Empowering the Freelance Economy

Want to know what people are really thinking?

Behaviour scientist and researcher Vanessa Van Edwards reveals tips on how to read people better. Photo Source: Science of People
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Empower yourself to become a better communicator and build stronger relationships by paying attention to the silent language of body language. These tips could help you in your work and close relationships

Ever wish you could understand what someone is truly thinking or feeling? Body language, the nonverbal cues we send and receive, can offer valuable insights into our interactions. By becoming attuned to these subtle signals, you can develop the ability to “read” people and navigate social situations with greater confidence.

Vanessa Van Edwards’ work at Science of People shares seven key body language cues that can unlock a deeper understanding of those around you. By taking on these tips you could have an advantage in your next client meeting because you can almost read what is not being said.

Edwards says over a conversation you can see certain signals, some are micropositive signals which relate to interest, curiosity, or engagement. Then there could be micronegative signals which could mean nervousness, disinterest, or boredom.


1. The Head Tilt: A Sign of Engagement

Pay attention to head tilts. As Van Edwards explains, “a slight head tilt is a universal human gesture that shows someone is interested, engaged, and listening”. It’s a nonverbal way of saying “tell me more,” encouraging the other person to elaborate. Interestingly, mirroring this head tilt can further build rapport and show you’re present in the conversation.

2. Facial Expressions: Unveiling Emotions

Our faces are powerful communicators. According to Van Edwards, research by Dr. Paul Ekman identified seven universal microexpressions, brief facial expressions that reveal core emotions like fear, happiness, contempt, surprise, sadness, disgust, and anger. Recognising these expressions can help you understand the true sentiment behind someone’s words.

3. Spotting Shame: The Blocking Gesture

When someone feels ashamed or uncomfortable, they may subconsciously create a barrier between themselves and the source of that discomfort. Van Edwards points out this “blocking” behaviour, where a person might clutch a purse or hold their hands in front of their body.

4. Openness and Engagement: Decoding Hand Gestures

Hands are another window into our emotions. Open palms can signal honesty and openness, while clenched fists might indicate frustration or anger. Steepling fingers can suggest confidence or evaluation. By observing hand gestures, you can gain clues about a person’s level of comfort and engagement.

5. The Eyebrow Raise: A Gauge of Interest

A raised eyebrow can communicate a range of emotions depending on the context. A slight raise might show surprise or interest, while a more pronounced raise coupled with furrowed brows could indicate confusion or scepticism.

Bonus Cue: Lie Detection

While body language isn’t a foolproof way to detect deception, certain cues can raise a red flag. Look for inconsistencies between verbal and nonverbal communication, such as someone saying “yes” while shaking their head no. Someone might purse their lips before they tell a white lie, like their true weight, for example. However, Van Edwards emphasises that context is crucial. Nervousness or fidgeting doesn’t always mean someone is lying.

By observing these cues and considering the situation, you can develop a sharper eye for what people are truly saying. Remember, body language is best interpreted in clusters; a single gesture can have multiple meanings.

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