalling sign to gain time, as it is taking them off frequently to clean them.
Folding them will often mean they have reached a decision while putting them back mean says the person wants to “see” more of the information or evidence.
Big-frame glasses project power while frameless or thin-frame glasses convey a powerless image and say you are more interested in fashion than in business and the opposite is true in social situations.
Peering Over Glasses
Barbara and Allan Pease say that looking at people over the rim of the glasses gives a sensation they are being judged. The person on the receiving end may respond to it by crossing their arms.
Sunglasses on the Head
Dark sunglasses during meetings make you appear secretive and even insecure.
Wearing them on the head is seen as relaxed, youthful, and cool”.
Pease says it’s because they give the wearer the appearance they have two huge eyes with dilated pupils on top of their head, similar to the nonthreatening effect that babies have.
Glasses and Makeup
Makeup adds credibility for women in business, as confirmed by a (small) experiment Pease conducted himself.
The combo of makeup and glasses was even more powerful.
An exception is if it’s a woman-on-woman interaction, as women tended to see the makeup-wearing ladies as colder and more arrogant, probably because they saw her more as a competitor.
If you don’t need to wear glasses, having a pair with non-correctable lenses could be a good idea for business meetings.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that wearing bright color lipsticks for interviews made women appear as if they were more interested in themselves than in business and career.
Women without lipsticks were seen as more serious about work than men, but they were also seen as more lacking in personal skills.
Large briefcases communicate the person is doing all the work and takes work home because he can’t manage his time well.
Slimmer briefcases say the person is only concerned with the bottom line and has more status.
Body Points Where The Mind Goes
The Definitive Book of Body Language points to an extremely easy and super effective way of reading people’s intentions: the direction in which someone points his body or feet is a signal of where he wants to go.
Standing straight and facing someone head-on is perceived as aggressive.
To avoid taking an aggressive stand we must stand at 45 degrees angles so that together with our speaking partner we form a 90 degrees angle. This position invites others to join the conversation.
Pointing the body away from the listener is seen as confident but not aggressive.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that if two people want intimacy they will instead face each other.
If someone wants to monopolize the conversation with someone, they will take this position. A fully frontal position is also a courtship signal (see “body language of love“).
If the other person accepts the courtship signal, they will also orient their bodies at zero angles.
Pease says it’s OK to approach a woman from the front and eventually move to a forty-five-degree angle (also read: how to approach a woman).
The Closed Position can also be used to issue a challenge between people who are hostile to each other.
Attacks & Approaches
Research shows that men are wary of attacks from the front and women are wary of attacks from the rear (and approaches from the rear).
So never stand fully frontal with a man you’ve just met as it’s perceived as either an attack from a man or a sexual interest from a woman.
How We Exclude / Include
Barbara and Allan Pease say that 45 degrees angles invite other people to join the conversation.
If two people were facing each other frontally and a third person joins it’s likely the two will only turn their heads towards him but not their bodies. Only turning the head towards someone signals that the newcomer is not very welcome.
They will probably have tight-lipped smiles as well.
A group conversation can also start fully open with a triangle but two people can eventually start facing each other and it’s a sign for the third one he should probably move along.
Seated Body Pointing
When we are seated we can point our knees towards the person we are most interested in or towards the person we accept the most.
Feet serve the same purpose: we point our feet toward the person we find the most interesting.
Courtship and Attraction Gestures
The Definitive Book of Body Language quotes Albert Scheflen when he found out that when we meet someone from the opposite sex physiological changes take place that make us more youthful in appearance.
A man will stand taller, protrude his jaw, and expand his chest while an interested woman will make her more submissive and feminine.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that because men tend to have more difficulties than women in dating most dating and flirting classes tend to have more men than women (see a few tips and examples for text flirting)
The Emergence of Colorful Men
Barbara and Allan Pease note that in most mammals it’s the man who dresses up to impress the woman.
In humans, it’s the woman who dresses more attentively to attract male attention.
Today however we see the re-emergence of the man who takes care of himself, sometimes even in ways that have been predominantly feminine. This is the sometimes so-called metrosexual man.
The authors say that while metrosexual men seem strange to many heterosexual men, their observations show that metrosexuals fall in the categories of gay men, effeminate men who realize that many traditional female behaviors are a great way to meet lots of women.
Attracting The Opposite Sex
When someone wants to attract the opposite sex, we do so by emphasizing sexual differences.
Pease says that most of the success in the mating game relies on the man’s ability to read the signals a woman sends to him as opposed to initiating his own moves.
