7 ways to gauge emotional intelligence through body language

Be more aware of the messages you are inadvertently conveying, or suss out what others are revealing about themselves by clueing in to these body language signals.

7 ways to gauge emotional intelligence through body language
[Photo: Olivia Bauso/Unsplash]

Our words are only one way we use to communicate. Our bodies convey our thoughts and feelings and send messages that others pick up to use and make judgments about us. We have all come across situations where the words someone is saying don’t seem to line up with what their bodies are saying to us. It is crucially important to our success in all areas of life that we become aware of the messages our body language sends out to others. By being aware of and focused on not only the words that we use, but what our bodies are saying, we can come across congruent and send a complete message that will have the impact we intend.


Here are seven ways emotional intelligence in conveyed in body language:

Decoding a handshake

Handshakes are very important, as they leave an indelible impression. People automatically make judgments about us based on the firmness of our handshakes. A handshake that is limp and weak leaves the impression that you lack confidence and interest. Bone crushing, strong handshakes send red flags that the person is aggressive or has a need to be dominant. When physical contact is made during the handshake, meet the other person’s eyes whenever possible, and this will leave a lasting impression as well. People with high E.I. know the right amount of firm pressure to use in all situations.

Giving appropriate space

The amount of space we are comfortable with when with others varies from culture to culture. If we stand too close to someone, it can make them very uncomfortable and may signal aggressiveness. Standing too far away can signal that we are uncomfortable with them or lack confidence in ourselves.

Facing others squarely

Turning away from others or not squaring our bodies while speaking, indicates that we are either uncomfortable, not interested, not engaged, or distrustful of the person we are speaking to. Shoulders should be parallel and foot placement should mirror the other person’s. People who are aware and high in emotional intelligence lean towards the person speaking and make it clear that they are giving them their complete and undivided attention.

What posture says

Sitting up and standing straight while speaking are power positions. They indicate that the person is confident and has self-respect. It also indicates an interest in what the other person is saying and that they value the conversation. Slouching indicates a lack of serious intent in what the other person is saying or a lack of caring in how they view you. It can also be a sign of a lack of self-esteem.


Shutting out distractions

Whether someone is checking the time, looking at their devices, or checking out someone else, we have all experienced someone being distracted while we are speaking to them. When that happens, we are immediately tempted to shut down and end the conversation. Why put in the effort to have a conversation when the other person has more important or interesting things to do than listen to us? Emotionally intelligent people are very aware of the kind of message this behavior gives and are on guard against any temptation to act in this way.

Appropriate eye contact

A lack of eye contact can arouse suspicion that we have something to hide. It can also be an indicator of a lack of interest or self confidence. Looking down while speaking can be a sign of self-consciousness or lack of confidence. On the other hand, intense, sustained eye contact can be seen as being aggressive or wanting to dominate. There are cultural variations when it comes to making eye contact. People with high E.I. maintain eye contact for a few seconds, then glance to the side for a few seconds, keeping the conversation focused and respectful to the other person. It is important to glance to the side instead of the floor as this may be perceived as a lack of self regard.

Unconscious clues in facial expressions

A natural smile helps people warm up to you, but if smiling doesn’t come naturally, forcing it may arouse suspicion and make the person we are speaking to question our sincerity. A neutral, pleasant expression is better than a smile that appears forced. Scowling or too severe, serious looking expressions make others uncomfortable and can convey hostility, causing defensiveness in those we are speaking to.

Having the right body language is just as important as the words we use and tone of voice we use when we are speaking to others. The good news is that we can unlearn bad habits by making a conscious effort to be more aware of them when we speak to others. Like any other habit, it comes down to practicing until they become natural.

About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to