How To Read Body Language And Better Your Social Skills

Updated January 19, 2023by ReGain Editorial Team

Body language and social skills are inextricably connected; those who can read body language signals effectively are also adept at using body language. This skill is an invaluable tool in every social situation. Body language signals provide information about others in your immediate social situation, and the information can be used to navigate and interact effectively. It has been said that some people have something called animal magnetism, charm, or charisma, these people have mastered reading and using body language signals, and anyone can achieve the same.

It would be great to use body language signals to achieve anything the heart desires, but it is not magic. You don't have to be born with a special innate ability to read people, gestures are a real language, and they can be taught. Those who are good at reading and using body language signals to communicate may seem to be born with the ability. Still, they have probably gained the ability in childhood by watching and interacting with their own family.

Learning to read body language signals requires paying attention to those around you; you can learn a lot just by watching people interact at work, at parties, and even while shopping. Body language signals can be as subtle as a slight smirk or as obvious as an eye roll. Noticing the behaviors and reactions of others in any given social situation will reveal much different body language that others use regularly.

What Is Body Language?

Body language signals are a non-verbal form of communication using physical movements and behaviors rather than words. The expressions and postures used in body language can understand how others feel about a situation and the people. Facial expressions and posture are considered body language signals. Recognizing these expressions and postures as a cue to how someone feels can change the whole dynamic. In either case, some use these to know how to read mens body language.

When someone smiles, everyone recognizes it as a welcoming, happy expression, but what if that person smiles to be polite but not happy about the situation? Reading body language signals involves more than an obvious facial expression; how that person is standing about others in the conversation, their posture and their eyes can tell you more about that smile.

Many body language signals are not conscious, slight changes in facial expressions and posture can be telling about how someone feels, and they may not even realize they are giving away their thoughts. The tone of someone's voice and involuntary muscle movements are also considered body language signals; detectives even use knowledge of these involuntary language cues to help them read situations and people during investigations.

How To Read And Use Body Language

The best way to learn how to read body language is to learn the common gestures, expressions, and postures and then recognize them in real social situations. You may not be good at it right off the bat, but it will become a second language with a little patience. Knowledge of body language signals will also help you control your own body language signals and enhance your social interactions.

The following is a list of postures and gestures and corresponding body language meanings:

  • Standing or sitting erect - Confidence
  • Hands up with palms out - innocence, submission, honesty, and respect
  • Ear tugging - indecisive, trying to decide
  • Looking down and away - shame or guilt
  • Hands-on the hips - alert, readiness, may signify aggression
  • Arms folded across the chest - disagreement, defensiveness
  • Tapping or drumming fingers - impatience, anxiety
  • Touching the nose - lying, rejection, disagreement
  • Rubbing hands together - excitement, eagerness
  • Hands-on the head - upset, ashamed, guilt, bored
  • Nodding of the head - agreement
  • Crossed ankles - nervous, anxious, apprehensive
  • Head lowered - shame, shyness, avoidance
  • Shifting weight - intimidation, fear, impatient, anxious
  • Sitting with legs apart - relaxed and open
  • Shoulders hunched - dejection
  • Rubbing the eyes - doubt
  • Hands behind the back - apprehension, anger, frustrated
  • Fast head tilt - curiosity, interested
  • Long head tilt - bored
  • Open palms - sincere, open-minded, innocent
  • Sitting with crossed legs kicking one foot - bored
  • Touching hair - insecure, lack of confidence
  • Nail-biting - insecure, nervousness
  • Touching or stroking the chin - deciding, ruminating
  • Pinching the bridge of the nose - disagreement, negative evaluation

Interpreting Facial Expressions

This list of gestures is only part of the whole picture; there are more subcategories to body language signals. Oculesics is the study of communicating with the eyes. Non-verbal communication with the eyes is a subtle form of body language signals with many facets of understanding. It is said that both humans and animals use oculesics to communicate non-verbally; a simple example of this occurs when an individual darts their eyes away quickly, others will look in the same direction, this communicates "look here."

