How to not take someone’s body language personally

Oh no, arms crossed over the chest! 
What have I done to deserve that?
They hate me!”

Maybe… maybe not.

Most people jump to the conclusion of ‘bad news’ when they see a person crossing their arms. This “closed posture” often causes the viewer(s) discomfort and a feeling of being ‘shut out.’ In business, the perception is usually seen as “They are annoyed” or “not open to discussion.”

Whether it’s a feeling of being judged, or you’ve done something wrong, or they don’t want to talk, it can feel awfully lonely when you are on the receiving side of crossed arms, even if it all could be a hallucination.

Every day, we balance our observations of others’ behaviors and our emotional responses to what we observed against what might benefit one or more situation(s) and be drawback(s) in another.

Imagine a sliding scale with positive on one end and negative perception on the other. Now, rate the following behaviors on that scale: raised voice, rapid breathing, stern tone, slightly dropped chin, wide eyes, erect posture, and pointed finger. Most observers would place these behaviors somewhere on the negative side of the scale by labeling them as upset or angry responses.

Each behavior taken independently could indicate multiple emotions besides anger or distress. They all play a role, and in a different context, one might use the same behavior pattern to alert others to danger. If they used those same behaviors to keep us safe, many observers would slide the behavior(s) to the positive side of the scale.

Quickly reading one movement or a single segment of someone else’s body language more accurately tells how you and they are feeling in the moment, not what they are thinking.

Of course, arms crossed over the torso are not the only body language position that can be misinterpreted. Behaviors and the body language patterns they create are neither good nor bad; they are simply behaviors. The context, including how you feel in the moment, changes the perception of the “rightness” or “wrongness.”

Sometimes it’s hardest to come to terms with the most straightforward conclusion. Many people habitually cross their arms across their chests when listening or waiting. Could it be that crossing their arms is relaxing their backs and necks? Or maybe those crossed arms indicate they are chilly or have gas from that lousy lunch.