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17 ways to use body language to get what you want

using body language to get what you want main image by healthista

It sounds manipulative but you can use body language to get what you want if you know the subtle things to watch for (and do). Psychologist and body language expert, Philip Adcock reveals all

Did you know that 55-70 percent of all human-to-human communication is non-verbal? So the next time you want to really ace that interview, present the perfect pitch or get an inkling of just how interested that new date is you need to understand the science of body language.

With a little extra effort and attention, almost anyone can learn to read the body language of others and communicate more effectively themselves.  With practice, it can become second nature. Using body language as part of getting what you want, is very much a 2-way street. It comes down to understanding what you do and knowing how to read what others are doing.

So, the next time you really want to get a point across or understand where someone is at – look out for:

Use hand gestures to persuade

When you are in the process of ‘persuading’ someone else to your way of thinking, watch out for them resting their hands behind their neck or head. When they do, they are signalling that they are open to what is being discussed or just laid back in general.  But when their hands are on their hips, they might be waiting for your next move, or simply be impatient or tired.

hands behind head, 17 ways to use body language to get what you want by healthista
If someone is resting their hands behind their head they are signalling that they’re relaxed and open to discussion

When someone’s hands are closed or clenched, that may indicate they are irritated, angry, or nervous. Clenched hands are definitely a sign of tension.  In fact, a number of gestures people make are associated with nervousness, so be mindful of them in both others and yourself.

Arms and hands are parts of the body that reveal a lot about a person’s state of mind. If you want to get what you want, make sure you use your arms and hands correctly. Be open towards the other person – this means no folded arms and minimising the barriers between you and them (remove physical things such as carrying things in front of you).

Be careful with arm-crossing

When you communicate with crossed arms you are closing yourself to social influence.  Others will perceive you as putting up a barrier between you and them.  Although there are some people who cross their arms as a habit, doing so may indicate that you are uncomfortable with something and trying to conceal it. Incidentally, if your arms are crossed while your feet are shoulder width apart or wider, you will be signalling a position of toughness or authority. Signalling that you are determined to get what you want.

If you’re talking to someone and they are tapping their feet that could be a sign that they want to leave

Show the undersides of your wrists

Another technique to use when asking for what you want is to show the undersides of your wrists. By doing so, you are communicating that you are being open and honest. In essence, you are communicating honesty and openness by showing a sensitive, vulnerable part of your body (veins in wrists).

Toe-tapping signals boredom or impatience

The next areas of the body to think about are your legs and feet.  Rapid toe-tapping, a sudden shifting of weight, or an unnatural movement of the foot often communicates that you or the person you are communicating with is impatient, nervous, or intimidated.  If you’re talking to someone and they are tapping their feet that could be a sign that they want to leave.  Slow shuffling of the feet, on the other hand, indicates boredom.


open wrists 17 ways to use body language to get what you want by healthista
Show your wrists to convey openness and honesty


Watch their feet

Where are your feet are pointing? Towards each other and you/they are engaged. Towards the door signals a desire to leave. When people point their feet towards other people, not currently involved as part of the dialogue that usually means that they’d rather be with them.

Mirroring creates connection

People who study body language as a science know the importance of copying or mirroring poise, posture and even breathing rates of the person you are with. If someone mirrors or mimics your appearance, it’s a genuine sign that he or she is interested in you and wants to establish a rapport.  It follows that if you want to build a rapport with someone with a view to getting what you want from them, then mirroring is a good starting point. You can even go as far as mirroring the positioning of physical objects on the desk as you talk with them. Locate your smartphone to mirror theirs, do likewise with pens, handbags etc.

copying body language, 17 ways to use body language to get what you want by healthista

Repeat people’s words back to them

Not all mirroring needs be physical.  You can also mirror words. British professor Richard Wiseman conducted a study in which waiters mirrored their customers by repeating their orders back to them, while others simply responded with positive affirmations such as ‘great,’ ‘good choice,’ etc. The results showed scientific proof of the influence mirroring can have: The waiters who used the mirroring technique got an astonishing 70 percent greater average tip than those who used only positive affirmations.

When it comes to using words as forms of mirroring, don’t copy the other person directly. Be subtle. Listen for patterns of language or particular phrases and then drop them into your own conversation as you go after getting what you want.

Use your facial expressions

Body language of the face is far and away the most persuasive part of your being. Long before we had words and language, we had faces and these faces communicate so very much.  Some of those things we can control, others which we can’t.  Most of our facial communications are, as with body language, related to evolution.

