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How to Read Your Family’s Body Language: Thanksgiving Edition

Thanksgiving can be an interesting time for families—you have lots of family getting together after long absences, new significant others, too much food and old memories—both good and bad.

Here are some fun tips for your Thanksgiving with the family.

1. Mimicry


What: Mimicry is when you subtly mimic or copy the body language of the person you are speaking with. Anytime you want something to go more smoothly you can use mimicry to build rapport.  This is actually fun to do because they will feel welcome, heard and instantly more comfortable. We even do this subconsciously on dates where we like someone or when we are trying to make a new friend.


When: This is if you are a new boyfriend or girlfriend visiting home for the first time or if you have a guest coming who you want to make welcome or a difficult aunt who always makes a fuss.



2. Watch for Lip Pursing


What: Lip pursing is when the lips push together. People subconsciously do this when they are holding something back. We purse our lips when we want to say something but are either being interrupted or think we shouldn’t say what’s really on our minds.


When: My Grandma is the queen of lip pursing and my mom does it when one of my siblings or I do something we know she doesn’t approve of—like grabbing a roll out of the basket before dinner is served or turning on the football game in the den. When you see this you know that the person is holding back.


3. Pay Attention to Confrontation Clues


What: Inevitably there is usually some kind of confrontation that happens when a lot of family gets together, especially when wine is flowing. But, nothing is worse than family fighting over the holidays only for it to be re-kindled at Christmas. There are two clues to know when confrontation is coming and to block it from erupting into a fight.

*A chin jut, which means anger

*Battle stance with hands on your hips and feet widely planted.


When: If a tense subject comes up and you see a chin jut or someone goes into battle stance it is time to change the subject or move rooms—time for dessert anyone?


4. Host’s and Hostesses Have Hospitable Body Language


What: If you are hosting or just want to make a good impression, besides mimicry be sure to have ‘friendly body language’ which is avoiding crossing your arms and smiling while direct eye gazing.


When: Use this when greeting guests or chatting with a group. If you are trying to make someone feel comfortable keep your arms loose and look them in the eye with a smile and nod. This is the most encouraging body language you can do.


Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-reading People. New York, NY: Collins Living, 2008.

Ekman, Paul. Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. New York: Norton, 1985.

Pease, Allan, and Barbara Pease. The Definitive Book of Body Language. New York: Bantam, 2006.

Meyer, Pamela. Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception. New York: St. Martin’s, 2010.

Craig, David. Lie Catcher: Become a Human Lie Detector in under 60 Minutes. Newport, N.S.W.: Big Sky, 2011.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.

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