The Ultimate Guide to Social Self-Mastery

10 Social Habits Destined to UP Your Interpersonal Game

Habit 9: Maintaining open body language.

You are sitting on the couch at a house-party to which you were invited. You can see people on the other side of the room. They are actively engaged with one another. You are seeing one man on the far left of the group, two women at center-left, a man and wife at center and center-right, and one man on the group’s right.

The man on the far left has his hands in his pockets, but you can see his thumbs. He is leaning more toward one of the women at center-left than the other. This woman is smoking, and her wrist is relaxed with palms facing up. The outside of her hand, the one not holding her cigarette, is positioned on the inside of her hair, as if she was using it to push her hair aside. This action exposes some of her neck. Her head is slightly turned outward. Her ear is pushed in the direction of the man. Her eyes remain focused on him. The other woman, the one at center-left, is sitting on a wooden stool. Her legs are crossed at the ankles, which are slightly tucked underneath the stool. Her lips have tightened inwardly. She has the fingers of her one hand positioned closer to her ear; these fingers are also resting on her face. The hand not on her face is laid diagonally across her lap. Her head is slightly drooped. Her shoulders are slightly raised.

As we pan right, we see the man and wife couple at center and center-right. They are both sitting on a couch opposite of you. The man is sitting on his wife’s left. His right arm is around her. He is seated in a figure-four pose with his left knee atop his lap. The woman has her legs crossed, too, except hers are crossed with the right atop of left. Her legs look parallel, going up and down. Both appear to be smiling.

The man on the group’s right is positioned in a way that his back is almost facing you. You notice that his left leg is slightly shifted outward, with his left toe pointing at the man, woman, and woman, on the group’s left. His right leg is shifted outward toward the man and wife couple on the couch; his right toes are pointing in their direction. He has his sleeves rolled up. His right leg is slightly straighter than his left. His left leg is slightly bent at the knee. His head is laid back into his hands, which are positioned with his arms like a person would who was just about to do a sit-up: palms to the back of his head and his elbows up.

Now, which person is the most uncomfortable? Which person is the least? Who is the most open person in the room? Who is the most closed?

Are there any persons who are not communicating?

I have just described one scenario to which I would like you to pay attention. Knowing how to read this situation is what will bring you from good to great when it comes to interpersonal communication. The little things are obvious when you know for what you are looking. With this information, you can easily gauge the relationship dynamics of others, including strangers. You will have a better understanding of what is happening around you.

THIS is what it is like to live in third-person.

Let’s begin with the man and two women on the group’s left. What can we infer about their relationship dynamics, strictly using the visual cues as described above?

This is what we notice: the man is sexually interested in the woman who is not sitting on the stool. You can tell this because of the thumbs-and-pocket display in combination with his leaning closer to the one woman. She is reciprocating displays of sexual desire because her wrist is bent while she smokes; this is a subconscious display of femininity. You can tell she is engaged in whatever the man is saying because her ear is pushed in his direction; people often display this when they are listening intently. Women often touch their hair when they are in the presence of someone they like. It is often unconscious and uncontrollable. If a girl fixes her hair in your presence, you can know this for sure. This effect is compounded if she exposes her armpits to you, but that is information for another day. After the woman has pushed her hair away from her face, her neck became exposed, which is another indicator of sexual interest; this is a display of submission.

You may have guessed correctly that the other woman, the one sitting on the wooden stool, on the left side of this group is the person who is the most uncomfortable in this situation. She is also the most closed off. How can we tell? Let’s start with the not-so-obvious obvious:

When you see someone with crossed appendages, chances are they are not engaged in what is happening around them. It is likely they are in their own heads, thinking about something else or perhaps an aspect of what is currently going on. In this example, the woman’s legs are crossed at the ankles. This posture is more commonly seen and used by females. Seeing that her crossed ankles are also tucked slightly underneath the stool is an indicator of her closure. She is moving herself inward; she is physically moving to take less space. This means that she is not currently feeling comfortable about something, either directly related or unrelated to the situation above.

I want to take this opportunity to combine this theory together with some other interpersonal evidence. Because we also see she has one hand closer to her ear with fingers that are touching her face, we know her lack of amusement is far more likely the truth in this situation. People often touch their face when they are feeling some sort of overwhelming emotion. Sometimes you see them scratch next to their eye, or wipe their finger under their nose; it is the same sort of context. In this scenario, I would interpret the fingers on her face as a sign of her annoyance. Since her fingers are rested next to her ears, it is a possible indicator of her disapproval of what she is currently hearing: she either doesn’t like the conversation between the man and woman beside her, or does not like the fact that this particular man is saying he is interested in the other woman.

We also see that her lips look like she is almost sucking them inward; this is another indicator of closed posture. It could mean that she is holding back a verbal expression or it could symbolize her under stimulation: she is not impressed. A lowered head and having raised shoulders are other indicators of closure or discomfort. They are protection mechanisms; think of this almost like a turtle disappearing into its shell.

As we move right in the imagery, we see the man and woman couple. These two people show strong indicators of far more invested-interest in each other than in the remainder of the group. Based on the proximity alone, the man has his arm around the woman. Usually people will stay within hip-space of someone with whom they are unfamiliar. If she didn’t like him, she would not sit right up next to him (context permitting).The figure-four pose of the husband, in combination with the mirrored leg-cross of the wife, are both strong indicators of their investment in each other because, energetically speaking, they have no body language supporting their involvement in the group at large. The wife’s paralleled legs symbolize her femininity; she is displaying confidence in her sexuality; you will rarely see men sitting in this sort of parallel-legged pose because it is a gesture dominated almost entirely by women.

As for the man, the one with his back almost facing you, on the group’s right, what is he up to? If you choose this fellow for your answer to the person who is the least uncomfortable in this situation, you nailed it right on the head! He is also the most open. Oftentimes, the person most open and the person most comfortable are the same person. There is a direct correlation between comfort and openness. It is not by chance that the uncomfortable woman on the wooden stool was also the most closed-off to the group.

His foot and leg positions are equally valued on both left and right sides of the group. This indicates his involvement in all parties of this group. The straightened left leg with a bent-knee right leg is almost like a male model’s pose: surfer-guy style. Because his palms rest on the back of his head and he is displaying his elbows high, he is energetically open to the entire room; he is likely the most confident person there. Every major organ is exposed while he is in this pose: you will not see that display in unconfident people.


Day Nine Extra Credit

Today, we won’t have an exercise, unless you would like to go to a public place and from afar watch people interact.


If you would like to learn more about body-language and people-reading, I find the book The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara & Allan Pease to be an awesome resource!