Telltale Signs of a Disagreement
#1 DIRECT GAZE
In general, there are three basic gazes: The Direct Gaze, the Social Gaze, and the Intimate Gaze. You use the Direct Gaze when meeting with someone for the first time and in business situations, times when you have permission to look at the person’s eyes and forehead area.
You use the Social Gaze when you know the other person, but you don’t know them. You’re friends, but you’re “work friends.” With this gaze, you have permission to look at the other person’s eyes and mouth area.
You use the Intimate Gaze with family members, best friends, significant others—people you’re much more intimate with. These are “your people” or “your tribe,” as some call it. You have permission to look at the eyes, forehead, mouth, and chest areas.
The Direct Gaze, as shown in the illustration, can instigate a fight as well as add intimidation before and during an argument. There isn’t much blinking at first and the eyes are most likely squinted due to the expression of Anger.
#2 UPPER LIP TIGHTENED AND PULLED
Tighten your upper lip a little and pull it in against your top front teeth. Now curl it inward from the bottom. Now say, “That’s not what I meant.” You sound a bit abnormal. Now lower your voice and say it again. Similar to the person in the example picture, you look and sound about 40 percent angry. (The other 60 percent shows up when you make the entire facial expression of Anger.)
Keep in mind, the facial expression of Anger has different levels and intensities. At a lower level of anger, you’ll most likely see and hear similar cues before you realize there are even smaller body language cues being exhibited as well.
#3 POINTING WITH EXTENDED FINGER
When emotions are running high in a heated disagreement, the use of illustrators will increase dramatically. They may be used to not only emphasize specific words or phrases, but also to help create a barrier of space between the two people.
This illustrator may also be used to break into the space barrier of the other person in an attempt to dominate their “Sacred Space.” Greg Hartley defines a person’s Sacred Space as “the personal area around you that you control by using adaptors.”
#4 TORSO LEANING FORWARD
As someone arguing tries to get their point across or wants to be sure they’re heard clearly, they may lean in and bend forward while at the same time leaving their feet firmly planted. The torso lean is an important cue to look for.
Here’s why: When their torso leans forward, take a look at their legs. Are they slightly bent? Or are they straight and planted, so they aren’t going to move? If they are straight while the torso leans forward, maybe with a hand on the hip and/or pointing a finger, as in the example picture, the chance of violence from this person at this point is fairly low.
However, during the argument, if you see the person has shifted their body weight back to their dominant leg and the non-dominant leg has moved to the front, take this as a warning sign of potential violence. The person may be preparing to lunge forward and grab you or take a swing at you. That position sets the person up to be able to make a myriad of aggressive moves that could escalate the situation.
#5 BACK STAYS RIGID
Even though a person may lean their torso forward for any of the reasons we’ve covered, their back may remain rigid and straight. We won’t go deep into pre-fight posturing, but as the limbic system switches to Freeze, Fight, or Flight mode, the muscles tense as a protective maneuver in case the body is attacked. If the muscles remained relaxed, they would be less capable of successfully sustaining blows from the other person should they lash out. Think of these tensed muscles like an exoskeleton that protects your vital organs.
#6 EYEBROWS DRAWN INWARD AND UP
Joe Navarro says, “The forehead is the billboard for our emotions.” If that’s true, the details of those billboard messages are displayed by the eyebrows. You may not be able to clearly see the wrinkles in someone’s forehead at a distance, but you will definitely see what their eyebrows are doing.
When someone feels they are being wrongly accused or they’re trying to understand why another person is angry with them, direct eye contact with eyebrows drawn inward, up, and pulled out at the sides helps create the unmistakable and classic facial expression that says “I don’t understand why you think that,” “What are you talking about?”, etc.
#7 OPEN MOUTH WITH CHIN JUTTING FORWARD
You can see the person’s mouth is open and their chin is jutted forward, suggesting surprise and disbelief. The mouth mimics the Surprise expression and the chin juts and stays forward, suggesting, “I’m not changing my mind on this.” In other words, “What? I’m surprised you think that! It was NOT me!”
#8 HANDS OPEN AND BELOW SHOULDERS
Open hands may be the most potent nonverbal tool a person can use. To those watching, they suggest, “I’m hiding nothing. I’m not being aggressive. Don’t feel threatened by me.” When the palms are pushed forward and below the shoulders, as in the picture, this is sometimes referred to as “Mercy Hands.” They say to the other person, “Please believe me. Have mercy!” That’s exactly what this person’s hands are transmitting nonverbally: “Don’t be threatened by me. Whatever it is, I didn’t do it. Believe me, it wasn’t me!”
#9 LOWERED HEAD, TILTED AND PUSHED FORWARD
The head tilted to the side suggests the person’s attention is focused on and is trying to understand what the other person is doing or saying. This is normal when someone is being accused, especially when it’s a surprise, as in the example picture. With the head pushed forward, the neck is unprotected. It’s the brain saying, “Look, I’m vulnerable. I’m not on the counterattack. I don’t need to be. I didn’t do anything.”
When the head is lowered, it shows there is no attempt to dominate the situation. In a way, it’s offering an act of submission to the accuser. If a friend of yours says, “I know you took all the money out of my wallet” and you’re not expecting it, you won’t start yelling and trying to dominate the situation. You will most likely display nonverbal cues that say, “What? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” After your head recoils and your eyebrows pull inward, up, and out, the head tilted and pushed forward will most likely be your brain’s next move.
#10 SHOULDERS SHRUGGED AND PULLED BACK
When you see a person with their shoulders shrugged and pulled back, like in the example picture, their chest is exposed. This, along with the other nonverbal cues we’ve looked at, tells us this person isn’t worried about violence. They are more concerned with letting the other person know they have come to an incorrect conclusion about the accusation against them.
