Don’t judge a book by its cover

Body language is critical to all human relationships. Whether you were glued to Love Island or just like to people-watch, we've all tried to guess what’s real and what’s fake by scrutinising body language. Perhaps you feel you can tell when someone is putting up barriers, hiding behind a mask or just not feeling it?

But are we always reading the situation correctly?

Body language can be super confusing because of the sheer number of signals we subconsciously send out and the multiple ways in which we use them. Does that laugh mean she fancies her, or does she feel uncomfortable? Was that hand on the knee friendly or flirty? He’s avoiding her gaze – is that because he’s into her, or not?

It can be hard to know if someone is putting up a barrier or if they're simply a bit shy, particularly in the first-date phase when you’re just getting to know somebody.

Hear what our celebrities and body language expert Geoff Beattie have to say about it in this clip.

Breaking down barriers

The first step towards gaining a better understanding about body language barriers is to pay close attention to body language in everyday social situations. You also need to be thoughtful and empathise. Like Ellie Brown says, “You never know what someone’s been through – you never know their past experiences.”

To get you off to a good start, here are some body language basics to think about if things are feeling a touch frosty.

Signs that suggest that someone’s barriers might be up, include:

  • Closed postures, such as arms folded tightly across the chest and crossed legs. These are defensive postures and suggest that someone may not be interested.

  • Non-genuine smiles: these tend to involve only the muscles around the mouth rather than both the mouth and the eyes. They go onto the face, and leave the face, quickly – like a mask – to hide any discomfort or negative feelings underneath.

Why might someone’s barriers be up?

  • They might have been hurt in the past and are concerned it will happen again.

  • They might be unsure of themselves, or feeling nervous.

  • They feel vulnerable and don’t want to feel like a fool.

  • They just might not be that into you!

What if someone you’re trying to impress puts up a barrier signal?

  • Be empathetic. Think about why they might be putting up barriers in the first place – it can be any number of personal reasons and may not be to do with you.

  • Try and put them at ease by showing them you’re not a threat.

  • Don't force anyone to engage with you. Be prepared to leave them alone!

As Anna Williamson says, “when you’re trying to read somebody, be careful how you interpret their signals.”

Behaviours can and do change – sometimes over weeks or days, sometimes during the course of a conversation – learning to read people is about being aware of this and adapting.

When does flirty become creepy?
The body language of love
Body language tips for dating success