Barbara and Allan Pease talk about Graham and his style as a seducer. They say his success is mostly due to his ability to read women’s signals and play the rituals well.
Women would describe Graham as sexy, masculine, humorous, and as making them feel feminine.
Men described him as aggressive, insincere, arrogant, and not particularly funny. Graham had few male friends as men didn’t like a rival for the attention of his woman.
Women Call the Shots
The Definitive Book of Body Language will tell you what most good observers noted by themselves: most men will tell you they made the first move.
But most studies in courtship show that women are the initiators 90% of the time.
And while some men approach without being invited first and some of them can even be successful, their overall statistical success is low because they’re simply playing the number game.
Women and Men Misunderstandings
Barbara and Allan Pease say most men tend to mistake friendliness and smiling for sexual interest.
Pease says that’s because men see the world in more sexual terms than women.
Upon meeting a possible partner women tend to send a flurry of courting rituals in the first minutes.
They often send ambiguous messages in the early stages to manipulate men into showing their hands. Men often confuse these signals and make a clumsy passes.
I find it extremely interesting that Barbara and Allan Pease say this is one of the reasons why some women have difficulties in attracting men: men get confused with ambiguous messages and won’t make the approach.
The Attraction Process
The human courtship follows a predictable five-step sequence:
- Stage 1. Eye contact: She looks at him until he notices and holds eye contact for around five seconds, then turns away. A woman will repeat this behavior a few times (my note: in my experience, it’s often less than five seconds, especially if she’s engaged in a convo with a friend or you’re not straight on and she needs to turn her head to see you)
- Stage 2. Smiling: She gives him a quick half smile
- Stage 3. Preening: She straightens up emphasizing her breasts, sits to show off her legs, or if she’s standing tilts her head sideways and tilts her hip. He can respond by standing up straight, pulling in the stomach, expanding his chest, tucking his thumbs into his belt, and preening as well. They point their feet or entire bodies toward each other.
- Stage 4. Talk: He approaches and attempts to make small talk
- Stage 5. Touch: She initiates light touching either “accidental” or not. A hand touch is more intimate than the arm. The touch is repeated to let them know it was not accidental. Touching the shoulder of a man says she cares about his health and appearance.
These 5 steps are critical, and they’re what most people, especially men in primis, find challenging.
The 13 Most Common Female Courtship Signals
The Definitive Book of Body Language says that women use a lot of the same gestures men use, such as touching the hair, smoothing the clothes, body pointing, gaze, and one or both hands on hips.
She may even use the thumb in a belt gesture, albeit it’s a bit more subtle, for example only one thumb tucked into the belt or protruding from a handbag.
- Head Toss and Hair Flick: Usually the first, used even by women with short hair
- Wet Lips and Pouting, Mouth Open: women have more subcutaneous fat than men, including lips, which are used as a sign of femininity. Pouting increases the lips’ size. Also, the female genital lips are proportional to their lips, so it becomes a sexual mimicry. Aroused women have their lips, breasts, and genitals become larger and redder because of blood circulation, so red lipsticks are very attractive
- Self Touching: our minds act on our secret desires
- Limp Wrist: the Limp Wrist is a submission signal used only by women and gay men. In business, the situation should be avoided
- Fondling a Cylindrical Object: a man could in turn symbolically possess her by fondling her belonging (a cigarette lighter, keys, etc.)
- Exposed Wrists: especially simple to do for smoking women
- Sideways Glance On Raised Shoulder
- Rolling Hips: a woman has an accentuated roll that highlights her feminine pelvic region
- Pelvic Tilt: Tilting the pelvis shows her waist-to-hip ratio. A waist-to-hip ratio of 70% is considered the most attractive. At 80% men being to lose interest and are not interested at 100% but are still interested at lower than 70%. 70% were attractive even when the woman was quite heavy
- Handbag Nearby: a woman’s handbag is almost an extension of her body and putting it near a man is an indicator of interest. Fondling or asking him to get something from it is equally positive
- Knee Point
- Shoe Fondle: it has the phallic effect of thrusting the foot in and out. It can unsettle many men without knowing what’s happening
- Let Twine: the most appealing sitting position a woman can take. Other leg signals are crossing and uncrossing the legs (slowly) in front of the man and gently stroking the thighs with her hand
For more signs also check out “Undercover Sex Signals“.
Also later on Pease says that a woman is likely to lean forward and push her arms close, pressing her breasts together and showing cleavage.
Male Courtship Signals
Men are generally not good at sending and receiving the signals used in the mating game.
They most often react to women’s mating signals and often react poorly too.
Male courtship signals involved the display of power, wealth, and status.
