When we talk about communication, we usually think first of verbal language (whether oral or written) as a means of expressing ideas, feelings, intentions and emotions. The messages conveyed in this way are almost always fully conscious and voluntary, controlling and choosing both what we say and what we do not say.
However, we must bear in mind that everything, and not just the verbal, is communicative: from distances to posture, through gestures, transmits information. This is part of non-verbal language .
And we do not have the same control in all of these aspects: for example, although we may consciously use gestures during our speech, we also continually make unconscious and unintentional body expressions and gestures, which may give away our thoughts, feelings or even elements of our personality without meaning to. As an example, in this article we are going to see a series of gestures that betray us , letting us see aspects of ourselves in an unconscious way.
The main types of language
As we have seen, every act and even the absence of it is communicative. When evaluating a communicative exchange between two or more people we usually take into account two types of language: verbal and non-verbal.
Verbal language would refer to the verbal or written communication through the use of the word as symbolic element of representation of the information , being the content of the message what is relevant.
As far as non-verbal language is concerned, it integrates the set of elements through which we transmit information regardless of the verbal content we are expressing or not. Non-verbal language is in turn made up of proxemic, paraverbal and kinesic language.
The proxemic is the use of distance as a communicative element, and paraverbal language is configured by the set of qualities of the voice or the use of the word that do not refer to the content but to the format such as intonation or volume used. With regard to kinesic or kinesic language, it integrates the set of movements, gestures, expressions and postures that we carry out during the communicative act and that are capable of transmitting information, being able to modulate the perception, sense and interpretation of the message.
A dozen gestures that give you away
There are many gestures we make throughout the day, often being employed on a voluntary basis. However, we are not so accustomed to controlling our expressions and even often we do not realize that we are carrying them out, letting parts of our psyche or ways of taking interaction with the other one unconsciously become apparent. Some gestures are uncontrollable and cannot be forced in a natural way. But others can be changed if we realize and get used to performing them or stop performing them.
We will now show a dozen gestures that betray us in our interactions, as well as their general meaning. However, we have to take into account that each person is a world and the same gesture can have very different interpretations depending on the personality or the postural habits of the person making it, or on the situation.
Thus, although the gestures we are going to mention often have a concrete meaning, seeing a person perform a certain gesture does not necessarily imply that they are feeling a particular emotion, expressing a particular personality trait or reacting in a specific way to the communicative exchange.
1. Arms crossed over chest
An easily visible classic, this gesture is often used in case of anger or impatience towards another person or situation. However, it is also established as a gesture that implies the need to establish a separation or barrier between us and the other , either out of insecurity or even disinterest.
If deemed necessary, this gesture can easily be avoided on a physical level, although it may be useful to work on frustration tolerance or training to promote self-confidence.
2. Arms in jars
Holding our hips in our hands can have two basic, largely conflicting meanings. The first of these, and probably the best known, is that associated with the existence of rage or impatience, while on the other hand it can also indicate a lack of security that makes us try to make ourselves bigger in the face of the observation of others .
In fact, both interpretations have something in common: they are linked to the adoption of a defensive posture and to showing security, making us more visible both from a more aggressive perspective and as a method of trying to protect ourselves.
The way to avoid making this gesture is first of all to listen to oneself and understand our emotional reaction to circumstances or people , looking for an alternative or solution to what generates the need to make it.
One of the possible gestures that betray us since they can give more information than intended is when we give or someone shakes our hand. Although it is a type of conscious movement, it includes aspects that can escape control, such as the level of force applied or whether or not it is accompanied by other types of physical contact.
A contact without force or with only the fingers usually expresses little confidence and security in oneself, nervousness , rejection or a lack of interest in one’s own interaction.
On the contrary, a too strong grip can transmit the idea of wanting to subjugate the other , assuming a dominant and aggressive posture although it can also make one see security and assertiveness. If we add another contact, such as grasping the forearm with the other hand, we may be suggesting either a desire for closeness or an attempt to exercise control over the situation or interaction. Nervousness can also be expressed in the form of sweating.
