Studies have shown at a MINIMUM, 60% of our communication is nonverbal–through body, voice tone and facial expressions. 

However, we rarely think about our body language. When you go on a date–you think about what you’re going to say. When you go into an interview you think about what you will say to answer a question. Far too rarely do we think about how we want to say something.

Body language can help you read other’s cues as well as make sure your message is coming across exactly the way you want. In the video above I explain the following concepts:

#1: Jazz Hands Rock

Our brain instinctively looks at people’s hands because they are truth indicators. Back in caveman days it was important to be able to see someone’s hands so you knew they were not holding a weapon. We still have trouble relaxing when we can’t see someone’s hands. This one is easy:

↑ Table of Contents ↑

#2: Show Me Your Torso

You can show nonverbal respect and engagement by always keeping your torso aimed at the person you are speaking with. This might seem obvious, but pay attention at a networking event; people often point their torsos elsewhere (sometimes where they secretly want to go…the exit, the buffet, the bar…). When you point your torso away the other person will perceive you as snobby, unfriendly and less likable. So aim away and use your torso to make connections.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

#3: Smirky Smirk Smirk

We are taught (especially women) that we should smile when we are nervous, smile to fake it until we make it, smile all the time because it is a badge of appeasement. I hate this advice.

Only smile if you mean it!

Otherwise you give off this fake, inauthentic grimace and that is worse than no smile at all. See the difference between these fake smiles and real smiles:

Fake Smiles Vs. Real Smiles:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 1.44.43 PM

↑ Table of Contents ↑

#4: Chin Jut What I Don’t Need

A chin jut is a nonverbal sign of anger. It can be territorial to jut your chin at someone. Men do this especially when speaking about or talking to someone they don’t like. This is a secret cue for you to watch out for. And be careful! When you see one, emotions are usually running high.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

#5: Aboooouuuut Face!

If you want to really learn about human emotions you have to learn to read the face.

About Science of People

Our mission is to help you achieve your social and professional goals faster using science backed, practical advice. Our team curates the best communication, relationship and social skills research; turning into actionable and relatable life skills. Science of People was founded by Vanessa Van Edwards, bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma.

27 replies on “How to Be People Smart”

  1. Jem

    Just watched the body language video & was interested in the “chin jut” because in Crete, in Greece it means something completely different! It actually means “no”. I must admit that I did find it confusing when I first went there because I interpreted the chin jut in response to my questions as indicating that they were stupid questions. Culture clash 🙂

  2. Penny Trenter

    There are people that side wind me. They start angle to my side and try to force me to rotate in their direction, and then I have my back to everyone else. It’s so bad but I don’t think consciously do it. Sometimes I have to take a stance, and turn back, forcibly talking out of the side of my mouth to make them stop going around to my back.

  3. Karla

    A very great point made in this article is the importance of not what you are saying, but how you say it. I believe this is a skill comedians have mastered since we don’t really laugh at what they are saying, but rather how they say it! That is the key!

  4. RoyBeaver

    What would happen if we sought to have no distance between who we are and who we portray ourselves to others! We spend so much time and energy trying to maintain a facade. This is actually a form of lying! We need to put ourselves out there and risk being empathetic! It is the only way our species is going to survive the climate upheaval that is coming our way!

  5. Nikki Thornton

    I am very aware of my hands now. I used to have a habit of putting them in pockets or hang my thumbs on the side of my trousers however now I am very aware of my body language I make an attempt to have my hands showing. I do get irritated though if someone has jazz hands overload! I wonder if this is just me or if there is some science behind it?!

  6. Lauren Freeman

    Knowing who to approach in a room full of people is something that will be SO helpful to me. I’m an ambivert, but walking into a large crowd of people without knowing anyone tends to give me anxiety. This not only makes me unable to approach new people, but makes me unapproachable as well. Learning these tips like keeping your hands and body open and smiling (genuinely) will really help me become more approachable and have the confidence to meet and talk to new people.

  7. Bella Perennis

    Yeah, the smirky smirk is truly horrible. Some people around me do it all the time because they are nervous, it looks like they are in pain.

  8. Andrew

    It should also be mentioned how important it is to smile often! Even if you’re feeling down, doing the act of smiling has been proven to help you instantly feel better 😀

  9. Robby Smith

    As an ambivert, these are great tips to know as I interact with a certain group of people! I love the Jazzy Hands, I use to be notorious for sticking my hands in pocket during social gatherings.

  10. Linn

    Shyness and introversion are NOT the same thing and shouldn’t be used as synonyms. Shyness is about fear of what others think about you. Introversion is about how you respond to outside stimulation, including social. I’ve been assigned the shyness label a few times, but they have been dead wrong. I’m not afraid of what people think about me, I just don’t need to be the loud-mouth in a social setting and I don’t need or want the spotlight on me. I prefer to listen more than I talk because learning about where are the other person’s buttons is of importance to me for many reasons. I go to dinners alone, I talk to strangers on line at the bank, etc. no problem at all. Don’t misjudge, you’d be making a mistake.

