To say cheese or not to say cheese: Seven body language gestures to avoid

Published: March 17, 2014

All human beings speak the body language and like any other language there are slips that must be avoided.

All human beings speak the body language and like any other language there are slips that must be avoided. PHOTO: BODYLANGUAGECARDS/REUTERS All human beings speak the body language and like any other language there are slips that must be avoided.

Every move you make reveals something about you. Sherlock Holmes decodes it quite easily. Patrick Jane (The Mentalist) solves his murder cases by reading the body language.

Your body is a message.

There is an unabridged science behind body language (Google Kinesics). The best examples of how important body language is are the silent movie actors, who used to perform back in the day when the television screens only supported black and white images. Charlie Chaplin can be considered as one of the pioneers of body language skills, given that this was the only means of communication available on the screen during his time.

A powerful indicator than you might think, your body language exhibits your emotions and feelings in a way that is easily interpreted by others. Now, this can work for or against you depending on the kind of body language you use. Here are some body language errors that you should definitely avoid.

Do not fidget

Those nervous little movements can kill your impression. The worst form is playing with your hair, messing with the collar of your shirt or playing with a pen. Just don’t do it! It signals discomfort, nervousness and anxiety.

A child fidgeting with her fingers. Photo: AFP

Do not glance at your watch

That’s a big turn off for the person you are conversing with. However, if you want the person to quit talking, that’s the way to go. Nothing says ‘I don’t care, please shut up as soon as possible’ better than a quick glance at your wrist watch or the wall clock.

Even if you don’t mean it, this is what it conveys. Remember, your body is the message.

Do not cross your arm

Crossed arms can be detrimental. It’s a defensive position. You may disagree and argue that arm crossing is simply comfortable but others will think you’re not approachable. In addition, this position has a sense of egotism involved, a bit more towards arrogance. So, avoid it.

Do not fake smile

Say cheese!

Well don’t say cheese. It just portrays a fake smile, which comes off as an insincere one. Do not smile with the mouth only, smile with your eyes as well. You will notice those characteristic wrinkles around the eyes in real smiles.

Act natural and smile natural. Faking it is arrogance, so avoid it

Do not touch your face

Avoid it, especially during a conversation.


It’s a sign of deception. You touch your face subconsciously when you tell a lie. When you tell a lie, your brain instructs you to block the deceitful wording coming out of your mouth. It’s natural though, but try not to do it.

Do not face away

Obviously, this shows disinterest. It is only when you see eye to eye with another person that a healthy and mutual communication gets established. Now, this does not imply that you stare blankly and scare the person away. Even if you are not interested in the boring discussion, a sudden cut off is rude.

Good eye contact builds trust. It shows that you are connected and engaged.

Do not give a lousy handshake

The power is in your hands!

A lousy handshake kills off your first impression.

An assertive handshake depicts strong character whereas a weak handshake depicts submissiveness. A firm handshake with a warm smile and a sincere look gives the perfect introduction. But make sure that the handshake is just firm; do not go for the ‘I will crush you’ handshake.

If you are just not in the mood for a handshake, try the ‘Namaste’ gesture or the greeting nod. Lousy handshakes are, well, just crummy. So try and avoid it.

I once came across this quote by the beautiful Mae West.

“I speak two languages; Body and English.”

All human beings speak the first one, and like any other language, there are slips that must be avoided.

Remember, your body is the message, so do not give away the wrong one.

Ali Awais Amin

Ali Awais Amin

A LUMS Electrical Engineering Graduate 2012, Ali loves to follow the tech world.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Me

    Pour some Elfy in your joints, stay still. Don’t move, don’t flinch, don’t blink. You might give out the wrong message.Recommend

  • Rehan

    Good show. Nicely arranged.Recommend

  • Imad Uddin

    Interesting read. I read a lot about body language when I was at teenager. but simple quick rules can be confusing for a new reader. May be its more about maintaining a positive rhythm in mind and not seeming to feel uncomfortable when, in fact, you are not upto something inappropriate.
    Walk fast when u r outdoor, walk slow when indoor, tht helps coltrol the rhythm, Muscles too play a role. If your muscles are tight you movement would be balanced and your walk would be like a horse, otherwise like a bull.
    Looking away or looking at the watch might be helpful if you wana signal u wana leave or change the topic.
    Similarly closing ur hands or arms make u look insecure or if u are hiding something, but thts not a hard n fast rule. Sometime u know that a particular shy person makes him/herself feel better tht way, and in tht case tht can make u look innocent.
    Its about what message ur whole personality gives.
    Eyes too say soo much. If you are normally skeptic, your eyes would show tht when a new, unusual proposal is placed, if you are aggressive and get angry quickly ur eyes will throw fire when anything contrary to ur mind happens. Satisfied and honest eyes look different.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    These things matter if the other person is judgmental, most normal people would not give such things too much thought, maybe except the staring of the watch.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Whatever you do should appear natural. More eye contact than necessary can also seem deceitful and depending on the situation, fidgeting (playing with a pen or your hair) can show your playfulness or that you are relaxed.Recommend

  • Mo!

    Nice, Mate. You have the ability to copy an article from HBR. That’s impressive!Recommend

  • Miss Syed

    Good read. I think the right amount of eye contact is the most crucial thing.

    Throughout my academic life, I have been deemed to have excellent communicative & oratory skills, yet i feel very uncomfortable when it comes to eye contact. The age i am at requires me to meet some very interesting gentlemen, very few know how to maintain eye contact. I on the other hand, am usually looking down, which ha soften been regarded has “RETARDED”!Recommend

  • Aamna Hassan Fasihi

    I don’t understand why I should say ‘Assalam u Alaikum’ with a Namaste gesture, if I were to avoid handshake :P

    Besides, good one. It definitely tells a lot.Recommend

  • Striver

    PROBLEM is, gestures vary from culture to culture. In some cultures look into the eyes of an elderly whilst talking to them is considered to be rude.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was a great read.Recommend

  • Shail Arora

    You forgot one, don’t breathe ;)Recommend

  • Kohistan wala

    These no no body gestures were assembled by psychiatrists.
    Who studied human behavior over a long, long period of time.
    And yes, people are very judgemental. In daily living
    [ that includes your near and dear ones.]Recommend

  • Very Miffed

    Why is this man promoting namaste, when we have our own beautiful gestures bringing us closer to Allah? I shudder to think what will become of our younger generations with this kind of thinking? Our Quaid had not fought to give us our own country so we had to do namaste, mate.Recommend

  • sara wk

    a very helpful article indeedRecommend

  • metro

    Namaste? Now we know this article has been copied from some indian website! ET people pls note.Recommend

  • Ferno

    Because this write up has been copied from some indian links.. :PRecommend

  • mostafa aktaa

    i think his good article
    you can read about kinesics examplesRecommend