Body Language - the secret language of flirting
Body language is a non-verbal means of communication that’s often more honest than talking. Although our postures and gestures are usually unconscious, knowing how to ‘read’ them can work like your personal radar when it comes to understanding what’s really going on. That’s why some people use them more deliberately than others: poker players, for example, who observe or ‘leak’ information about their cards; salespeople who try to use them to gain a business advantage, and would-be lovers who want a different kind of advantage.
Psychologist Voula Grand says, “In social situations, basic posture (macro behaviour) is obvious first. There’s a confident posture that we all recognise - standing straight, shoulders back, pelvis tilted slightly back, head held high and looking people straight in the eye - which is sexy rather than arrogant. It’s cool and relaxed rather than self-conscious or over-done, and very attractive. Think of it as Obama, rather than Trump. By contrast, when we see hunched shoulders and a dropped head, it looks submissive. We immediately recognise it without realising it. That’s why posture is often more important than the clothes we wear.”
We often notice postural changes when men and women walk past one another on the street. Slumped shoulders go up and back to display the chest, women exaggerate their hip roll, stomachs are sucked in, necks lengthen, and then it all slumps back once they’re past.
Across a crowded room we also employ smaller signals such as facial expressions and eye contact to signal interest in someone we like. These are micro gestures, some of which we’ve been learning since babyhood. As Voula says, “We first learn to read faces as newborns. If you’ve ever wondered why babies start smiling at six weeks it’s because their mothers now look exhausted and babies instinctively realise that smiling makes her smile back, which makes them feel safe. It’s a survival instinct. That’s why it’s hardwired into us.”
The clues that someone is interested
1) Eye contact across a crowded room can be a sign of interest, especially when the gaze is held for slightly too long, followed by looking away, and then looking back again. When that second glance is accompanied by a slight smile, raised eyebrow or other friendly expression, it’s confirmation.
2) Preening/self-grooming actions, such as flicking the hair or twirling it, are typical of women, while men will straighten their tie or collar, or adjust their cuffs or sleeves, and both genders may smooth their clothes or lick their lips. Or they may highlight a particular area of their body by adjusting a neckline or hemline, puffing out their chest or putting a hand on their hip to make themselves appear curvier or, if male, bigger. These cues suggest they care about how they look to the person watching them.
5 close-up clues
When the initial ‘macro’ signals are followed by a physical approach, there are further opportunities for reading body language.
1) Personal space. Usually, the minimum distance we stand away from someone is arm’s length. Stepping closer invades that space and if the other person isn’t receptive, it can feel threatening. If they compensate by leaning back, turning part of their body away, crossing their arms defensively or simply stepping back, It indicates that your closer approach is unwelcome and you should step back yourself. If, however, they lean towards you, it means, ‘I want to be closer to you, too.’
2) ‘Man-spreading’. Whether seated or standing, spread legs display the crotch area. It’s generally a dominant male gesture, although Sharon Stone practised it to memorable effect in Basic Instinct. Women usually defend their genital area by keeping their legs crossed, but display interest by slowly uncrossing and recrossing them.
3) Mirroring. Copying someone else’s posture or selected elements of it, such as drinking simultaneously or otherwise moving the hands, arms, legs or feet in a similar way, are signs of similar thinking.
4) Displacement. This occurs when touching one’s own skin or perhaps an inanimate object - such as absentmindedly stroking the stem of a wine glass or rim of a cup - symbolises how that person may subconsciously wish to touch or be touched themselves. If you’ve ever watched the famous chess game in the original Thomas Crown Affair, you’ll know how potent this can be.
5) Dilated pupils. Like flushed cheeks, these display excitement, except this particular cue is much harder to fake. Blue eyes have greater colour contrast between pupil and iris, so they’re easiest to read in this way. However, although holding someone else’s gaze with eyes wide open is often considered a lover’s gaze, if their eyes slide down over your body, their interest is probably more physical than romantic: beware!
Voula Grand is the author of Honor’s Ghost: (Karnac Books)
Author: Jocelyn Bailey