Some other signs include:
- Preening: straightening the tie, brushing imaginary dust from the shoulder, touching cufflinks or watch, and rearranging shirt or coat)
- Crotch Displays: the most direct sexual display is the aggressive thumbs in-belt gesture; when seated or against a wall he can also spread his legs
- Crotch Adjustments
What Men Look at in Women
Barbara and Allan Pease say that when it comes to body shape both men and women prefer athletic body shapes.
Men are more attracted to women with childlike faces -large eyes, small noses, and full lips and cheeks- as it releases hormones that want to make them protect themselves.
Women prefer instead adult faces such as strong jaws, larger brows, and strong noses.
Guys are split among preferences for butts, breasts (men love them in every shape and size because it’s the cleave that is most attractive), and legs.
What Women Look At Most
The Definitive Book of Body Language says something you are probably familiar with: women prefer men with deeper, smoother voices because deep tones are linked to testosterone levels. Pease adds that in countries where feminism has been more influential women have taken jobs requiring more testosterone production and have become more assertive and authoritative and their voices deepened as well. He adds he hopes his hairy chest won’t follow suit.
40% of women prefer butts, legs, and chests/arms to be equally split.
Broad shoulders, muscular chest, and arms, and a tight butt are preferred. Up to a certain point though, most women don’t like the muscle man bodybuilder type.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that a tight butt is preferred because it helps to make the strong, forward motions needed for successful sperm transfer during sex.
Availability Beats Looks
The authors say that a man is often more attracted to a woman by the signs of her availability than by her physical attractiveness and you can learn and practice availability signals.
Indeed, Pease says, studies show that most people are skeptical about beautiful people and it appears to be inborn as babies prefer average faces to very beautiful ones.
And we prefer mates who are roughly as attractive as we are (which means they’re more likely to stay and not go look for someone else).
Cold People Are Actually Colder
People who are described as cold tend to be physically colder too because their blood flows to legs and arm muscles for the fight or flight response. When one person is attracted to another blood rises to the skin surface making them warmer.
Ownership, Territory & Height Signals
Humans lean against objects and other people to show ownership and stake a territorial claim.
If the object we lean against or touch belongs to someone else it can also be used as an intimidation sign or as a challenge.
Leaning against the doorway of someone else’s office or sitting in his chair can also be an intimidation ploy.
A boss speaking to a subordinate in his own office could put his feet on the desk, but if his superior enters his office he is more likely to change that position, and might for example place a foot on the bottom drawer of the desk.
Lovers hold hands or put their arms around each other to show wanna-be competitors they have a claim on that person.
Height / Size
Barbara and Allan Pease say that people make themselves smaller to show deference.
Taller men tend to have greater reproductive success because height is linked to testosterone and because women tend to choose taller partners. Men prefer shorter women because it gives them a height advantage.
On the screen, we tend to assigner height centimeters based on the power and authority of their presentation.
This is why, Pease says, many short actors or politicians do well on the screen: they simply act tall.
I honestly see no point and no merit here in Pease’s assertion of “acting tall”.
Behavior is yes somewhat related to height, but so loosely that there’s no such thing as “tall behavior”.
Also, you act the way you need to act independently of your height. As a matter of fact, a short man acting powerfully is even more impressive and a taller man acting submissive is more striking.
Just look at Joe Pesci doing it:
Powerful performances or impressive titles all lead to you being perceived as taller.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that if you want to test the authority that comes with height lie down on the floor and try to reprimand someone standing. Then try the opposite.
I feel this “test” is preposterous as nobody deals with each other while lying down.
If you really wanted to try something similar, then you should stand on your knees. But even then, it’s not very popular as you can’t move around freely. You should just try to reprimand someone taller than you, as simple as that.
Very tall people can have a disadvantage when they want to connect with people shorter than they are.
tall salesman found out that delivering sales presentations while seated increased his sales substantially (a whopping 62%).
To sum it up, to fully quote Barbara and Allan Pease, height differences can have a significant impact on relationships, but height and power are often just perceptions.
Lowering Body & Raising Status
Barbara and Allan Pease say that slouching down in a chair can raise your status.
If the owner of the place is standing and you slouch down the complete informality on someone else’s territory communicates a dominant or aggressive attitude.
People tend to be superior and protective when in their territory, especially their own home, so using submissive gestures and behavior is effective for getting them on your side.
The authors say you can also make yourself avoid intimidating others or avoid coming across as confrontational. Pease uses the example of appeasing the cops who pulled you over for a ticket by playing the victim.
It’s an extremely interesting example -albeit a bit slimy- for which I invite you to read the book.