  11. Sam

    Such good stuff Vanessa. The website, the videos, the content, the science, the caring, the charm, the sweets and smarts. I’m drawn to all the things the others have posted below as well. The thing I”m drawn to most is your ability to be charismatic, genuine, business-minded and scientific all at the same time. I love to see it because just that helps me so much to see an actual example of authentic success…to remember that I can be great (big) and real (honest) at the same time, however that looks for me.

    It’s a fine line to ride and as one of your new fans I wish you the best in being able to ride that fine line like a graceful ballerina or martial artist. A slight bit off and it all comes apart! Integrity…the right integration of many things into one greater thing in equal proportion and balance. It’s magic really.

    The one thing that caught my eye and had me pause and feel a little tiny bit of doubt in the integrity was Danielle’s comment below. She comments twice, once as a fan and once as an employee of SOP right? That makes me feel like the first message is actually a scripted, refined statement that could have been said by anyone but seems to be slightly made up to pass the message of your product to the appropriate reader/audience. She even states that she’s an introvert but speaks like an extrovert…very precise and brief and well spoken…not really introvert characteristics ;)! Sometimes the smarts of marketing get in the way of wisdom and that’s such a bummer! Don’t let it! You don’t even need to. Some marketing is of course a good thing. Your challenge, if I may make such an awesome assumption, will be creating a ‘container’ big enough to hold the space of all your relatively effortless successes. It’s when we can’t contain it that we begin to try to control stuff and ‘make it happen.’ That’s the test: do you feel like you’re trying to control or do things feel tight? let go for a minute or two or a day. I’m guiltiest of all. I do it all the time. What you teach you need to learn the most they say! And I gladly accept it. It’s a funny trick and hope-filling magic to take a weakness and use it to create strength.

    We all want to feel massive hope. We feel even better when people stay true, integrous (sp??) and prove that hope isn’t silly, that it can be transformed into a chosen reality…to find a way not to force things but let nature takes it’s naturally successful course. That’s what it seems you’re doing. Way to go. I’m rambling. I wish you the best and will continue to be a fan of you and your work!!

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hi Sam, thank you for your comment and even more, being a part of the Science of People community.

      I want to address the portion of your comment relating to my comments here. Before I started working with Vanessa as an employee of SOP, I was simply a fan of her work with an insane interest in observation, people skills and the show Lie to Me.

      My interest led to an employment opportunity, but my desire to learn from Vanessa and learn more about this field hasn’t stopped. Rather, it grows exponentially on a daily basis!

      I comment as both a fan and employee, because I genuinely believe in the work Vanessa does and the tips she gives for a more successful life. I’m sorry if that came across as disingenuous, but every comment I write is completely true and from the heart. It’s not scripted or even required- just something I like to do.

      I have always considered myself an Introvert and it is something I have struggled with my entire life. That may not have come across in my comment, but I can promise I’m not posing as someone I’m not for marketing purposes. Being honest allows me to connect with other members here who may be struggling with something similar.

      I hope this eases your mind, Sam.


  12. I love everyone of your videos. It is super great to see you having so much fun on your videos. Thanks for sharing what you know. Looking forward to getting some of your courses.

  13. Vampiro

    Hi Vanessa, I have unflattering large teeth that are prominent when I smile, specifically my canine teeth. All I get from grown people as well as children and even doctors are Dracula and ware-wolf comments:( So, I had reduced my smile to a closed lip smile. After taking your class I realized I have been using the smile of contempt to my dismay. I also realized that unlike a poker face, my face is over expressional and my emotions betray me as they are too obvious in my facial expressions. You have made a big difference in my ability to interact well with others, thank you so much!

    1. Alexander Peraza

      You’re teeth are fine! Brush them daily and smile them proudly.
      Confidence + cleanliness = attractive (not necessarily good genes).

  14. Danielle McRae

    So many great points, Vanessa! I’m an introvert, so networking events often make me REALLY nervous. I am such a culprit of the fake smile. I definitely thought a fake smile was better than no smile, but now I know otherwise!

  15. Courts Torts

    My biggest struggle is missing people’s cues. Sometimes I think I have read someone and know them and it turns out I didn’t know them at all. That is the worst and my trust in everyone goes down.

    1. vvanedwards

      I get this completely. This crosses into both body language and human lie detection. Dont worry I can help you with that!

  16. Dominique

    Sometimes I walk into meetings and want to show confidence but I have no idea how to do that. I get really nervous and just don’t know what to do and I want people to see me professionally and respectfully. I would love to know how to do that with body language.

    1. vvanedwards

      luckily body language not only helps you look confident but it also helps you feel confident. Stay tuned I will post about this research and how to use it!

  17. Mike D

    I have a really hard time reading women! Their body language seems very confusing to me…do women have harder to read signals or is that just me?

    1. vvanedwards

      You are not alone! Plus men have a harder time reading body language than women. I have a few posts on just female body language you should check out:

Comments are closed.

If you liked this article...

Read More in Interpersonal Skills