The Subtleties of Body Language

Most employees pay attention to what the boss says, while the savvy employee also pays attention to how it is being said. Bosses can be good at using -- not just reading -- body language, which may be one of the reasons they got to be boss in the first place.

Often the body changes quickly if the boss likes or does not like what he saw or heard, or if she is uncomfortable in what she is saying to you. So watch closely -- it happens in a nanosecond!

Here are some ways to help interpret the boss' body language:

Body Stance and Posture


  • Physically on the same level (sitting or standing).
  • Directly faces you.
  • Comes into your office rather than just standing at the door.
  • In a group, sits or stands close to you.


  • Does not face you directly.
  • Stands and looks down on you. (Ever have a boss who never sits?)
  • Places both hands on his hips to create a wingspan. (Even the big guys and gals who don't need more "space" may do this.)
  • In groups, avoids you, sits with others, or does not introduce you.

Eyes, Head, and Face


  • Looks you directly in the eye.
  • Muscles around the eye are relaxed.
  • Facial muscles are relaxed. Lips are their normal size.
  • Pleasant face and friendly smile.


  • Rapid eye movement, does not look at you; has a cold, glaring, staring, or glazed-over look.
  • Blinks more than normal.
  • Raises one eyebrow as if in disbelief or doubt.
  • Facial muscles are tight; lips thin out.
  • Jaw muscles and clenched, and temple or neck veins throb.
  • Smile is stiff and forced.

Hands, Arms, and Gestures


  • Hands are in view, opened, calm.
  • Arms are open (but may be crossed in a comfortable position).


  • Hands are not in sight -- in pockets, or under the table or desk.
  • Hands (in sight) are closed or in a fist; fingers tightly clasped.
  • Arms are tightly crossed (defensive or protective position).
  • Points or wags his or her finger aggressively.
  • Drums his or her fingers or fidgets nervously.

Remember, sometimes body language is not about you. Bosses have their own issues and you might just be in the line of fire. Observe many situations and look for consistency for the full story.