Basically, the idea is to show that you’re not a threat and encourage him to take the role of the reprimanding parent, in which case he may decide to give you a reprimand without a ticket, says Pease, up to 50% of the time.
I have used this technique twice, both times very successfully, but I wished he had added “the other option is to just be a (wo)man, take it in stride, and pay your ticket”.
Also check: how to avoid a speeding ticket.
Negating Height Power
Barbara and Allan Pease say that If you are shorter, you can create a sitting situation that will neutralize the height of the other negotiators in the room by lowering their chairs or raising yours –as was suggested by Leil Lowndes-.
Sitting at the opposite side of a desk or talking to them standing while they are seated are also good techniques.
Talking in public settings such as bars or crowds, or in a car or plane also limits the tactics of taller speaking partners.
Looking outside of a window as they speak gives the impression you are giving deep thoughts to the discussion also even the field as height advantage doesn’t exist when you’re not looking at them.
To appear taller, dark-colored clothing, pinstriped suits or pants suits, and full sizes watches make you look taller.
About the watch, the idea is that the bigger the watch the more clout the person appears to have.
This was for me one of the most interesting chapters of The Definitive Book of Body Language because it opened some new doors of understanding.
How you sit in relation to others is an important tell of relationships statuses and a powerful way to gain cooperation. It’s very impactful and should never be left to chance.
- Corner Position: when both of you are standing by the corner of the table it’s used by people in friendly and casual conversation and it avoids territorial division of the table. The corner of the desk provides a smaller cover. Pease says this is the best position to deliver a presentation.
- Cooperative Position: sitting by the same side of the table. it’s a great position for presenting your case and having it accepted as it’s a cooperative seating position one can have. The trick is to sit in this position without the other person feeling like you invaded his territory
- Independent Position: each person is sitting at the corner, facing each other but both at the opposite end of the table, and it’s used when people don’t want to interact with each other
- Competitive / Defensive: the two face each other frontally with the table in between. The table becomes a solid barrier between the two and it can lead to each party taking a first stand on his point of view.
A competitive/defensive position can really make a huge difference, often a negative difference.
People speak in shorter sentences in this position, can recall less of what was said, and are more likely to argue.
An experiment showed that in patient-doctor relationships only 10% were at ease when sitting in the defensive position against 55% when the desk was not present.
Many managers unluckily prefer the desk. 76% of senior managers preferred the desk and 50% of lower managers did. Male managers were twice as likely to place a desk between themselves and their subordinates.
The person sitting to your right tends to be more cooperative than the one to your left.
Keeping 3 People Involved
If you’re sitting at a table with two people and one is asking all the question when the third one mostly stay silent it’s a good idea to still involve both of them.
Pease and Pease recommend that you look at the question asker as you begin to reply, then turn your head back to the silent person and keep going back and forth as you speak. You then finish looking at the question asker.
Rectangular Board Tables
The person sitting at the shorter edge of the table, the farthest from the door, is the one with the most power.
The person right in front of him across the table is next in line. Then the person in the middle of the long edge of the table. Then the person to the right of the leader.
Power Plays at Home
Open families tend to go for round tables, while closed families prefer square tables.
Authoritative families go for rectangular tables. Placing the shiest person at the head of the table will often lead that person to talk more and even more authoritatively.
Audiences and Sales
Barbara and Allan Pease say that if you want someone to pay attention to what you’re saying you should sit them in the front row.
When you’re having a business dinner or lunch it’s best to complete the business talk before the food arrives.
Let your prospect sit with the back against a solid wall because open spaces make people uncomfortable. Sitting with the person’s back towards the door or a ground-floor window also increases the tension.
Lights should be dimmed and muffled background music should be played to relax the senses.
If you’re selling in the defensive seating you can try to place a paper in the middle of the table.
If the prospect picks it up and moves it into his territory it signals acceptance and you can ask to go over to show him something so that you can take the collaborative approach. But if he pushes the paper back to you don’t encroach his personal space.
Interviews, Office Politics & Power Plays
Barbara and Allan Pease say that most job interviews are not productive.
Studies show indeed we tend to hire the person we like the most, not the one who’s best for the job.
Pease says that the best stuff from the CV, what really matters, is forgotten.
Seth Godin advice you don’t make a CV at all.
The impression in the first 15 seconds was strikingly similar to the overall impression at the end of the interview.
And that’s another striking proof that you don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression.
Linguistics, Nonverbals, and Status
There’s a direct relationship between the vocabulary range (and relative clarity of communication) and the status and power people command.
