You Don’t Say – Body Language Vol 13 – by Ray Hudson

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Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

I said in the last column, about 80% of our communication is non-verbal, and I spoke about blocking posture with the arms. Let’s talk the positioning of legs when sitting.

It is most natural to cross one’s legs when sitting with another person. The key to whether it’s open or closed body language depends on the way they are crossed. Just observe any two people in conversation who are sitting. It’s easy to observe people on talk TV, where the host and guests interact while sitting (somewhat) side by side. If the guest is comfortable with the host, he or she will tend to cross their leg toward that person. The guest is acknowledging the comfort level between the two. Crossing the leg toward the host pulls the body around exposing more of the core toward that person. At the same time it effectively blocks anyone else further down the couch from participating, marking the conversation as more intimate. It is easily noticeable if there is another guest on the couch and how awkward it is to include them.

The upper leg is a very large muscular part of the body and is instinctively used to protect the body core. In this configuration it effectively places a block to that side, and in other social instances can be quite an unconscious message.

In our example, if the exchange becomes a little more challenging. The guest may uncross the leg and sit straight out from the couch, turning away from the host signaling ‘I’m no longer as open to you.’ Should the exchange become even more uncomfortable you might see the guest cross the left leg away from the host, which is a clear blocking signal.

Experienced public figures often learn to control this response to a degree, but the same behaviour tendency, although more subtle, may still occur. If the tension continues to grow however, instead of turning away, the guest may turn face-on and lean toward the other person. This signals the intention to engage more vigorously in verbal, or (heaven forbid) an even more physical response. However, when the conversation is highly, but positively charged, they may also turn face on, unconsciously signaling greater trust by offering greater core exposure and vulnerability.

In the media: The elections were held in Israel this past week, and a host was heard to be referring to their parliament, the Knesset, without pronouncing the ‘K’ as in Nesset. It’s pronounced Kuh-Ness-et, stress on second syllable.

Hack phrases: Traffic reporters bug me when describing an accident scene with the confusion of wrecked cars, emergency vehicles and first responders, by saying “and the traffic is slowing down for people to take a look.” I want to scream into the radio (so I’ll do that there), “You idiot! Of course they’re slowing down! Do you want them to drive at normal (or higher) speed into, or past, an accident scene not paying attention to fire, ambulance, police and risk adding to the problem?” Agreed, rubberneckers can be dangerous, but most of us are just being careful and resent the insinuation. Turn off the auto-phrase machine!

Hrummmpfff! (arms and legs tightly crossed)

Ray