Here is a list used for interpreting the eyes using oculesic's:

  • Eyes down - shame or guilt
  • Eyes dancing/sparkly and wrinkled in the corners - happy, excited
  • Dilated pupils and eyes wide open - the desire
  • Moist, damp eyes - anxiety, nervousness
  • Eyes darting away fast - disgust
  • Eyes staring/intense and wide open - anger
  • Eyes glaring - envy
  • Eyes wide open and looking down - fear
  • Eyes glazed and moist - pity
  • Eyes wide open with eyebrows arched - surprise
  • Squinting with an intense gaze - interest, curiosity

Interpreting body language signals, also known as Kinesics, involves interpreting facial expressions and postures. Here is a list of common facial expressions and their potential meanings:

  • Raising one eyebrow - confusion, doubt
  • Eyes down with a slight frown - guilt, shame
  • Eyes fixed - concentration, focus
  • Eyebrows raised with eyes half-open - tired, weariness
  • Head lowered with eyebrows tightly knit, and eyelids taut - anger, aggression
  • Head to one side with lips apart or pursed and eyes fixed on someone - flirtatious, seductive
  • The outer edge of eyebrows lowered with a frown - sad
  • Nose scrunched, eyebrows scrunched, lip pulled up - disgust
  • Lips smiling, eye wrinkles at the corners - happiness
  • Wide eyes and eyebrows arched high - fear, surprise

Micro Expressions And Their Meanings

Microexpressions are facial expressions that occur very quickly then disappear. A microexpression is involuntary and shows an individual's emotion/emotional reaction for a moment. Microexpressions are not easy to fake; they occur quickly, usually in about 1/15 to 1/25 of a second, faking them next to impossible. It may be difficult to recognize microexpressions unless you are looking for them.

Here is a list of micro-expressions and what they mean:

  • The upper lid of the eyes and lower lip is raised, the nose wrinkles, and cheeks raised - disgust, reaction to something smelly
  • Eyebrows raised and arched, skin taut on lower eyelids, wrinkled forehead, white of the eyes visible above and below the iris, jaw open teeth parted - surprise
  • Wrinkles in center of the forehead, eyebrows up and flat across, upper eyelid raised with lower lid taut, white visible above the iris not below, mouth open and lips pulled back and taunted - fear
  • Vertical wrinkles between the eyebrows, eyebrows taunt and pulled together in the center, lower eyelid tenses, eyes tense and focused, lips drew tight and the corners down, lower jaw slightly forward - anger, aggression
  • Lips smile with corners up, wrinkles in the corner of the eyes with cheeks pulled up, wrinkle appears from the lower part of the nose to the corner of the lip - happiness
  • The inner corner of the eyebrows drawn in and the outer part down, inner corner of the eyes pulled up, and the skin taut, corners of the lips are down, the jaw is pulled up, and the lower lip juts out in a pout - sadness
  • One side of the mouth drawn up - hate

Practicing And Using Body Language Signals To Better Your Social Skills

The best way to practice body language signals is to mimic the posture, gesture, and facial expression in a full-length mirror. Using a mirror will help you control your body language signals and use it to express what you want when you want. Confident body language is a key factor in establishing a positive impression. This practice technique will help you recognize body language signals from others and recognize your postures, gestures, and facial expressions.

You can practice micro expressions in a mirror too. If you practice making them enough, you will eventually be able to recognize them in others. You can also lookup images of micro-expressions on the internet and use them to help you recognize them.

You will not control microexpressions, but you can learn to control your posture, gestures, and facial expressions. Mastering body language signals will help you eliminate unwanted postures, expressions, or gestures from ruining your first impression or interfering in social situations. You can use body language signals to put people at ease during meetings, appear interested and curious when conversations get boring, and generally improve your social interactions in all situations.

