It’s not surprising that most of us feel some level of stress when we are at work. It could be the pressure of deadlines or challenges with coworkers or clients. These feelings show up in our body language.
What does mild stress look like in the office?
You might see someone with their arms crossed over their chest. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are blocking you or being defensive. They may just feel more comfortable in that position because it’s like getting a “self-hug.” That’s why the crossed arms position is a default for many people when they are in a meeting.
Vacation body language is more open.
It’s rare to see the crossed arms position when people are on vacation, unless they are feeling stress about something. Think about how people recline with their arms relaxed by their side when on the beach or around the pool. Notice their legs are not crossed either. If you’re thinking that sunbathers have a motive to stay in an open position to get an even tan, you’re right… but even if they consciously want to be open, if they feel any tension, they won’t be able to stay open. Their unconscious will cause them to cross their arms and/or legs.
How feelings leak from the unconscious.
Here’s a great example of how body language changes where there is tension: think about when someone gets into a dentist’s chair. The reclined position is very similar to being in a chaise lounge by the pool, but the body language is completely different. In talking to oral surgeons, dentists, and dental hygienists, they consistently say that the vast majority of patients automatically cross their legs at the ankles as soon as they are reclined in the chair. That’s because this closed position makes them feel less vulnerable, and therefore more comfortable. Even knowing all this, I find I can’t keep my ankles from crossing when I’m getting my teeth cleaned. I consciously uncross them, but before I know it, they are crossed again. Try this the next time you have a dental appointment and see what happens.
Look for more upward body language movement when people are on vacation or feeling positive.
My mentor Joe Navarro coined the phrase “gravity defying” nonverbals for body language with upward movement. On vacation you can see this often. People are so happy they are bouncing up on their toes, raising their arms excitedly in the air and giving each other high fives. This uplifting behavior can even include raised eyebrows, showing “I’m glad to see you!”
Look for these positive nonverbal signals while you’re on vacation, or if you’ve just returned, look at your candid photos. Here’s hoping you notice a lot of positive signals because you and your loved ones had a great vacation!