Body Language: Legs


Body Language: Legs
In the study of body language, one must combine the use of gestures in groups.  The arms can tell us many things, the hands can tell us many more, but the legs can add the exclamation mark to the group of arm/hand/facial gestures a person does, telling us exactly what is on their mind.  The legs can reveal if a person is open and comfortable around you, or if they are negative and uncertain, the legs can display a dominant attitude or indicate which direction a person wants to go.  The beauty of the legs is that the further away a body part is from the brain, the less aware we are of what that body part is saying about us – we can be somewhat aware of what our facial expressions are portraying and sometimes control our arms, but we almost always forget about what our legs are saying.

  • Body Language: LegsFeet Pointing: The direction our feet point in reveals what our mind is focusing on, we all have a dominant foot that leads us when we are walking (right or left).  When speaking to someone we are interested in…our lead foot will point towards them, however if we are in a situation we feel uncomfortable in and/or wish to leave, our foot will point towards the nearest exit or towards a direction we’d wish to continue walking to instead. You will sometimes find people who are perfectly seated and straight on their chair talking to someone while their feet are in the position they would be if they were standing up to leave.
  • Body Language: LegsStanding Leg Cross: There are two ways someone can cross a leg while standing up, one is crossing one leg in front of the other and resting it on the toes of that foot and the other way is by crossing one leg parallel to the other as if they really needed to pee. Crossing our legs can reveal either a submissive, defensive or closed minded attitude, as if symbolically Body Language: Legsprotecting or denying access to the genitals.  Crossing our legs can also be interpreted as a sign used by people with low confidence - if you watch a group of people you’ll observe there’s usually someone with their arms and leg crossed.  Usually this person is someone who is new to the group (they’ll also be standing further apart from the rest) and feels insecure and withdrawn around the strangers around them.  If, in a group of men one has their legs crossed while the others have a Dominant Stand (read below)…it reveals that the man feels inferior around the other men around him or feels less masculine.
  • Body Language: LegsPaying Attention: When somebody stands with both their legs together and remains in a still position with their hands in front of them, or behind their back (observe the frontal hands position as indicating defensiveness, while observing that the hands behind the back position can indicate confidence), this is a display that the person is feeling neutral towards the situation, i.e. they have no crossed legs showing negative or closed opinions, nor are their feet pointing towards anywhere they wish to go, instead, they remain still like an army soldier awaiting the instructions of his superior.

