How To Read Body Language And Improve Your Social Skills

Updated April 4, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Wondering how to improve your communication and social skills?

Body language and social skills are inextricably connected; those who can read body language signals effectively are also adept at using body language. Being able to understand someone else’s nonverbal cues and communicate without words is an invaluable tool in most social situations. Body language signals provide information about others in your immediate social bubble, and the information can be used to navigate and interact effectively. 

You do not have to be born with a special innate ability to read people. You simply need to learn how to improve your ability to communicate and interpret other people’s body language.  

Learning to read these signals, including gestures, facial expressions, and body positioning, requires paying attention to those around you. Body language signals can be as subtle as a slight smirk or as obvious as an eye roll. If you consistently are feeling awkward in social situations or are unable to understand non-verbal social cues, read on. This article will define body language and give you strategies to help you feel more comfortable socially while improving your nonverbal vocabulary to build confidence and social skills. 

What is body language?

Body language signals are a non-verbal form of communication using physical movements and behaviors rather than words. According to the American Psychological Association, it is used to express feelings and thoughts through gesture, posture, facial expressions, and other non-verbal movements. These expressions and postures hint to how someone else is feeling about a situation or people with whom they are interacting. 

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 of the conversation. For example, someone may use cues these to understand how to read men’s body language.

Most people recognize that a person smiling is 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. You can also consider how the person’s body is positioned in relation to others in the conversation, the gestures they are using, and their eyes to interpret their feelings beyond a surface 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 . If you find that it is difficult to understand at first, know it will become a second language with a little patience. You can be encouraged to continue knowing that this knowledge will also help you control your own body language signals and enhance your social interactions. The following lists will help you increase this vocabulary. You can start your practice of understanding body language by observing these non-verbal signals interacting with other people. 

Interpreting postures and gestures

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

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Interpreting facial expressions 

The previous list of gestures is only part of the whole picture; there are more subcategories to body language signals. For example, 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 oculesics:

  • Eyes down - shame or guilt
  • Eyes dancing/sparkly and wrinkled in the corners - happy, excited
  • Dilated pupils and eyes wide open - 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  for a moment. Microexpression occur quickly, usually in about 1/15 to 1/25 of a second, so faking them is 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 mentioned in this article in a full-length mirror. You can also practice self-awareness when speaking with other people, especially in larger social gatherings. Pay attention to your gestures and body postures, but not to the extreme. You don’t want to make yourself feel even more uncomfortable in social situations. Simply, take a moment to reflect on your body language and continue your natural communication.   

You can identify your microexpressions in a mirror too. If you observe yourself often, you will eventually be able to recognize them in others. You can also look up images of microexpressions on the internet and use them to help you recognize them.

You will not be able to 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.

By observing yourself you may begin to notice nuances of your body language that you were previously unaware of. For example, you may notice you have the tendency to slouch your shoulders are touch your hair when you are talking. This observed knowledge will help you to control your body language signals and use it to express yourself completely and without discomfort.  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.

Seeking professional advice

Learning how to communicate and interpret other people’s body language is an important social skill, however, many people may not understand the subtlety of this non-verbal form of communication. If you do not feel confident in social situations or want to improve your communications skills, you can speak with a professional about your concerns. A counselor can help you uncover the reasons behind your confidence issues and why you have a difficult time interpreting body language. Your therapist can also guide you through a step-by-step process that builds your communication skills and help you to speak with others socially from your authentic self. 

You can also consider meeting with a relationship counselor if you are miscommunicating with your significant other or any other person close to you. People often misinterpret someone else’s body language in an intense discussion or argument. A relationship counselor is trained in helping people come to an understanding and learn to see each other’s perspective. 

Often, a person who does not feel comfortable in social situations may also hesitate in meeting new people, especially a mental health therapist. If you can relate, consider online therapy. In virtual sessions, you can meet with a therapist with whom you feel trust in the comfort of your own home. Research has shown online therapy to be highly beneficial for people managing social anxiety - an underlying disorder that can interfere with your ability to socialize naturally. For example, a study published in Cogent Psychology examined the effectiveness of online therapy for people managing social anxiety disorder. The participants reported that therapy helped to greatly improve their anxiety symptoms and felt highly satisfied with the virtual mode of treatment delivery.  If this seems like a right fit for you, visit Regain to connect with a professional counselor who can help you improve your communication skills and build up your confidence.


Reading body language signals can help you save social interactions that are becoming awkward or boring. It 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.

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