Everyone can benefit from learning to read body language. Reading body language signals can help you save social interactions that are becoming awkward or boring. This skill can also help you improve your social skills by recognizing body language signals that show someone is ready to leave, in a hurry, un-interested, or intimidated. The more you know, the easier it is to use this skill; eventually, it will become second nature, and your social skills will improve naturally.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are social skills?

Social skills are the facial expressions, body language, social cues, and other body language communication skills that we use daily to interact with other people, like family, friends, and colleagues. The importance of body language, social skills, and the ability to read social cues cannot be understated. 

Not only do social skills help us communicate with other people more effectively and efficiently, but they can help us grow as people and establish networking skills to benefit our careers. Indeed, the employment platform includes a wonderful write-up in which they explain the importance of social skills such as facial expressions, body language, social cues, and other intangible interpersonal skills in both a personal and professional sense. 

Can social skills be learned?

Social skills are not necessarily something that a person is born with; rather, people learn to understand body language, read social cues, try reading body language, and continue learning from social interferences. Essentially, social skills result from someone learning from their experiences on properly conveying themselves in a public or personal setting and applying those lessons going forward.

There are a wide variety of social skills that people can learn over the course of their life. Skills such as understanding the body language of different people are something that an individual will likely learn more about throughout their life instead of immediately getting the concept. Throughout the learning process, people may stumble into social interferences. These may include incorrectly reading social cues, not playing their cards, social skills right when talking with someone or giving a speech, or not reading body language gestures properly.

However, you are not defined by your successes or failures. The only true failure is giving up after experiencing awkward social interferences. You can review your mistakes and try something new in another social interaction that may help you in playing your cards, social skills right the next time.

For instance, you can try listening to others and allowing them to express their interests with excitement and unabashed enthusiasm. By showing interest and making these connections with various people, you play your cards and social skills correctly and learn from these experiences.  

How long does it take to develop social skills?

Everyone learns about social skills at a different pace. People constantly discover new social cues, experience many social interferences, and read body language that may mean different things. The best part is that you are not alone in endeavoring to fully develop your social skills. 

Please think of the most confident person you know in your life, which could be someone who seems to know what they are doing at every step and turn. You may find yourself looking up to them and thinking that they understand social skills perfectly. However, they likely only gained that level of confidence after undergoing several social interferences or mishaps themselves. In learning more about reading body language and listening to other people, people used their newfound social skills to develop their own personalities. 

Of course, they probably are still working on their social skills like everyone; it is never truly finished since there is always more to learn and different kinds of people with whom one can interact. This means that you can also reach a similar level of confidence by understanding who you are and how you interact with other people. There is a fine line between comparing yourself with others and feeling hopeless compared to another confident person. By going through your own social interferences, you can learn what makes you an awesome, unique person. Above all else, discovering who you really are as a person is a fundamental step in learning more about social skills.   

What body language shows confidence?

You can show your confidence in many different ways through body language. A few key components of confident body language that one can be mindful of are trying to assume a stance that shows your satisfaction with yourself, like a power pose. These could include:

  • Remaining still
    • While anxious people typically move and jitter frequently, confident people try to be motionless in their postures. For example, you can try holding your head still and keep it in one place. Other instances may involve standing in one place by balancing your weight evenly. 
  • Confidently knowing your next action.
    • You can try assuming body language that shows your level of decisiveness. Some examples include greeting people by looking them in the eye and smiling while keeping your body relaxed. One more instance is when you shake someone’s hand, try to have a firm and steady handshake while locking eyes with the other person. This shows that you are easy to talk to and comfortable to be around. 

How can I improve my body language skills?

You can improve your body language skills through trial and error. By reading body language exhibited by others, you can incorporate positive body language more effectively into your daily life while avoiding negative examples.

Of course, you probably won't have perfect body language after improving it over a short period of time. In fact, even the most confident people do not possess perfect body language. Even during social interferences, it is all about knowing how to learn from your failures. Try not to take yourself too seriously as you are learning, and be patient as you try to understand the many nuances of social interaction.

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