Ideally, you should try to control your nerves before you shake hands, as well as rehearsing with others the level of strength to be put into the grip, which should be firm and decisive but gentle enough not to be aggressive. If you sweat, it may be advisable to dry your hands before shaking them in a natural and inconspicuous way (e.g. by squeezing them against your trousers).
4. Shoulder orientation
We often don’t realize how expressive parts like shoulders can be. Their orientation and inclination towards the other usually suggests an interest (regardless of what kind of interest) in the person you are interacting with or in what you are telling us. In contrast, if you point your shoulders sideways or backwards you may be indicating indifference, disinterest or boredom.
In this sense, the knowledge of this fact and the correction of the posture can be controlled if we are aware of it, projecting the shoulders at convenience or maintaining the same posture during the whole interaction.
5. Swelling the chest
Swelling the chest is a gesture that may be unconscious and may reflect an attempt to appear larger, being used as a gesture to try to impress or show strength. It can be a defensive or even aggressive gesture.
In another context, in both men and women, and regardless of sexual orientation, the fact of breast swelling is used at an unconscious level in front of people we find stimulating and attractive . In this sense, men inflate their breasts to show power and increase their figure, while women tend to look for positions that highlight their breasts.
If we do not want to show this interest and the gesture is unconscious it will not be possible to stop it, but it is possible to do training in muscular tension and breathing that will facilitate scanning and awareness of the gesture.
6. Avoiding the gaze
Avoiding our interlocutor’s gaze is usually a symptom of nervousness, and is one of the gestures that betray us in different situations. This nervousness can come from different types of situations and emotions: it is common for people who lie to deviate their gaze, but also can be caused by shyness or feeling overwhelmed by the other , by discomfort or even by feeling attracted to our interlocutor.
The alternative is to try to keep your eyes for a reasonable time, blinking regularly (the absence of blinking is usually associated with aggression or an attempt at concealment) but without excess. However this is very difficult to control .
- You might be interested: “Why is it sometimes hard to look someone in the eye?”
7. Cover your mouth when you smile
This gesture is usually a sign of shyness, embarrassment and insecurity, or an attempt to hide a reaction that might be bad for the other person or that we simply didn’t want to be perceived.
If you do not want to project an image of shyness or vulnerability, it is recommended that you try to control the act of covering yourself and show the smile in a direct way .
8. Scratching your ear
Although obviously scratching the ear can be the product of different types of itching, in many cases this gesture is used unconsciously in situations that tire or bore us, and which we are waiting for to end. Sometimes the same can also be said of people who quickly scratch their beards .
Avoiding this type of gesture is difficult because a certain amount of real itching may occur, and you must control your hands and avoid bringing them close to your face.
9. Show palms
With regard to the palm of the hand, if it is offered and remains upwards and towards the interlocutor it is usually indicating openness and acceptance towards the other, respect or in other cases submission . At the opposite extreme, when in our gestures we offer the other person the back of our hand or protect our palm, we are expressing insecurity, a desire for separation or the hiding of feelings and/or authority.
The knowledge of this fact can make us consciously modify our usual gesture and we can get used to it.
10. Legs crossed inwards, supporting toes and not heels
Also when we sit down, the way we do it shows aspects of our personality. For example, sitting with your legs crossed and inwards (i.e. leaving your feet in line with your trunk) and in such a way that only your toes are in contact with the floor usually indicates shyness, submission and/or shame, being a defensive posture . Other postures, such as having your legs open and separated, imply extraversion and/or arrogance.
Thus, this type of gesture is usually linked to personality. However, it can also be acquired or modified based on the creation of new sitting habits. The ideal would be to maintain a relaxed and comfortable position, which does not load the legs and usually between the two cases mentioned above.
- Messinger, J. (2008). Ces gestes qui vous trahissent. First (Editions Generales).