The higher up the person is, the fewer nonverbal gesture he will use because he can use words to convey meaning.
Less educated and less verbally accurate people will use more gestures to communicate as he tries to make up for their vocabulary range.
Barbara and Allan Pease say that James Bond uses minimal body gestures, especially when under pressure.
High-status people tend to keep their cool by revealing as little emotions as possible.
Actors such as Jim Carrey play highly animated roles, and they’re usually powerless, intimidated men.
Golden Keys to Making Great First Impression
- In The Reception: remove outerwear and avoid entering with your arms full of stuff that can make you look inept. Stand in the reception area with Hand in Hand behind your back or the steeple and slowly rock back and forth on your feet. Never sit.
- Entry: when the receptionist told you can go in, enter without hesitation keeping the same speed (people lacking confidence change gears and perform a small shuffle as they enter)
- Approach: even if he’s doing something, put down your briefcase, shake his hand, and immediately take a seat, showing that you don’t expect to be kept waiting.
- Handshake: palm straight and match the pressure. Let him decide when to end the handshake
- Sitting: if you have to sit in a low chair directly facing him, turn the chair 45 degrees so that you’re not in the reprimand position, and if you can’t turn the chair turn your body. Avoid low-sinking sofas and sit on the sofa’s edge if needed
- Gestures: cool people in control of their emotions use clear and deliberate gestures. High-status individuals use fewer gestures than low-status individuals: people with power don’t have to move much. Mirror the other person when appropriate
- Exit: pack your things calmly and deliberately, shake hands, and walk out. If you’re a woman turn around before you leave the room and smile so the last impression will be your smile and not your rear
When Someone Keeps You Waiting
Barbara and Allan Pease say that if someone keeps you waiting for more than twenty minutes they’re either disorganized or it’s a power move.
Letting you wait reduces your status and enhances the status of the person making you wait.
Always bring an ebook or laptop with you and start working. When the person arrives let them speak first, lift your head slowly and greet them, then pack smoothly.
If they call you, you might even say you’ll be there in a second you just need to finish something.
Another option is to make all the phone calls you had to do.
The message is that you’re a busy person and are not going to lose time because of their disorganization -or power games-.
If the other person takes a call during the meeting or someone enters and starts talking to your interviewer for a long time, take out your notebook and start reading. It gives them privacy and demonstrates you don’t waste your time. If you feel he’s doing it on purpose take out your phone and do your calls.
Read more about this on What to Do When Someone Makes You Wait here:
- Keep your fingers together: open fingers and hands above the chin is perceived as less powerful, so keep your fingers together and hands below the chin level
- Elbows Out: sitting on the chair keep your elbows on the armrest
- Watch Coat Buttons: more agreements are reached when people have their coats unbuttoned
Chairs and Accessories
The higher the back of the chair the more power and status it bestows upon the person sitting there. Swivel chairs have more power as they give more freedom of movement.
The farther away the visitor is placed from the interviewer, the lower the power.
Barbara and Allan Pease give a few fantastic examples of how to give feedback to a subordinate.
They say you face dead-on for direct answers, 45 degrees for more personal questions to take the pressure off.
They also present a case study of how they re-arranged an office to improve a manager’s relationship with his employees.
Some Childish (Sexual) Jokes
A lot of childish jokes such as “how to tell if a politician is lying: his lips are moving”, or a Chirac picture with his hands far apart and the caption “measuring the size of an issue or boasting about his love life?”.
Jumping to (Unfounded) Conclusions
The author refers to Hitler more than once. One comment portrays Hitler putting an arm in front of his “lonely testicle” because he felt at odds with his sexuality.
Albeit that might certainly be true I’m not sure how the author can be certain that was the case.
Allan Pease also says that a candidate he advised won the election after he suggested he shorten his lectern, look straight at the camera and have the camera shoot his film from below.
Pease implies that was proof that people don’t vote based on debates but on who looks best suited to be the leader.
That’s some really bad critical thinking there.
A few of the research he ran were good for anecdotal evidence, but not scientific.
Pease wanted to prove the theory that a man needs to be “1.09 times taller” than a woman for a successful relationship.
So he picks some random couples respecting the 1.09 ratio that are still together and some that don’t abide by the ratio and aren’t together anymore.
That makes no sense.
Random Paragraph Names
Some paragraphs’ names don’t reflect the content, and paragraph structures are not neatly arranged.
Sometimes information about X was under paragraph Y, or sometimes summaries introduced new topics.
The Definitive Book of Body Language is one of the best books on body language available.
And learning the basics of body language is crucial to understand social power dynamics and getting good with people.