Reading Non-Verbal Language

What you don't say can say a lot about you. Read more here.
Reading Non-Verbal Language
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Yamila Papa

Last update: 21 December, 2022

In order to test if you really have the ability to read non-verbal language, a good exercise is to turn on the television and watch a movie, novel, or series (that’s not subtitled), turn down the volume, and try to work out what’s happening. You’ll be amazed when you realize that the body can say as much or even more than words.

Indeed, with the movements of their hands or legs, expressions on their face, or certain attitudes (such as scratching their head, pacing from side to side, or sitting on the edge of a chair), people are speaking even though they aren’t really saying anything.

According to psychologists, women have a greater ability to interpret non-verbal cues than men. This is due, perhaps, to the fact that they pay more attention to detail and look at things that men don’t. However, a recent study claims that the ease or difficulty in ‘reading’ another’s body language has more to do with interpersonal objectives than with what sex you are or any Sherlock Holmes type of detective capacity you might possess.

fidgety hands are a sign of the body language of anxiety

Your non-verbal language

As a matter of fact, what you see depends on what you want to get from the other person. For example, if there’s a sexual attraction between you, you’ll detect particular attitudes in them. This wouldn’t happen in the case of a job interview. Furthermore, your body language changes depending on the setting or the person in front of you. For instance, it’s not the same to be talking with your partner who’s cheated on you as with your mother-in-law who you’re asking for a recipe. Nor is it the same to tell your best friend about what you’ve just bought in the mall as to talk to a condescending colleague or a teacher to whom you’re complaining about a grade.

This means that you have the ability to adapt to different situations, rather like a chameleon. Some people are more skilled than others in this. However, it’s something that you can always learn.

If you had the ability to press the ‘mute’ button on your conversations with other people, it might be easier to see if what they’re saying with their mouths is the same as what they’re expressing with their bodies. In most cases, body language doesn’t lie. In fact, it tends to give people away.

Stereotypes and context

Stereotypes and preconceptions can often play tricks on you. Also, your previous experiences. For instance, when you’re faced with a person who’s lied to you in the past, you’ll tend to scrutinize their body language as well as what’s coming out of their mouth.

In effect, the expectations you have about them change your perception of what you’re seeing. For example, say it’s that same partner who cheated on you. In this case, you might be desperately hoping that they’re telling you the truth for once. It’s all subjective.

Two women talking and expressing through non-verbal language.


Context is also important in what’s detected from non-verbal language. For example, it’s not the same to interrogate an alleged murder suspect as to talk to a neighbor about how expensive public transport is.

Once again, experiments and scientific studies indicate that stereotypes have great power. As a matter of fact, they can even change or affect the perception you have about what’s happening around you. Finally, when it comes to non-verbal communication, we now know that it goes way beyond the sex of the communicator.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.