Debunking the Body Language Myth

Well, I’ve had enough!

The Body Language Experts are coming out of the woodwork.  They are blogging; they are on TV, they are giving talks.  And there are still more people out there who are pretending to be body language experts.  There is no end to the misinformation about body language in the media these days.  So much so that certain myths have now become so widely spread that regardless of what a particular movement means, it is now accepted by the general public as truth even though it isn’t.

So I am setting the record straight at least for my corner of the world.   If you are so inclined you can send this on to some of your wayward brethren who have been caught in the mythical fray.  I’ll give you the most effective way to handle any body language. See below on how to handle any body language.

I got started on this one morning when one of my master practitioners sent me a link to some coach’s blog (is a coach necessarily a body language expert?).  Most of them work over the phone.  They don’t even get visual cues unless they have Skype.  In this person’s defense, her bringing up to awareness some of the inappropriate body language that can be used in interviews allows a person to become aware of their own body language

So this woman, the coach says:

Leaning Back in Your Chair

When in an interview, it’s not a good idea to lean back in your chair. This gives the impression that you’re overly relaxed and disinterested in the job. It can also make you appear untidy. To remedy this, sit a little bit forward in your chair. This helps you present yourself as alert and eager to answer any questions thrown your way.

Now I agree that leaning back in your chair during a job interview is probably not the best strategy for showing interest BUT leaning back in the chair could also mean that the person is thinking about what the speaker is saying (processing, if you will).  It is a dissociation.  It is a backing away from the conversation while processing.  The person can also be disagreeing with the speaker.  They’ve heard something that doesn’t resonate with one of their values or heard something they don’t like.  They may be commenting (internal dialog) inside and comparing what is being said with their own beliefs.  But I’ve never heard that a person is relaxed or disinterested.

See below how to handle this.

Folding Your Arms

Did you know that folding your arms in any situation sends a message that you’re closing yourself off from the person you’re communicating with? This means, if you fold your arms in an interview, you’re sending the interviewer the message that you’re not inviting him or her in. In other words, you can appear to be an unfriendly person, which could potentially X you out of the job.

OH, PLEASE! NOT AGAIN!!!!  This is one of the myths that have been so perpetuated by the media and so called experts that it is now accepted as fact.  We fold our arms for dozens a reasons: we are cold, we listening to the speaker are a few.  This myth is so wide spread that I actually uncross my arms on purpose when I am conversing with a person I don’t know because of their perception of what it means.

Crossing Your Legs

While crossing your legs during an interview seems to be a polite and professional gesture, some experts beg to differ. In fact, this action actually sends a message of complacency, which is not what you want to communicate to your interviewer. This is why it is advised that you instead plant both feet firmly on the floor. It demonstrates confidence in who you are.

Actually crossing your legs is an incongruency as is standing with the weight of the body on one leg.  I agree that planting both feet on the floor is a better way of sitting because it is more balanced.  Where this person got that it meant complacency, I don’t know.  I have dozens of people who take training from me every month.  If they are sitting crossed legged does it mean they are all complacent?  For the kind of money they are paying and time they are investing, I don’t think any of them are complacent.  Their hind end may be uncomfortable from the hotel chairs, but based on the skill level of the participants that come out of my trainings, I don’t think complacency is a word that I would use to describe any of them.  Sitting balanced actually is not only beneficial for your body, it is also very good for your mind.  It actually helps the thinking/learning process.  Standing and sitting with the body weight evenly distributed on both legs helps the person with energy and accessing neurological information.


There are 6 billion people on the face of earth.  There are countless cultures.  And all of them (people) place meaning on everything thing that happens to them, their friends, family, city, country, the world.    With so many minds taking in so much information the chance that two people see or experience the same event exactly the same is almost impossible.  If you have 10 eye witnesses to an accident, you will get 10 individual and different interpretations of what happened.

So take the fact that no two people experience the world alike and make their own meaning of experience and then add this to the fact that the meaning we place on experience drives our emotions, and then add the fact that emotions drive our behavior, of which our body language is derived.  So is it accurate to say that when all human beings do something in their behavior (body language) that it all means the same thing?  How can it?  Everyone perceives the world  differently so each person’s movements will have different ,individual meaning. The meaning of the movement may change over time as the individual learns, grows, evolves or grows older.

Jules Collingwood, a NLP Trainer Assessor, says,

” As humans we can modify our gestures consciously, making voluntary movements as well as displaying unconscious breathing shifts, skin tone changes and micro-muscle movements. We use our bodies to convey interest or disinterest, to establish rapport with others or to stop them in their tracks. We learn cultural norms about appropriate body language for people of our gender, age and status in our daily lives and sometimes find our habitual presentations elicit markedly different responses in other parts of the world.

So what can body language teach us about other people? With sufficient exposure to another culture we can learn to recognize its members by their body language, the way they move and gesture, how close they stand to other people and how much eye contact they make and with whom. We can learn to recognize HOW the individual, whatever their origin, is thinking by watching their eye movements, breathing and posture as they interact. This will not tell us WHAT they are thinking. The subject matter of someone’s thoughts remains private until they describe it.”

Until you know someone and can calibrate them through time, you don’t know when a particular person is passionate about something, bored, closed off, annoyed.  They might be trying to take an insect off of their shirt or need to go to the bathroom.  They may be angry but you are not necessarily the object of their wrath. Calibration is the act of observing a particular person and asking them for meaning which we can use for future reference.  Just because the person does something that means _________ , doesn’t mean that everyone has the same meaning.

In NLP, making interpretations or assumptions about other people’s behavior or movements is called MIND READING.  We may have some degree of accuracy when mind reading but if you miss read someone, you may have lost rapport with an important part of your future. If you use body language to calibrate someone you can use that information to form questions and calibrate for the future.


The best way to handle body language is to look at the larger frame of what you  want to accomplish.  Establishing rapport by matching and pacing body language will help you succeed in accomplishing your communication outcome/goal. Making meaning about what they are doing will not.  The latter seems such a waste of time.  Take the fact that no communication takes place without rapport, matching and pacing any movement will help you establish a relationship of trust and comprehensive understanding.

If you are interviewing for a job, it is much preferred to match your interviewer.  Your brain makes thousands of decisions every second about the person in front of you by making comparisons of similarity and differences. The more similar a person is to you or you are to a person, the more familiar you seem to them, the more comfortable you will be with each other.  Respectfully aligned with another person is the most effective way to understand each other.  People like people who are like themselves.  But it isn’t even about liking; it is about UNDERSTANDING.   YOU WILL LEARN MORE ABOUT A PERSON BY MATCHING THEIR BODY LANGUAGE THAN FIGURING OUT WHAT IT MEANS.  Being conscious or unconscious (you do this anyway) about aligning with others is the key to communication success.

©NLP Training Concepts, LLC


Stay tuned for Myths about Lying and the 7%-38%-55% Myth about what is important in communication.