Body language: Notes on the images

Last updated: Tuesday, September 20, 2022

In the first image, the person you are interacting with has her hands and legs folded, and she is looking away from you. This suggests that she is defensive, negative, and isn't interested or doesn't like what you're saying.

What can you do about it? You could encourage her to voice her concerns using open questions to show that you're interested in her point of view: "Is there anything about this that could cause us problems?" or "I can see you have some concerns; can we talk about them?" Using someone's name is often a good way to re-engage them: "Sarah, I'm not sure we've got this quite right – have you got any suggestions?"

We should always be wary of getting body language wrong. Is there an alternative explanation for her stance? Perhaps there is. People fold their arms and legs when they are cold! Also, people can tend to copy each other's body language, so have you got your arms and legs folded? Is she copying your 'negative' stance? Why not open up and see if she does the same? Try crossing and then uncrossing your arms periodically when in conversation with someone and see if they follow your lead. 

In the second image, the man seems to find you exasperating. Eyes raised skywards, and hands on hips in a fairly assertive or defiant gesture. He seems to be saying: "I've heard it all before!" or "I can't believe we're even discussing this!" What can you do? Try using a calm and even voice, with open palms and good eye contact. You could use similar open questioning to engage him as in the first example. 

Depending on the situation you may need to focus the conversation so he can see how it is relevant to him, or how it is in his best interests to interact: "If we get this right, we'll make things safer for patients don't you think?" or "We can build on the work you've already done, if you'd like to be part of it?"

Is there an alternative explanation for his posture? Possibly. Perhaps it's not what you're saying that's the problem – he may have other things on his mind. Maybe he's very busy or in a hurry to get somewhere and the conversation with you is delaying him. If so, you could suggest postponing the conversation: "Would it be better to talk about this when we've both got more time? How about 4pm?"

In the final picture, the man seems more interested in his mobile phone than in you. He clearly isn't paying attention. You can perhaps say something like: "Shall I come back?" Another option is to say "Did you just want to finish with your phone first?" and then stand and watch him. A more assertive approach would be something like: "I need to speak to you - when you've finished with your phone". You can also try to distract him – hand him a piece of paper or show him a computer screen: "Have you seen this?"

However, there may be other reasons for his behaviour. Maybe he's worried because he's expecting an important text or call about an appointment or a family member who's unwell.