Arming the Body – What the Arms Communicate when a Person is Silent.

Seven to ten seconds.

That is all it can take to create a lasting impression. Now, that does not mean it is all over, and you cannot rectify things. However, it is important to keep that in mind when factoring in body language.

Whether you are in public speaking, social interactions or in another type of business setting. Once an opinion is formed, it can take a lot of effort to change it. Which is why it is vital to use not only our words, but our non-verbals to communicate a good picture to another person. And one aspect to take into account is what we are doing with our upper body, in particular, with our arms.

Arming Yourself

Our arms are used for a variety of things. Picking things up, lifting ourselves up, driving, or to protect ourselves from a potential blow.
One of the most common actions that our arms do to communicate is when we are anticipating something bad may happen, or to show fear.

Take those that do kickboxing. The arms do not just extend out to hit, they are quickly replaced back to the body in order to protect the fighter from a blow from the other fighter. Pregnant women display the protective behaviour by placing their arms over their belly to unconsciously protect their unborn child.

For those that watch any crime show, or knows enough about crime, knows that one of the things forensic investigators look for on a murdered person, or a person claiming to be attacked, is the ‘defensive wounds’.

Any person that is conscious when attacked will most likely have defensive wounds on their arms as they hold them up to protect themselves.

The femur and ulna – the bones in the legs and forearms are stronger than what most give them credit for when armed to protect. However, because of the natural instinct of flying to our defense, our arms also quickly display our mood without us even realizing it.

It is not just about crossing our Arms.

Most people immediately associate body language with crossing one’s arms to display defensiveness or disinterest. The arms are much more than a simple movement like that.

Imagine a person that is used to expressing themselves. While they are talking their arms and hands move a lot. Someone approaches them, gradually this same expressive person’s arms fall down by their side, barely moving. The other person’s arms are in front of their body with clasped hands.

What caused this sudden change of expression? Well, most likely this person just heard some sad news, while the other person delivered this news in a subdued way.
It is all about the change from what the person started with, then suddenly changing to another set of body language; the arms giving away that this person has most likely received news that was upsetting or displeasing.

Joe Navarro – the leading expert on body language and former FBI agent theorizes that when a person is happy, they are most likely to raise their body parts into the air; arms lifted up, widening the eyes, lips curving up, perhaps feet kicking up into the air.

All of these simple movements can indicate that this person is happy, or is experiencing some sort of positive emotion.
In contrast, when a person is experiencing some sort of negative emotion, their arms are likely to be by their sides, and quite still.

Crossing Arms

Now we come to the most commonly perceived element in body language – crossing arms.

Most people assume that when someone crosses their arms they are in a defensive mode. Crossing the arms can mean a variety of things.

Our arms not only protect us from physical harm, we use them when we are experiencing emotional harm.

Women in particular may cross their arms over their chest, perhaps pulling knees into the chest to protect themselves when they are upset. This action is commonly seen in women that have experienced abuse.

A person leaning against a wall crossing their arms may merely indicate they are trying to appear casual while waiting for someone. Others may cross their arms when trying to keep warm.

Take an example of a group of people congregating together. Another person approaches, this person is quite large in stature, and could be considered quite intimidating. One person advances from the group, arms crossed.

Now, several things can be interpreted from this situation. The one that advances from the group could be considered the leader; hence he tries to assert his leadership position by first approaching the stranger. Secondly, the arm crossing can mean a few things. Inwardly, the person could fear that the other person could cause some trouble. Or it could be defiant behaviour, in which the person is saying to the stranger “don’t mess with me.”

The situation described is a pure example of why it is important to consider all other elements in body language before assuming a certain thing about a situation.


The arms also display truthfulness when they are withdrawn. A couple is on a date, everything seems to be going well, they are leaning towards each other. Suddenly, the woman sits up, takes her hands away from the table, leaning back in her seat.

This act of withdrawal is a common sign that the person is withdrawing emotionally as well. When a person pulls their arms away, it is an indication that the person is withdrawing from that other person, likely because something has been said to change the person’s mood towards the other person.

Understanding the nuances of body language can increase your skills of picking up the subtle changes that occur when you are communicating with someone.

From the top of our body, right down to our feet are all means of communicating. We just need to learn how to interpret what they are saying.

What situation have you been in where understanding body language has been particularly helpful to defuse a potentially tense situation?

‘Like’ and ‘comment’ if you have been honing your skills in body language. 🙂

Published by sharlene25

Sharlene Almond is the author of the genre-bending Annabella Cordova series, and a New Zealand travel book Journey in little Paradise. She has written a range of health, writing and body language articles; contributing as a guest writer on other blogs. Over the last ten years, Sharlene has attained qualifications in Body Language, Criminology, Journalism, Editing, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Pet Care, and Animal Behaviour. While setting up an online nutritional business, she is studying to specialize in Medicinal Cannabis and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sharlene is also currently editing her second Annabella Cordova novel, with two others in the works. To support her online business, Sharlene sends out a trimonthly newsletter covering health, body language, writing, and even articles centered on health topics for your pet.

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