Negative Body Language: Examples & Signs

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  • 0:01 Negative Body Language
  • 0:57 Forms of Negative Body…
  • 4:57 Body Language:…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you'll learn the definition of negative body language and what its different forms can mean. The lesson will also touch upon the cultural differences in body language.

Negative Body Language

Body language can tell a lot about how a person feels. A slumped posture can demonstrate a lack of confidence or boredom. Averted eye contact can be an indicator that a person is uncomfortable, self-conscious, or even lying. Crossed arms can signal defensiveness or disagreement. A forced smile can mean insincerity. How amazing is it that the body can communicate so many things without the person speaking a word?

Negative body language is either a conscious or an unconscious expression of negative feelings through movements of the body. Being skilled at noticing negative body language can assist one with personal or professional relationships and knowing when another is dissatisfied or unhappy. It can help to know what negative body language to avoid if one wants to leave a good impression on an audience or listener. Body language can be even more important than spoken words.

Forms of Negative Body Language

Let's take a look at some of the different types of negative body language and what they may be communicating:

1. Avoidance of eye contact: nervousness, lack of confidence, low self-esteem or dishonesty

Inability to make eye contact can mean a person is feeling uncomfortable. This uneasiness can be attributed to low self-esteem, confidence, or fear due to lying. Scholars have extensively researched how to pinpoint lying through eye contact, and their findings have been inconclusive. It seems that some people look to the right when lying, and others provide deliberate and forced eye contact when lying. It's hard to tell.

2. Staring: intenseness and eagerness

Giving too much eye contact, on the other hand, can make one look too eager and lead to an awkward exchange. The receiver of the eye contact will probably feel uneasy.

3. Crossed arms: separateness, discomfort, or defensiveness

If you observe people speaking at a party, you will find that many stand with their arms or hands in front of them. Their arms could be crossed, or their hands could be clasped in front of their crotch. This could be an unconscious creation of a barrier between themselves and the person to whom they are speaking. Speaking with arms to ones side, on the other hand, can indicate openness and friendliness.

4. Overuse of hands: nervousness, excitement, or mania

These signs can be found in a person who speaks rapidly while his or her hands are flying all over the place. They can serve as indicators that a person is nervous or manic.

5. Looking at watch, clock or phone: boredom, anxiousness, impatience, or future-minded

When people are looking at a phone, watch, or clock during a conversation, it is usually a telltale sign that they are in a hurry for it to be over. They may be tuning out the other person and thinking about what they have to do next.

6. Poor posture: lack of confidence, unwillingness, lack of ability, unavailability, or boredom

Poor posture can indicate that someone is not assertive or self-assured. Poised individuals are treated with more respect and are seen as more knowledgeable and reliable in the United States.

7. Frowning: sadness, sympathy, discontent, or anger

Frowning is an obvious indicator of these emotions. If a speaker is telling a sad story, a frowning listener may just be empathizing. But if the speaker is not telling a sad story, the listener may be unhappy, angry, or sad. A wrinkle between the eyes or a tightness of the face can mean the same thing.

8. Sweating: nervousness

Although it can be a sign that someone is just hot, sweating often means that a person is nervous or uncomfortable. This is seen as a negative, especially in the Western world that values confidence.

9. Hands behind back: mistrustful or secretive

In the United States, hands behind the back may mean that a person is trying to hide something. It is unnerving for many to not be able to see the other person's hands when conversing with them.

10. Clenched fists: anger or aggressiveness

Clenched hands usually indicate that a person is ready to fight or that they are angry and may get aggressive if further provoked.

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