The shoulder shrug is an almost universal nonverbal cue that says, “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” “I’m not sure,” and/or “I’m confused about what just happened.” If the person is pretending that they don’t understand, the shoulder shrug lasts around a half second or less. A real shrug can last from one second to a second and a half, and sometimes it can even last as long as two or three seconds.
How to Read When Things Are Going Well
#1 HEAD TILTED EXPOSING NECK
The tilted head exposing the neck is one of the first nonverbal cues you’ll notice when a woman is attracted to someone. As we talk about the head tilt in a dating situation, it’s important to note that humans secrete pheromones to help attract a mate. One of the common ways the body releases pheromones is through sweating. By exposing her neck, not only is she subconsciously saying she is vulnerable, but she is also saying, “Check out these pheromones!” The head and neck are prone to heating up and lightly sweating as the woman becomes aroused.
#2 BLINK RATE SLOWS
When excited, your brain wants to see as much of whatever it is you’re looking at as it possibly can. The same goes for when you’re attracted to someone. Your brain says, “Hang on a second. This person appeals to me in every way. I want a really good look at them. There are some things I’d like to know.”
#3 BEDROOM EYES
When you hear the term “Bedroom Eyes,” it’s being used in a specific context, usually a sexual context. It refers to a specific look some women try to recreate with makeup to help mimic the look of a woman’s eyes when she is sexually aroused. When the eyes are nearly half closed or heavy lidded and the pupils are also dilated, that is Bedroom Eyes. That is what you’re seeing in the example.
#4 FLUSHED CHEEKS
Cartoonists and digital artists are some of the best readers of body language and nonverbal cues on the planet. Why are they so good at translating human behavior into drawings? Because when they’re not drawing, they’re watching the way people behave in every situation you can possibly imagine. They are literally studying the body language of everyday people. They’re experts
For example, when you’re watching a cartoon and you see the girl mouse meet the boy mouse for the first time, there are several things you can tell me right now that are about to happen. The first thing she’s going to do is start batting her eyes. After that? She’ll clasp her fingers together and push her wrists and palms outward and down a little bit. And after that? Her head will tilt to the side. Last but not least, her cheeks will blush.
Blushing cheeks denote embarrassment and sometimes anger. They can also indicate sexual arousal and attraction. When you see this on your date’s face and cheeks, things are going really well.
#5 STEADY EYE GAZING
Everyone—if the woman finds her date attractive, she’ll keep a steady eye on them. Not because she thinks they’re going to attack her, but because her brain wants to keep taking in as much information about the potential mate as it possibly can. Is the subject she’s talking about interesting to him? Is the potential mate in a good mood?
#6 LEANING FORWARD
If he wanted to distance himself from his date, he would just sit straight up with both hands and arms on the table acting as barriers as well. By doing that, he would be adding even more space between them. However, when he leans forward, he’s closing the distance between himself and the other person. Subconsciously, he’s trying to get as close to the potential partner as he can. Notice his head is pushed forward just a bit as well. The date has his complete attention.
#7 SPACE BETWEEN FINGERS
When a person is angry, worried, or anxious, there are several hand cues they may exhibit. As their anger grows, a person will most likely clinch their dominant hand into a fist, as though they are preparing to throw a punch. The worried and/or anxious person will exhibit the classic hand-wringing cues, rubbing their hands together or rubbing the right hand’s palm with the left hand’s thumb. They may put one, two, three, or all four fingers and thumb in one hand and squeeze them.
At the other end of the spectrum, when someone is relaxed, their hands are prone to relax, as in the picture. Even though they are holding a cup of coffee, there is plenty of space between the fingers. When you see this, it suggests that the person is not worried or stressed. When the space goes away, something has changed, signifying there’s an issue. Sometimes it goes away slowly and sometimes it goes away quickly, depending on the situation. Look for this cue not only on dates, but in meetings as well.
#8 SHOULDER DOWN AND FORWARD
He’s so interested in his date that he doesn’t realize he’s moving even closer by pushing his shoulder forward. At the same time, this positions his body at an angle to his potential partner’s. This is good for his date because the other person’s brain will see he isn’t squaring off with them as he continues trying to get closer and his movement will be seen as less of a threat.
#9 LOWERED TONE OF VOICE
Voice tone plays an important role when persuading others to do what you want them to do. If a person’s voice is high-pitched, shrill, and loud, that lets others know something’s wrong. If their voice is in a normal range and isn’t at an increased volume, others immediately get the feeling that everything is fine. What about your tone of voice on a date? We know that, by lowering your voice tone and volume, two things will happen:
- The other person will come a little closer to try and hear you better. They may lean in a bit or even scoot their chair closer
- The lowered voice tone will make the other person’s brain release oxytocin.
Oxytocin is the bonding chemical that floods a new mother’s brain when she holds her baby for the first time. It’s the tone Barry White uses in his love songs. When you lower your voice tone, it indicates you are trying to create a bond with the other person. However, if you lower it too much, it sounds creepy.
#10 LEG JIGGLING UNDER TABLE
Most people are under the impression that a jiggling leg under the table is bad news, especially on a date. It’s believed that the person jiggling their leg is lying, nervous, scared, and/or a myriad of other things. It can mean all of those things. However, you must take the behaviors you’re seeing and put them in context with what’s happening in that specific situation in real time.
If we look at the other behaviors exhibited in the example picture, we can feel confident with deciding he’s in no way a threat. The jiggling leg was most likely triggered by his excitement at being on a first date
On the other hand, if his leg wasn’t jiggling and his date asked him a question about his history or background—for example, “Have you ever been in trouble with the law?”—and his leg started jiggling, then there is cause to ask more questions around that subject. By the same token, if his leg was jiggling and after that question it stopped? His date better ask more questions about that subject.