Body Language: 5 Practical Skills That Will Launch You Forward

by Michael Pietrzak August 10, 2016

Body Language: 5 Practical Skills That Will Launch You Forward

For 5 weeks we look at 5 practical skills that will help you learn faster, and supercharge your personal and work life. Week 5 wraps it up with body language. 

(See week 4, Memory)


As long as I can remember, my parents were telling me to “sit up straight.” This was usually at the dinner table and I hated it. At 8 years old I saw it as a pointless custom from their European upbringing. I didn’t need to impress anyone while I was digesting.

In my early 20s I was newly single in an unfamiliar big city and I was determined to make new lady friends. I started reading about body language because someone told me that women dig this kind of thing, and I was more than willing to get over my childhood dinner traumas to go on a few more dates.

I learned that between 60 and 90 per cent of face-to-face communication is nonverbal. We interact mainly with body language, and even when we speak, a good portion of our meaning is wrapped up not in words, but our tone of voice.

What I learned I applied, and it worked almost immediately. Not only was I making more female friends but also seeing general gains in confidence, and a greater ability to read people. We all express and read body language intuitively – it’s hard wired in us from millions of years of evolution – but when make the unconscious conscious, relationships become easier and richer.

What is Body Language, Besides a Way to Meet Women? 

Any expressive gesture with our face, hands, feet, breathing, eyes, or any body part (mind out of the gutter!) is body language. It’s not a true language, but it is more powerful than words, even if the sender and receiver are mainly unconscious of the signals.

You will recognize this body language:

  • A smile, showing happiness.
  • Crossed arms, betraying a lack of openness to what’s being said.
  • A limp handshake, as a sign of insecurity.

 But body language can be much more subtle:

  • Touching one’s face, as a sign that he might be lying.
  • Others mirroring your gestures may signal great respect for you.
  • Someone who holds their drink next to their chest might be a heavy drinker.

Why is This Skill Important?

Unless you’re reading this from your cabin deep in the mountains, your success has a lot to do with how you fare in society. If up to 90% of you ability to communicate is nonverbal, would you agree that relationships will improve if you can become fluent in this subtle language?

Every human is incredibly complex, yet most of us form our opinion of someone within the first 90 seconds of a first meeting. If you can “speak body language”, not only can you give a better impression, but you can read people in a way that will produce better rapport. Here are some advantages:

Benefits of Reading Body Language

  • Notice when someone’s words and true meaning are out of line: If they tell you they have plenty of time to chat but keep moving away from you, they’re probably in a rush, and just being polite.

  • Know when someone is flirting with you: Men are notoriously oblivious to women’s advances because the acts are subtle. Many happy marriages never happened because the man wasn’t picking up her signals.

  • Sense when someone is lying: When lying, people often can’t make eye contact, or they move their eyes rapidly. They may put a hand in front of their mouth, turn their body away from you, or make weird gestures when speaking. Physiologically, they might start breathing faster, turn red, or start sweating. (Note: be careful, lying can look at lot like nervousness, and you’ll burn a relationship by accusing someone who’s telling the truth.) 

  • Be a better listener: The guy who can’t shut up is often shut out of social groups. If you know when to close your mouth and listen, people will see you as more trustworthy and kind, and more fun to be around.

  • Know if you have offended someone: Despite our best efforts, once in a while we jam a foot in our mouths, and sometimes the hurt party will walk away without saying anything, holding a vendetta for years, with you wondering why they never call anymore.

  • Get what you want: Get better at selling, making presentations, and negotiating. You’ll know when it’s time to ask for the sale or the promotion. Reading body language, you will see the drooping heads, glazed eyes, wandering glances, and aimless doodling that says you’re losing your audience. Only then can you get the meeting back on track.

Benefits of Being Aware of Your Own Body Language

  • Be seen as a leader: Your posture will be better, your voice stronger, and you will articulate. People will be more willing to do things for you.

  • Feel more confident: Walk tall and you’ll feel great; slouch around with your hands in your pockets and you won’t. Our bodies have a powerful effect on our moods.

  • Keep a secret if you need to: If you’re organizing a surprise party for your wife and she asks about it, you’ll be less likely to spill the beans. You’ll start cleaning up at poker night.

  • Know how you feel before you are conscious of it: Sometimes I notice I’m dragging my feet or my fists are clenched. If I catch this before I’ve registered being in a bad mood, I can deal with and release these feelings before they overflow, and avoid a lot of suffering.

  • Make a great first impression: If your words and your body language are in alignment, people will trust you. If you stand tall, move your arms with ease, and smile, people will hold you in higher esteem. You’ll seem more friendly and inviting, and people will want to associate with you.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Better at Reading Body Language

Like most of life, practice is the best teacher, but here are some things you can do right now to learn:

  1. Do some people watching: Sit at a coffee shop, in the mall, or on a busy street and just watch people interact. You may start to see familiar patterns, then unfamiliar gestures that require more study.

  2. Watch TV without the sound: We focus on words, but you can be sure that our brains are processing volumes of non-verbal info about posture, facial expressions and so on in the background of our conscious awareness. Get rid of the words and the body language becomes loud and clear.

  3. Read books on body language: There are many good ones out there. The ones with pictures are most valuable because, well, this whole skill is visual.

  4. Get mindful: You can’t pay attention if you’re not paying attention. If you want to read someone, shut off your internal monologue, and direct your full attention to the interaction at hand. Mediation is extremely helpful for building this habit.

  5. Learn the shorthand: Though body language doesn’t have “grammar” that will tell you the exact meaning of a gesture or a look, there are some patterns that hold true across gender, culture, and upbringing. Here’s a freebie: if a woman across a crowded bar turns her body to face you, she probably wants you to talk to her, even if she barely glances at you.

One warning on reading people: body language is not precise. You can never be sure what someone’s movements say. A person’s anger cues may relate to something that happened earlier in their day, not your interaction with them. Use body language as a guide, not a hard and fast signal.

Last Words Before You Head to the Mall to People Watch

My parents may have been traditional, but in this case the tradition they were relying on was millions of years of evolution. Don’t fight it; body language is a powerful tool.

You are already unconsciously communicating volumes with you body; you might as well know what you’re saying and how to use this gift your advantage. Thankfully this is one of the easiest skills in the world to learn if you practice, and in this case practice is a boatload of fun: getting out there and socializing with other human beings in this incredible world.

We’d love to hear your stories about body language. Share them in the comments below.


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Michael Pietrzak
Michael Pietrzak


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