Body Language

by Mary-Louise Angoujard

Negative body language

Here are some examples of body language that are often interpreted negatively and which may therefore detract from an individual’s authority, ability to communicate effectively and, as a consequence, from their success. Sometimes, the negative body language may simply be a bad habit, possibly an unconscious one. What matters is how other people may interpret it.


Read through the following list and...

  1. Think about how you react to each of these
  2. Consider whether (and if so, when) you would tend to adopt them yourself
  3. Consider what might be the reason you do these things. Is it a habit? Is it driven by a state of mind or a simple reaction to being in certain situations?

First of all, please note that this is not a complete list – the following examples are simply some of the more common things we see every day.

  • Slumped posture – the back and shoulders are bent, the person seems to close in on themselves
  • Submissive or ‘inferior’ head position – where the chin is not parallel to the floor, but rather tilted downward
  • Movement – a stride that is too slow or plodding
  • Closed, unengaged or negative facial expressions (annoyance, blank looks or pronounced seriousness, boredom, detachment and so on)
  • Displacement gestures – picking imaginary lint or smoothing an imaginary crease when in communication, such as in a meeting
  • Avoidance of eye contact or too little eye contact
  • A staring, unblinking gaze (this could be interpreted as sexual interest in some contexts – not perhaps what one would usually want in a business situation!)
  • Lack of facial expression/animation in the face when speaking
  • Lack of gestures and/or arms always held tightly to the body
  • Lack of expression, reaction or empathy when listening
  • Standing too close (especially for a tall person to stand too close to another party) – invading someone’s space
  • Arms tightly folded across the body
  • Talking with someone while your body, including the torso, is turned away (this is usually accompanied by folded arms)
  • Too much stillness
  • Too much nervousness/displaced energy
  • Tendency to hold the head in a chin down (inferior) or chin up superior/arrogant) position

Would you like to improve your body language?

Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Focus on one or two things at a time, not everything at once (although you may find that one positive result causes or reinforces another positive result)
  • Notice yourself or arrange to get (immediate) feedback from others on when you do it so you can notice why you do it
  • Think of a body language habit you could develop that would serve you/be more positive and productive (and that would preclude the problem habit)

In general, consider what kind of mental attitudes you could adopt as an overall strategy to ensure you display more positive, powerful, and/or authoritative body language continually, no matter the situation.