Three Body Movements You May Have Misinterpreted

By: Brittany Walker, Graduate Assistant

“The Body Language Handbook” by authors Gregory Hartley and Maryann Karinch unpacks the power of nonverbal language. The authors maintain that barriers, adapters, regulators, and illustrators are the “four parts of speech” that comprise a non-verbal sentence. Barriers allow us to protect ourselves and create a natural space. This may be physical space from an intimidating person or space to gather one’s thoughts. Adapters are seen as evolutionary habits to quell nervous energy and is often done out of habit. Regulators are typically commanding actions that hold the same value if verbal language were to be used. For example, holding up one’s hand to signal someone to stop an action. Lastly, illustrators “punctuate” our words by signaling which aspects of speech should be accentuated. These four elements are crucial when interpreting body language. The handbook proved valuable in interpreting the meaning of common nonverbal poses.


1.    Arms Folded

a.    Having one’s arms crossed is the general example used to convey aggression or anger. But what if it also conveyed annoyance, fear, or confidence. Individuals may use the arms are a barrier to protect the physical body from unintentionally signaling harmful messages. In addition, folded arms can serve as an adaptive response to providing space for reflection. A conversation may necessitate time to think and folding one’s arms provides the time needed to properly respond.

2.    Rapid Eye Movement

a.    Many believe that the moving of the eyes quickly serve as a predecessor to being dishonest. However, the authors maintain that eye movement is simply a signal of thinking. Eye movement aligns with how an individual processes and stores memories. Whether the thought is associated with a visual cue, reasoning, or creativity the eyes will redirect themselves into the brain region that processes that information.

3.    Drooping Shoulders

a.    Generally, the action is associated with being bored. However, the action can serve as a regulator to command aspects of the conversation to end or shift to another topic. Drooping shoulders can also signal defeat and illustrate one’s internal feelings of sadness.

It is important to avoid viewing body language in a narrow sense in the professional world. In order to continue to meet workplace standards and accomplish goals, one’s body language intelligence needs to be elevated to include the multiple meanings that are being expressed in a simple gesture.

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