2 Important Nonverbal Behaviours That Communicate Interest

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There are many things we communicate nonverbally. But one key thing we communicate nonverbally, whether we realize it or not, is to show how engaged and interested we are in another person during a conversation. The question “How can I know if someone is interested in my conversation?” can be answered by identifying certain nonverbal behaviours.

For nearly a century, we have been told that maintaining eye contact and smiling are very effective at expressing our interest. Dale Carnegie described these methods in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in the 1930s. But there are other behaviours that come in to play, such as head tilting and crossing your legs while standing. If you stop to examine yourself, you will discover how often you communicate these behaviours even though they are done unconsciously.

Tilting Your Head

Tilting our heads is a natural instinct we typically do when we feel safe. You will observe that close family members and lovers will sit together and tilt their heads without even realizing it. We also tilt our heads as we ‘coo’ at babies too. This behaviour is part our limbic brain response. In prehistoric times, tilting our heads and exposing our necks made us vulnerable by exposing the jugular vein. It was a sign of respect and trust. Today, we convey this same message of respect and trust with those we love, whether it is romantic or platonic. We display this same vulnerability around babies to make them feel at ease.
When you tilt your head, you are perceived as attentive, listening, and caring. People will assume you are paying attention to them rather than thinking about other things. This makes head tilting a very powerful behaviour when communicating with others. It can be used when courting a person or making a business deal.
Isopraxis, or in lay man’s terms, “body echoing”, is a phenomenon where people replicate the body language of another person. If you notice when 2 people both have their heads tilted, they are usually more engaged and their conversation tends to last longer than normal.

Standing with Legs Crossed

Crossing our legs while standing is another action we might carry out when we feel comfortable around others. Whenever we sense a threat, we plant our feet firmly on the ground in order to keep our balance. This can be due to a threatening situation such as standing near the edge of a tall building, but also due to uncomfortable social situations. When we feel threatened in some way, our limbic system will unconsciously activate our fight or flight safeguards in order to protect our body.
An article of Psychology Today says that when you cross your legs while standing, you can make a conversation partner feel more comfortable. This signal of comfort will show that you are interested in what they are talking about. Sometimes this can lead to them mirroring and crossing their own legs. Just like with head tilting, when both parties in a conversation express interest, the conversation will last longer. A longer conversation means more time communicating face to face, which is immensely helpful in building rapport in business and personal relationships.

Bonus: Pointing Feet

There is one last note on what behaviour to look for when trying to gauge a person’s interest.  When talking to someone, observe the direction the person’s feet are pointed and that will give you an indication of where that person’s mind is headed. If their feet are pointed toward you, chances are they are interested in you. If they are pointed away from you, it is likely they want to exit the conversation. It may or may not be unconscious.
Try to observe these behaviours in yourself and others. Use these opportunities to learn more about the people you interact with and how you are presenting yourself. You can apply these techniques to improve conversations and relationships in your professional and private life.
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