Body Language Signs

Body language signs communicate emotions. Some of your own actions are unconscious to you but others can read them to understand their cues as to how you are feeling.

You also intentionally give signs to people, even if you don’t think you do! But what if you aren't sure of your emotions or what to look for in others? The first most important aspect of knowing your actions is to know emotions.

The next step is to attach all the different body language signs to these emotions. For a list of emotions have a look at improving emotional intelligence. Scroll down the page until you see "Click here." Clicking will take you to a list of emotions.

For detailed information on how we use our body language signs, check out —

Body Language
Reading Body Language
Body Language Communication
Body Language Eyes

Body Language Signs
Sending Messages without Words

We send and receive messages by —

touch glance eye contact and gaze
speech volume voice tone distance from people
gestures facial expressions appearance and dress
posture body movements word choice
sounds (para language) smell

Five Uses for Body Language Signs

  1. To enforce a message. For example by using your hand to point while giving directions.

  2. To accent a verbal message with tone of voice.

  3. To complement or contradict a verbal message. For example you might wink when saying something to contradict what you’ve said. Or in North America, you might nod reinforce a positive message.

  4. To substitute the verbal message if you can’t speak. You could put a finger over your lips to ask someone to be quiet or wave your hand if you want someone to come closer.

  5. To regulate interactions. You might hold your hand up to ask someone to be silent

As the proverb says, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Body Language Signs and Culture

Appearance and Dress

People of all cultures are concerned about how they look. Many of us make judgments based on looks and dress. Judging from the ratings of shows such as Oprah, North Americans are obsessed with dress and personal attractiveness.

In Canada, for example, many immigrants dress in their country of origin with veils and colorful saris. Dress is used as a sign of status. People who can afford them buy designer clothes and those who can’t might purchase knock offs.

Body Movement

You send information about attitude by facing or leaning towards or away from another person. We indicate our emotions by tapping fingers, jiggling coins and moving towards or away from a person.


Cultural and gender differences:
  • Bowing shows rank in Japan.
  • Slouching shows disinterest in North America and Europe.
  • Hands in pocket shows disrespectful in Turkey.
  • Sitting with legs crossed is offensive in Ghana and Turkey.
  • Showing soles of feet is offensive in Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
  • Men and women walk, sit and gesture differently.


There are thousands of gestures and many of them give different messages in different cultures. An acceptable gesture in one culture may be offensive in another. The amount of gesturing varies from culture to culture too. Some cultures are animated. Others are restrained.

Restrained cultures often feel animated cultures lack manners and restraint. Animated cultures feel restrained cultures lack emotion and interest.

Facial Expressions

People in most cultures smile, cry, show anger, sorrow, and disgust in similar ways. But the intensity varies from culture to culture. For example —
  • Many Asian cultures suppress facial expressions as much as possible.
  • Many Mediterranean and Latino cultures exaggerate grief or sadness while most American men hide grief or sorrow.
  • Some see animated expressions as a lack of control.
  • Too much smiling is viewed in as a sign of insecurity or insincerity.
  • Women smile more than men.

Eye Contact and Gaze

In North America, eye contact indicates your degree of attention or interest, it changes attitudes and persuades, communicates emotion and defines power and status.

North Americans believe that direct eye to eye contact is positive. They advise children to look a person in the eye. African-Americans use more eye contact when talking and less when listening with reverse true for Anglo Americans.

Arabic cultures make prolonged eye-contact to shows interest and assist with understanding the truthfulness of the other person. In NA a person who doesn’t establish eye contact is seen either as shy or untrustworthy depending on the context. For the Japanese, Africans and Latin Americans, eye contact shows respect.


Why and where we touch, and the meanings we assign to a touch are important. For example, an African-American man goes makes a purchase in a convenience store owned by new Korean immigrants. He gives a $20 bill for his purchase to the cashier and waits for his change. He is upset when his change is put down on the counter in front of him.

Traditional Koreans and other Asians avoid touching strangers especially those of the opposite sex. The African American in this situation might have viewed the money being placed on the counter instead of handed to him as an example of discrimination.

In North America the handshake is common even for strangers, hugs and kisses for family members and those we are intimate with.

The Islamics and Hindus usually don’t touch with the left hand which is used for toilet functions. It is good manners in India to break your bread only with your right hand.

Islamic cultures generally don’t approve of touching between genders.
But they consider hand holding and hugs appropriate between the same sex.

Many Asians don’t touch the head because the head is a place for the soul and a touch could diminish the soul.

The English, German, Scandinavian, Chinese and Japanese have less touching in public than the Latinos, Italians, Spaniards and Middle-Easterners.


North Americans dislike and mask body odors with perfumes and deodorants. People from Arabic cultures consider natural body odors normal. Asian cultures such as the Filipino, Malay, Indonesian, Thai and Indian encourage frequent washing.


Vocal sounds such as laughing, crying, yelling, moaning, whining, belching and yawning send different messages in different cultures. In Japan giggling indicates embarrassment.

Vocal characteristics such as volume, pitch, rhythm, tempo, and tone are used differently in different countries. Loudness indicates strength in Arabic cultures. Softness indicates weakness.

Loudness indicates confidence and authority to the Germans but impoliteness to the Thais and loss of control to the Japanese.

All the parts of your body give signs.

With your eyes you show interest, puzzlement, intimacy, fear, disapproval, disagreement and avoidance. With your lips you show pleasure sadness, fear and derision.

Your face can be relaxed or tense. It can show pleasure, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust and contempt.

Your head gives all kinds of communication too. You nod, wag, tilt and shake your head. Your body and posture show happiness, misery and boredom. Hands and feet also get involved with body language signs. You lean forward or back. Sometimes you will turn towards someone or away. You may cross our legs and arms.

All of these gestures show emotions usually more than your words do. Unfortunately we often don’t communication our emotions. This is a problem because people resort to our body language to read our emotions. Sometimes they are right and sometimes not.

So it’s important to know body language signs in order to know the messages you are conveying and also to read other peoples’ non-verbal communication.

Giving Body Language Signs with Space

Imagine around you a circle of space. The people in that space with you will be at a certain distance from you depending on their closeness to you.

You will be able to touch the people closest to you and the rest in varying degrees you’ll be able to see. It’s important to know these distances, in order not to offend or cause anxiety in others.

Researchers who study these body language signs of space have created five zones within the space bubble around us from close to far. These concentric circles determine the level of comfort we have with the other people within that particular space.

The Five Zones
  1. Close Intimate (0-15 cm./0-6 inches)
  2. Lovers, close friends and family members.
  3. Intimate (15-45 cm./6-8 inches)
  4. Lovers, friends and relatives are welcome.
  5. Personal (45 cm.-1.2 meters/18 inches-4 feet)
  6. For most Westerners, this is a comfortable conversational distance.
  7. Social (1.2-3.6 meters/4-12 feet)
  8. Business interactions, purchases with store personnel.
  9. Public(3.6 meters+/12 feet+)
  10. Speaking to an audience in a formal setting.

The distances people keep between themselves reveals their relationship and how they feel about the other person. For more support with body language signs, have a look at —

Understanding body language signs is important in business, family and social situations. Learning body language signs will improve your self esteem because it will improve your communication skills.

Reading Body Language
Body Language Communication
Body Language Eyes

Go from Body Language Signs to Body Language
Go to Self Esteem Home Page

This material is for your personal use only.
Illegal internet copies will be detected by Copyscape.

Copyscape graphic