These arms …

These arms …

by Barbara Chatzkel

Welcome to this month’s insight into business body language. It’s a place to get tips to help you better understand the signals your body is sending and how to modify your body language to match your message.

For those of you who read last month’s post on feet and legs, were you more observant of others’ feet and leg placement? Did you think about how you were standing while in conversation with a group? Remember, if you want the truth, look at the feet and legs.

Arms are another interesting body language feature. They are attached to two other body language messagthese arms of minee centers – the hands and the torso – but they are very expressive in their own right. In order of prominence, arms are the third most important area for deciphering body language.

Otis Redding knew how important arms were in building relationships. He charmed millions with “These Arms of Mine” and showed how expressive arms could be.

Some tips on arm body language:

  • Many arm gestures are only interpreted correctly if you also include the accompanying hand movements. Additionally, facial expressions add to the message that the arms are sending.
  • Arms raised to their full extension can express joy, victory, or surrender, depending on the accompanying hand motions, as well as facial expressions. These are extremes of emotion and are not easily confused.

arms up

Crossed arms can signal that the individual is:

  • Closed – as in not open to new ideas
  • Being protective
  • Reassuring themselves in a classic “self-reassurance” posture
  • Comfortable sitting or standing in that position
  • Cold and trying to warm up

arms crossed

Once again, facial expressions will add the rest of the information for you to correctly understand (or send) the message.

  • Hands behind head, elbows pointing forward, is a territorial gesture and one of dominance.
  • An individual with arms behind the back can be:
    • Uncomfortable and unsure about what to do with their arms and hands
    • Hiding something – literally or figuratively
    • Trained that arms behind the back and a wider stance is “at ease.”

The preferred – or “neutral” – standing position is relaxed with arms and hands at your sides. If you are uncomfortable with this, holding your arms behind your back is much preferable to the “fig leaf” position.

fig leaf positionHugs are primarily arm movements and are defined by duration, pressure, facial expression, cultural norms, and gender. Because it is a contact body movement, it often feels awkward because the two individuals are not in sync.

best friendsHave an enjoyable month and remember to periodically check to see that your body language actually mirrors the message you want to send.


  1. Over the next month watch someone making a formal presentation. Are their arm movements helping or hindering the message of the presentation?
  2. Which arm movements do you make most often? Are those movements congruent with your message? What changes might you consider?

finger hug_______________________
Barbara Chatzkel’s ability to provide a vibrant and behavior-changing book extends Chatzkelacross industry segments – everyone uses business body language. Her coaching and consulting expertise on business body language grew from conducting union negotiations, managing difficult personnel situations, managing at multiple levels, and extensive business coaching experience. Her new book,
Business Body Language: Your Visual Business Card, will be available in print in early 2015. Visit her website today for further information.

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