The appearance of being happy makes us appear more approachable

Humans have some 3,000 facial expressions linked directly to emotion. Despite that, we have fewer than 200 words in the English language to describe how we emotionally feel. Obviously, we communicate more about our emotions through our facial expressions than we do by describing them. Here are some examples

Look happy

To begin with, when approaching someone with a view to getting what you want, be mindful that happiness is visible from much farther away than any other emotion. That’s because we have evolved as human beings to be social creatures who seek groups with which to interact. The appearance of being happy makes us appear more approachable, less threatening, and therefore more desirable as part of the group. So put on your happy face when you want to approach someone else in a less threatening manner.

happy expression woman, 17 ways to use body language to get what you want by healthista
If you want to get what you want, approaching with a smile is a good start

Watch people’s faces BEFORE they respond

In order to read another person’s face accurately, you need to observe their facial expression before they begin to respond verbally. Once you can do that, you’ll be able to manage numerous interpersonal situations and get your way more effectively in the future. For example, you’ll learn what the chances are of a person accepting your invitation for a dinner date before you even ask them out.  Or, in a sales negotiation, you’ll learn how best to tailor your pitch to a customer’s moods. While everyone has a natural ability to read the faces of others, not everyone realises that.  Once you begin using this tool, you’ll be amazed at how powerful it is.

Expressions don’t lie! Here are some things to watch for when you or another person expresses one of the primary emotions of happiness, fear, sadness, surprise, disgust, contempt, and anger.

How to recognise a genuine smile

A person shows happiness when he raises the corners of his lips in a smile.  At the same time, the muscles in his cheeks also rise.  Now, if the happiness is genuine (as opposed to someone smiling simply to be polite), you’ll notice the ‘crow’s feet’ radiating from the outer edge of each eye. Imagine playing cards when one of your opponents looks at his hand and before he can stop himself, reveals his emotions by way of a subtle yet unmistakable smile. Chances are he has a good hand. At least his brain had the courtesy to tell you!

The tell-tale signs of sadness include the inner corners of the eyebrows going up while at the same time the outer corners of the mouth turning down

The key to reading happiness, then, is to decide whether a person’s smile is genuine or merely an extension of being polite. The former is a true expression of how they feel, while the latter is more about concealing another emotion or even a general lack of caring altogether.

Spot the signs of fear

Fear is another facial emotion you can spot fairly easily.  When a person feels fear, their eyebrows rise while coming together somewhat. Simultaneously, their upper eyelids also rise.  In the case of significant fear, the mouth will become involved, too, as the corners stretch downward and back. Observing fear can tell you how you should relate to a person.  When discussing possible things to do on a first date, for example, if the other person expresses fear, you need to ask yourself why.  Is that fear about your suggestions?  Or is it about dating you? If it’s the latter, perhaps it’s time for you to move on to Plan B!

…and sadness

The tell-tale signs of sadness include the inner corners of the eyebrows going up while at the same time the outer corners of the mouth turning down. That could be beneficial to know.  In our sales scenario, if you detect sadness in your customer, it’s probably not the best time to go for the close. You’d be better advised to satisfy any objections or hesitation before proceeding with the deal.

sad face expression, 17 ways to use body language to get what you want by healthista
Watch out for expressions of sadness when you’re trying to get what you want

Surprise, surprise

Surprise shows up on people’s faces more than you’d expect. Sometimes it’s simply because they didn’t expect to be asked a particular question, in which case the surprise quickly gives way to another expression, depending upon the question and the person. Surprise manifests itself with the entire face opening up.  The eyebrows raise and the eyes open wide.  The mouth gapes open slightly. A person showing surprise is caught off balance and needs to decide on how to react.  Watch for the facial clues that follow surprise to see how the person is emotionally mentalising before you decide on how (or even whether) to continue.


Disgust is another facial expression. One you never want to see on the faces of your dinner guests. It manifests itself with the eyebrows pulling downwards, the nose wrinkling, and both sides of the upper lip rising up. When you witness disgust on the faces of those around you, you can rest assured that all is not well. You’ll need to proceed with whatever you’re doing using greater than normal caution!


Contempt (which is sometimes seen as a form of disgust) is also easy to spot once you learn what to look for. It consists of one side of the upper lip rising. When showing contempt, people communicate a lack of respect or even disdain for the subject matter.

contempt, disgusted woman, ways to use body language to get what you want by healthista
Look out for the sides of the upper lip raising – this could communicate contempt or disgust


Anger, the last of our primary emotional expressions, is marked by lowered eyebrows and, often, raised upper eyelids.  In cases of extreme anger, the lower lids may also rise up.  Another tell-tale sign of anger is the tightening of the lips, which appear to get thinner. In nearly any interpersonal setting, if somebody exhibits anger, you would be well served to find out why and try to diffuse the situation.


Read their words too

As well as body language – paying close attention to the sorts of sensory words a person uses can take you a long way.  Pay attention the next time you talk to someone.  If a man tells you he and his date danced for hours to the sounds of a live band before losing themselves in conversation over cocktails, that’s auditory.  Once you understand how he represents a particular situation mentally, you can build a solid rapport simply by adopting the same representational system when talking about the same subject. Add some auditory references to your side of the conversation, and watch how quickly they align themselves with you emotionally.

Similarly, if the other person uses a lot of visual words, then adopt a similar combination style. And if they keep referring to feelings, then do likewise.

Understanding and thinking about body language you can transform your ability to get what you want. Practice and enjoy!

Philip Adcock headshot 17 ways to use body language to get what you want by healthista

Phillip Adcock is a commercial psychologist, body language expert and author of Master Your Brain: Training your Mind for Success in Life. Available now on Amazon.

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