Most people believe that they know what all body language means. Unfortunately, they think that a gesture always means the same thing. The fact is that any one gesture could mean several things. You must look at the gesture along with other accompanying gestures, or clusters as well as in what context the gesture is being made.
When trying to read or understand someone’s body language, the more you understand the context in which it is taking place, the better you will be at understanding what it actually means. For example, when someone crosses their arms in front of them, it could be seen as a sign of defence, or putting a barrier between themselves and the other person. But if it is cold, they may be just trying to keep warm.
Likewise, if someone touches their nose while telling you something, they may be telling you an untruth. However, if you notice that they have been sniffing a bit, it is possible that they have the flu and are just wiping their nose. So be aware of what is going on in the surrounding environment as well as what the person is doing.
And take note of what other gestures are happening at the same time. It’s the combination of gestures that indicate what the person is really feeling. The accuracy with which you can read someone’s body language will be increased when you can start to observe multiple tells, or clusters of nonverbal behaviours. These signals work together like a jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces you have, the better your chances are of seeing the full picture.
For example, if someone crosses their arms, they may be defensive, or they may be cold. But if they cross their arms, purse their lips tight, break eye contact and turn one of their feet away from you, they are more than likely not happy with the situation.
So, don’t fall for the problem that most people do, thinking that a particular nonverbal behaviour can only mean one thing.