10 Most Common Body Language Mistakes

by Betty Lochner on January 25, 2011

If you are like most people, you aren’t all that aware of your body language and the unintentional signals we send. We are pretty good at noticing it others, but in ourselves, not so much. Consequently, we can make some pretty common mistakes that can give off the wrong signal.

Why does it matter? Because your body language says a lot about you. It makes up over 50% of your communication message! Wow. Good body language can make a huge difference in the connection you make when you communicate. On the other side, body language mistakes can create some major disconnects. Maybe even some unexpected conflict.

To connect and communicate successfully we need to eliminate some of our body language mistakes. So, pay attention to what you are doing and if you are doing any of the following, well, just stop it!

1. Looking down: This usually indicates disinterest. Sometimes it’s even interpreted as a casual sign of arrogance. Always look up and make eye contact when you are communicating with someone.

2. Closed body posture: When you put your hands on your hips, it can be interpreted as a sign of superiority, arrogance, or defensiveness. Crossing your arms can show anger or superiority. For best results, try to keep your arms open and at your sides.

3. Standing too close: This makes most people feel uncomfortable. We generally consider the four square feet of space immediately surrounding our bodies our personal space, or bubble. Cross into this invisible bubble only with those that give you permission to do so – good friends and family.

4. Uneven eye contact. When you are sitting down looking at someone standing up, there is a sense of power to the person standing. It can become a major disconnect. Keep your self at eye level if at all possible. If someone comes into your space standing while you are sitting, stand up.

5. Sitting on the edge of your chair: This is an indication that you are uncomfortable. It can make others around you uncomfortable as well.

6. Faking a smile: A genuine smile wrinkles the corners of the eyes and changes the expression of the entire face. Fake smiles only involve the mouth and lips. It’s easy to distinguish between the two. Don’t force yourself to smile, it won’t work.

7. Checking your watch or looking away. This displays a sense of boredom or that you don’t have time for or interest in this conversation. Never glance at the time or look away unnecessarily.

8. Foot or finger tapping: This usually indicates stress, impatience, or boredom. Monitor your habits and practice keeping your limbs at rest.

9. Fidgeting with small objects: Such as a pen, paper ball, or  paperclips. This is a sign of anxiety or nervousness. It can also be interpreted as a lack of preparedness. Again, it’s always best to keep your hands comfortably at rest when communicating with others.

10. Multitasking: When you text, type, take a phone call, or do some other task while you are communicating, it says “I don’t really care” and “I’m not really listening to you.” And, really, you aren’t.

Here’s the bottom line – Be Aware – pay attention to what your body is doing. Maintain appropriate eye contact, stay engaged, connected, on task and use your best non verbal skills!


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. 

To find out more about Cornerstone’s services and offerings visit our website:



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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Find Out what Happened to Limewire April 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I agree with significantly of what peoples comments are that I am reading here.

2 Betty Lochner January 29, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Thank you for reminding us to be careful with our body language. I am a memer of Toastmasters and good body language is stressed as a way to capture the attention of the audiance and hold it. Thank you Betty.

Posted by Marie. Oneill on LinkedIn

3 Betty Lochner January 29, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Thank you Betty, This is some really important stuff you talked about which can help anybody develop their personality whilst communicating!

Posted by nikhil nadiminti on LinkedIn

4 Betty Lochner January 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Your situation is not uncommon. Most of us have a comfortable position that doesn’t mean anything except that we are comfortable standing that way. The problem is that others may interpret it as if you are angry, arrogant, etc. So the key is to simply practice an open position – one that is not closed off. Arms at sides is always best, but you can experiment with variations on that theme. Maybe hands folded in front, or on your knees. It does get more comfortable the more you practice. The key to good communication is that sometimes we have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable! Of course, if you are with someone that knows you well, you can stand any way you want!

5 Cathryn Lloyd January 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Dear Betty
I just read the list of 10 most common body language mistakes. They seem to be the ones that come up all the time. I find the one about crossing arms and hands on hips the most challenging. If I am standing up for a while I actually find those two positions a comfortable standing position. So I am not trying to be superior, not angry and in many instances I am probably very interested in what the person has to say. I just find standing with hands by my side for a long period of time can be uncomfortable. Any thoughts? thanks Cathryn

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