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  • Body Language: LegsDominant Stand: When someone spreads their legs far apart and stands with both feet firmly on the ground, this is a loud statement they are making implying that “nobody will move me from here because I have my feet well positioned on the ground” – usually this is interpreted as a sign of dominance.  The dominant stand can usually be observed amongst confident men approaching women, but most notoriously found amongst superior officers giving instructions to the awaiting-instruction-cadets, as well as bouncers and cowboys. This spread-leg position also applies while sitting.  You will notice dominant men will often sit down spreading their legs as if putting on display their “large” crotches.
  • Body Language: LegsSitting Leg Cross: The same basis applies with the standing leg cross, i.e. crossing our legs while we sit is also a sign of a submissive, defensive or closed minded attitude.  On average 7 out of 10 people will cross their left leg over their right, so always keep in mind that leg crossing should be read in context and in groups (or clusters) with other body language gestures.  Leg crossing for instance, could mean that someone feels Body Language: Legscold (they will cross their legs tightly when they’re cold as opposed to in a relaxed manner), or that they need to go to the bathroom, or with women it could be they are wearing a miniskirt and need to cover their privates, or else have cramps.  Also note that two types of leg crosses exist: the European one in which one knee rests over the other and the American one, where the ankle rests on the top of the knee of the other.  Note that this last type of leg crossing has a different meaning to the European type as it shows that the person has an argumentative or competitive attitude.  Some people also choose to reinforce their attitude through physical cues, for example: those that have a clearly competitive attitude reinforce what they feel by locking their crossed leg position using one of their hands. This is a clear sign of a stubborn or tough minded individual who is closed to any other opinion but their own.
  • Body Language: LegsShy Tangle: Often people (though most commonly women) who are shy or timid will entangle their legs together creating this sort of over and under leg cross, as if attempting to lock their negative emotions in place and make themselves as narrow and small as possible in order to appear non threatening.  Another common shy leg twirl is done while standing, this is achieved by crossing one leg in front of the other and hiding the foot of that leg behind the knee of the other leg as if they were scratching.
  • Body Language: LegsAnkle Lock: When sitting or lying down, locking our ankles together is a sign that we are holding back and trying to repress an emotion such as fear or uncertainty. Additionally, we may tuck in our feet under our chairs, which also shows a withdrawn feeling from the present situation.  If you ask a dentist about his patients he will confirm that 9 out of 10 patients lock their ankles when they are receiving an injection, and 8 out of 10 will usually have their ankles locked during the whole procedure – observe your legs next time you go to the dentist to see for yourself.
  • Body Language: LegsChair Barrier: Some instead of choosing arm shields will use objects instead – using a cup, a bag or a laptop isn’t considered more than a sign of insecurity or uncertainty, but when someone uses their chair as a shield it indicates a whole different message.  Usually, if their legs are spread (like in the Dominant Stand) displaying their crotch, this shows the intentions to dominate and take control, but at the same time if they are using their chairs as a barrier between you and them, they are unconsciously trying to defend themselves, and their vulnerable bodies.  
  • Body Language: LegsSmarty Pants: This is apparent when a person is trying to appear bigger by spreading their arms wide, locking them behind their head, and crossing their legs the American style, all indicating that they feel argumentative or competitive.  This sitting gesture is used by the person who is feeling more confident, dominant or superior than the rest…just like the telemarketer who made a few sales and is bragging about it to his co workers.  This is mostly used by show off’s and braggers.
  • Foot Tapping: Foot tapping repeatedly on the floor can suggest impatience or anxiety, it can commonly be found at dentist waiting rooms, waiting to take the final exams, and so forth.

[note]This article is part of the Beginners Guide To Body Language series, you can read the rest of the articles by clicking here.[/note]

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  1. SA says

    It should be emphasized that the stances for people who feel uncomfortable (e.g. crossed arms/legs) can be due to either social or physical discomfort. But it doesn’t end there; the two may cross over. I will illustrate with an example from the Smarty Pants stance. I am very comfortable with speaking before large audiences if I am prepared. I was waiting on the stand to give a keynote address but noticed that I was decidedly nervous despite plenty of preparation. Then I realized that the air conditioning was blowing directly on me and chilling me. I took the Smarty Pants position and immediately felt more confident about the speech. It went fine.
    A related example – I had a performance review with my boss yesterday – always a very nerve wracking experience for me. As soon as he started his evaluation, I opened my body with the arms behind my head and legs out to unconsciously stifle my nerves. The only way you could tell I was nervous was because I spoke more quickly than normal.

    • says

      Your examples illustrate perfectly the power of cause and effect, adopt the body language you want to portray and you’ll start experiencing those feelings along with it :).

  2. Jessica says

    I often sit with my legs crossed because it is comfortable. It happened to me once that I was in a public place, with my legs crossed. My neighbor to whom I had pointed my leg deliberately crossed her leg so that our legs were pointed toward each other. It wasn’t just coincidence since she obviously tried to push my foot away.

    We were both sitting like what you call the “European style leg cross.” So in that manner I think it’s not always a submissive position.

    • says

      Thats an interesting anecdote!

      Right now Im in Spain so Im observing the European leg cross everywhere, females and males alike. It just depends on culture and I dont think it reflects very much on personality when seen in that context, very dominant men here sit with there legs cross in the European/feminine way except for Germans who seem to sit here like Americans, emphasizing the size of their package and inability to cross there legs due to that :)

  3. NO says

    The level of bullshit in this article is unbelievable. American/European style leg-crossings? hahahaha