Ten Tips To Understand Body Language To Prevent Misunderstandings

Dirt of the Day

Guest blog by Dr. Lillian Glass (author of The Body Language of Liars)

So many relationships are destroyed because of misunderstandings of the other person’s body language. Body language is not just the movement of the body but it is the facial expressions and voice and speech patterns which we must decipher to prevent misunderstandings.

Men and women are not alike in how they act and speak and that can be confusing to each other and therefore create negative feelings.

1. Misinterpreting Space and Distance Concerns

Men take up more physical space than women as they tend to spread things out more this can create problems.  Let’s say your male date sits down on your couch and you notice his legs spread widely apart as he drapes his arm over the top of the sofa.  While this is typically male territorial body language, you may misinterpret it as his being thoughtless in hogging the couch as you now have no choice but to be squeezed in at the corner of the couch. Not knowing that this is natural male body language can create annoyance and animosity.

2. Misinterpreting Gestures

Men tend to use more large sweeping gestures away from his body as opposed to the more female gesturing towards her body. This may give the woman the wrong impression of his being too aggressive or invasive. Contributing to the perception of male aggressiveness is the man’s tendency to point their fingers when they speak which women find condescending as they rarely point but use a more curved hand movement when speaking.

3. Misinterpreting Listening

When listening men tend to lean back in more of a reclining position where they typically interlock their fingers behind the back of their neck. They also tend to fidget more when they listen which is often misinterpreted as their being disinterested, condescending, and not really caring about what the woman is saying when in fact this may not be the case at all.  Instead, it is simply a typical male sitting and listening body language position.

It is however understandable why women would feel that way since women typically lean forward when listening which makes they appear more attentive. So when they don’t observe the man following the same position they assume when listening, they often misinterpret this body language as his not being that attentive or interested in what they have to say.

4. Misinterpreting Touch

Perhaps it may be because men play team sports where touching is the norm with back slapping, patting, and touching to indicate camaraderie, men tend to touch others more when they talk. They touch women when guiding them through a door or assisting them with putting on their coats which can easily be misinterpreted by her as his being interested or flirting when that may not be his intention at all.

Men may also tend to get physically closer as they approach a woman and when they speak and are often perceived as invading a woman’s personal space, which may make women feel more defensive and put up a guard before even knowing the man.

5. Misinterpreting Eye Contact

A major facial language difference between men and women is that men usually avoid eye contact and do not look directly at the other person with whom they are speaking as they tend to look at the other person from an angle when listening.  Conversely a woman’s head and eyes directly face the other person when listening.  Because of these two distinct communication styles it’s not unusual for women to feel like the man isn’t being attentive or absorbing what she says. It may also cause her to misinterpret how he may feel about her and the status of their relationship.

6. Misinterpreting Head Nodding

Women usually smile more and appear more agreeable by nodding their head “yes” while listening.  The smile and the head nod does not necessarily mean that they agree,  but that they are politely encouraging you to continue speaking as they carefully listen to what you have to say. When men listen to you, they often display the opposite facial  expression when listening whereby they often  frown and squint. As they concentrate on what you are saying.  This difference can cause lots of confusion as the man may see the smiling and nodding woman as being in complete agreement with him, when she does not agree at all.  A woman may misinterpret a man’s frowns and squints while she speaks as his disagreeing and disapproval when in fact he is simply concentrating on what she says.

7.  Misinterpreting Voice Difference

Men speak in louder and more monotonous tones which can be very confusing to a woman. She can misinterpret these behaviors as the man being angry with her or not being interested.  Men not only speak at a louder volume than women, especially when emphasizing a point, but also use approximately three tones while speaking, whereas women use approximately five tones, thereby making the man appear to sound less  emotional than women, when this may not be the case at all.  Thus, women may mistake a man’s three tone repertoire as not being sensitive or emotional when that may not be the case at all. So the man may not be angry or bored or uninterested as the woman once thought.

8. Misinterpreting  Getting to The Point

The number one frustration and complaint that men report in talking with women is they don’t seem to get to the point quickly enough as women beat around the bush with flowery and indirect language as opposed to doing what men do – by getting to the point and being direct. Women misinterpret the man’s not using descriptive terms and explaining every detail as holding back when that may not be the case at all.

9. Misinterpreting Arguments and Apologies Differences In Arguing and Apologizing

Men see arguments as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. When it is over most men don’t hold grudges and tend to not bring things up from the past as women do. Conversely, women, see arguments as being continuous over time and think nothing of bringing up incidents from years earlier, which is very confusing to the man. Women also tend to hold grudges which makes it difficult to incorporate the man’s general “forgive and forget” approach.  Also women tend to take what they perceive as verbal rejection more personally while men minimize it and can more easily let it go.  Men tend to apologize less while women tend to apologize for things they have no business apologizing for, that has nothing to do with them. When men do apologize, they tend to be more embarrassed and use less emotion which often gives the wrong impression that the man isn’t really sorry or he isn’t as sincere about his apology.

10  The Mind Reader Confusion – Men Ask While Women Hint

Since men are socialized to make more direct requests as ask for what they want and women are socialized to be accommodating and not as direct, women often expect men to automatically know what they want without actually telling them.  Women will hint at what they want instead of being direct which causes the man to be confused.

Now that you are aware of the major body language and communication differences between you and your mate or your date, your relationship will go a lot more smoothly.


Dr. Lillian Glass is a respected body language expert, who has lectured on body language and deception to law enforcement agencies including the FBI. She is a jury consultant, expert witness in behavioral analysis, and a mediator for dispute resolution. Dr. Glass has appeared on Entertainment Tonight, 20/20, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Today, Dancing with the Stars, Millionaire Matchmaker, HLN, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She is the author of more than a dozen books, including the bestseller, Toxic People. Dr. Glass’s Body Language Blog, services, and products can be found at www.drlillianglass.com.

Dirty and Thirty


  1. Adam Hennessey says:

    (A little tongue and cheek humor to explain my circumstance.)

    I am part real life Marvel X-men meets Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_Man Some of my genes, numbers 17 and 22 have protein mutations. I’ll get my genome mapped when I find a good deal. Not quite sure exactly what caused the mutation.

    Of your above top 10, numbers 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, are the opposite for me. And I am tone deff. I think I have low, high and the middle is mumbled, garbled language something along the lines of science fiction (More tongue and cheek humor here) Socially, I am not sure what to make of it? Is that just a byproduct of living in Los Angeles for to many years and being around other folks like me or is it something that can be fixed internally?

  2. Red says:

    Can I point something out? Touching others without their permission is creepy, period. Not looking at others while speaking is interpreted by men and women alike as rude. If a date is making territorial gestures while sitting on your couch for the first time, then that’s inappropriate, because the couch is your territory, not his, and he’s being too familiar when he doesn’t know you that well. And if men have a “forgive and forget” approach to grudges, how do you explain “The Count of Monte Cristo”? Believe me, I’ve seen men get catty and vindictive with each other over the tiniest things, just like women do.

    Men don’t have to behave like they were raised by wolves. An actual gentleman who knows what good manners are and doesn’t hang around with uncouth slobs will not treat others this way. My father didn’t do a lot of these things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *