Non-verbal Commuication

Much of our communication is accomplished through non-verbal behaviour.  We express feelings or attitudes by the gestures we utilize, and our determination of the meanings of others’ conversations with us is affected by our intuitive understanding of what their “body language” is saying.  A way of sharpening your perception of a transaction is to include conscious awareness of the other’s gestures.

The consistency, or the inconsistency, in the behaviour – cluster of emotions, attitudes, and gestures – is a means of revealing the genuineness of a person’s responses.

 Gestures: Openness, Defensiveness, Evaluation


  • Relaxed, open hands in a palms-up gesture (eg. Gesture of innocence or “My hands are clean”, “I’ve got nothing to hide” posture).
  • Hands on hip stance, relaxed but ready for action posture
  • Sitting on edge of chair indicates interest, readiness, open to negotiation
  • Moving in toward another while speaking confidently indicates an action or readiness attitude
  • Proud, erect stance and/or brisk, confident walk suggest self-confidence, competence, a win/win attitude towards life.
  • Absence of hand-to-head gestures which suggest doubt or uncertainty
  • “Steepling” or joining the fingertips in a church-steeple fashion indicates a sense of assurance, confidence, security
  • Other “confidence” gestures include:
    • Hands joined behind back and chest thrust forward (eg., Master Sergeant post)
    • Elevating oneself (“The King and I” – No one must have head higher than the King!)
    • Leaning back with hands supporting head “job accomplished” clucking sound


  • Arms crossed over chest, or forearms crossed with fingers gripping biceps
  • Sitting with one leg over the arm of a chair (eg., “Getting a leg up”) suggests un-cooperativeness, one-upmanship.
  • Sitting backwards in a chair, with the chair back serving as a shield, is often a posture of defense.
  • Sideways glances and failure to hold one’s gaze suggest suspicion or secretiveness.
  • Touching or slightly rubbing one’s nose, eye, or ear with index finger usually notes doubt or refusal.
  • Signs of frustration include:
    • Running one’s hands through one’s hair
    •  Bringing open palm to back of neck
    • Short, sharp breaths or deep inhalation
    • Kicking at the ground or some imaginary object
    • Tightly clenched hands or hand-wringing
  • Nervousness is suggested by:
    • Throat clearing
    • Some types of whistling
    • Fidgeting
    • Bringing hands to mouth or covering mouth while speaking
  • Attempts to maintain self-control or hold oneself in check are indicated by:
    • Locked ankles
    • Clenched hands
    • Holding one arm in the upper hand behind one’s back
    • Restraining an arm, gripping a wrist, gripping arms of a chair


  • Hand–to-cheek gestures, or chin in palm with index finger extended along check (“The Thinker” – Rodin) suggests thoughtfulness
  • Cocked or tilted head indicates interest
  • Chin or beard stroking is a sign of contemplation
  • Peering over the top of one’s glasses (eg. “Looking down one’s nose at…”) is usually considered an evaluative or judgmental gesture.
  • Gestures with glasses can suggest several things:
    • Removing glasses and carefully wiping the lenses is a method of stalling for time to think, or of procrastinating.
    • Pacing with glasses in hand or mouth is a decision-making ritual that should not be interrupted.
  • Pinching the bridge of the nose suggests thoughtfulness and concern
  • Boredom is suggested by:
    • Tapping feet or drumming fingers on a table
    • Head in hand with drooping eyes
    • Blank stare
    • Doodling
  • Acceptance of another is indicated by touching or decreasing the bodily distance between individuals.

The material adapted from “How to Read a Person Like a Book”    Gerald Nurenberg and Henry Calero

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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