One of the worst body language myths spread by body language “experts” is that specific actions or gestures have specific meanings. For example, Max folds his arms which means that Max is defensive or in a negative mood. I want to make this quite clear: I will never say; “This action means that.” Max folds his arms. We have to take into account a lot more information before making an interpretation as to why Max has his arms folded; does Max fold his arms all the time (it is his normal behaviour or does Max hardly ever fold his arms)? What is the rest of Max’s body saying (face, arms / hands and legs)? Of course – we must also take into account what the weather is like, as it may be due to the cold that Max is folding his arms.
Tip: Avoid assuming that one isolated gesture has a significant meaning without taking into account the context of the situation, along with a full analysis of the face and body. People can have quite differing opinions on body language interpretation. Interpreting body language is just that – an interpretation. Over time one becomes more accurate by gaining feedback and remembering not to assume a meaning e.g. taking in the whole scene / image / context, and not trying to guess what is happening. My advice is to come to a conclusion of an interpretation only after doing a complete mini-analysis of everyone in an image (if there’s more than one person) which will include facial expressions, arm positions, any hand gestures and feet positions – and the body posture in relation to others. This works a little differently with video or live analysis, as the context of what is happening is much clearer.
One more piece of advice for all budding body language analysers: If you’re not sure of an interpretation, say so. Don’t be afraid to say that the gesture is too ambiguous to interpret, or list a number of “possible” interpretations, without claiming any as being “the answer”.
Excerpt from True Lies.