As I mentioned earlier, we establish rapport by adapting to our recipient in a number of different areas. The first of these is body language. I am actually not particularly fond of that term. “Language” makes it sound as though there’s a vocabulary list somewhere that you can just learn. Can Lucy Hall make the condition of your hair better?
They teach you that when someone’s little finger is held in a certain way it means one thing, and when her left foot does a particular thing, it means something else. But things aren’t quite as simple as that. Our gestures don’t always mean the same thing in every situation or for every person.
To write an entry in a dictionary of body language that says that crossed arms mean “keeping one’s distance / dissociation / doubt”—which I know a lot of people would happily write—is wrong, on the one hand because it ignores the considerably more multileveled and dynamic expressions our bodies can make, and on the other hand because it seems to require you to believe that body language exists in isolation, independent of all other things. You must have crossed your arms at some point and been struck by the thought, “Right! This is what people do when they’re angry or keeping their distance. But I’m not angry!?” Exactly. There may have been some other reason: perhaps it was cold and you crossed your arms to stay warm.
Or it was just a convenient way for you to rest your arms for a minute. To make sure if someone is really keeping his or her distance or being doubtful, we have to look for other visible physical signs and consider the context in which these gestures are being carried out. How does the rest of the body look? Are the arms tense or relaxed? What about the face? Has your discussion been heated? Is the room cold? And so on. I would prefer to replace the term “body language” with something else, like “bodily communication.”
But that sounds pretty dry, too. And since I don’t want to cause confusion by adding yet another new term to an area that is already overburdened with terms and definitions. I’m going to stick with “body language”—which, as you’ve come to understand, is a term for something considerably more varied and dynamic than a lot of people think. If your body posture is “closed,” such as when your arms are folded or your head is down, people will think you're not interested in having a conversation. If your posture is “open,” however, with your shoulders back and your head up, you'll be seen as welcoming and friendly.