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Video: What does your body language say?

TODAY
updated 12/29/2006 12:20:55 PM ET 2006-12-29T17:20:55

What does a person's eyes, arms or hips say about them? Body language educator Janine Driver shares some tips on reading body language at a party.

You can't beat New Years Eve for drama, and perhaps this is why some of the most memorable movie scenes happen on this wild, quiet, happy, sad night. Whether you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve at a friend's pot luck dinner or at a black tie bash ala “Harry Met Sally,” it can be a challenge to enter a party and be ambushed by hundreds of new faces. But this can be an opportunity to meet new people and have some fun.

First, realize how important body language is — 65 to 90 percent of every conversation is interpreted through body language. The art of reading people is essential in forming new relationships and creating lasting impressions.

So, before heading out this New Year's Eve, look at what your body language is saying to others. Then survey the party scene for positive body language cues and target people who seem approachable — or need to be rescued.

Here are some body language do's and don'ts to be familiar with:

How to appear unapproachable

People who are anxious may adopt a rigid, tense facial expression. It's possible to misinterpret this as sadness, anger or even disapproval. This means that if you meet somebody new and their expression is less than welcoming, it may not be because they don't want to talk to you, they may just be nervous. It also means that if you're feeling anxious then your facial expression may lead you to appear aloof, disapproving or disinterested.

Making very little eye contact can either convey shyness and submissiveness, or superiority and a lack of interest. If you keep your eyes averted (as is common if you are nervous) then you will look less like you want to be where you are, and appear less approachable. To fight this, actively force yourself to look up and direct your gaze around you from time to time.

Wringing your hands together or touching your sleeves — these gestures can make you appear tense, nervous, and sometimes dishonest.

  • Fidgeting shows boredom and restlessness.
  • Tapping your foot is distracting and a sure sign of boredom.  

People form a barrier by crossing their arms or legs or by holding an object in front of themselves — their body is closed. It is better to seek persons who have arms apart, legs uncrossed, and are facing in your direction — their body is open.

Looking away or hesitating before or while speaking indicates that you're unsure of what you're saying.

A fixed, unfocused stare or if your head or whole body is turned fully away to one side, away from people, shows your attention is elsewhere (Note: Both gaze aversion and torso rotation naturally increases dramatically in conditions of crowding).

People who chew on gum, ice or their fingernails send the message that they are anxious or frustrated, neither of which are very attractive emotions.

How to appear approachable

When you walk into a room, you should stand up straight, smile and look around, as it will give out the impression that you care about where you are, and people will be more likely to approach you.

  • Keep your arms and legs open, not crossed.
  • When men are comfortable with their surroundings, they will unbutton their jackets.

Although a direct stare sends the message of romantic interest, it can also imply intensity, aggression or fear, so stick with the “gaze.” The gaze makes you appear confident, interested, secure, and at ease. It's a particularly good technique to have up your sleeve for when you want to connect with someone who is important, where you want to appear interested, confident and calm.

When you actively shift your gaze between the people you are talking to, you send the message that you have respect for everybody in the group.

It is believed that your eyes are the windows to your soul. Therefore, for you to be able to achieve a heartfelt and productive conversation this New Year's Eve, you have to show the other party your undivided attention.

  • Looking at someone's lips is considered sexual.
  • Looking at someone's forehead is considered talking down to them.

You should keep you eye contact within the upside down triangle area, from your right eyebrow to your nose to your left eyebrow.

You must not, under any circumstances, look around while the other person is talking. You have to always make sure that the person you're talking to sees that you are truly participating in your conversation by listening intently, while maintaining eye-to-eye contact.

A smile is the most positive signal you can give. It reaffirms your enthusiasm and good nature, but be careful of over-grinning. Your smile is one of the strongest tools you have in meeting new people. It will help you to appear warm, open, friendly and confident, even if you are feeling on edge.

To appear more approachable by men, women should not take up a lot of space (taking up space is a sign of power and superiority). Women should also keep their feet no farther than 6 inches apart. After all, on New Year's Eve you want to send the message that you have room for a conversation.

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For men, appearing more dominant effectively draws the attraction of women. To attract women, stand with your feet 6-10 inches apart, and toes pointing outward. Feel free to take up some space.

Maintain symmetry. If one side of the body does not match the other, that suggests that you only have half interest in the other person, that you are distracted with something else and not saying why.

Persons instinctively raise their eyebrows when they meet interesting persons. Use this to attempt to measure the interest that other persons have with you. Interested or excited persons will also have shiny eyes. The eyes have a tiny gland on the bottom of the eyelid secreting liquids such as tears and lubrication. When a person is interested or excited, the glands tend to secrete liquid, thus giving the eyes the shiny appearance.

To appear sincere and genuine, if someone catches your eye from across the room, briefly raise and lower your eyebrows and give a slight backwards head tilt.

Worst place to be seen
Hanging out near the wall or sitting at a table, or constantly at the bar.

Best places to be seen
If you want to be the center of attention, don't become a bar groupie. Instead, stand and move around a little bit in the center of the room. Where you are in a room (and what you're doing) has a lot to do with your ability to attract the opposite sex. A good alternative is to stand by a window or some indoor plants, as sociable people tend to gravitate to these areas.

How to spot a person in need of rescuing
Whether you observe a group of people and you notice that one of the men in the group isn't talking or you see a woman who is being bombarded by a non-stop talker, you could save a person in need of rescuing! Watch the person's body language and see if you can sense what he or she is feeling. Does the person seem satisfied just listening? If he or she appears uncomfortable or intimidated, be creative and engage the person's attention, and then break into a one-on-one chat. Keep the conversation light. Humor is a wonderful tool for any situation, especially if you're trying to draw someone out.

Here are some final tips:

The wrong time to offer to buy someone a cocktail or to ask them to dance: when the person you want to approach is talking face-to-face with his or her hips parallel to someone they are talking to — do not interrupt! Wait until they both open up the angle of their conversation by at least 30%, then make your move. Watch those hips!

When you are ready to make your move, don't overthink it, just smile and introduce yourself. A great opening line is: “Before 2007 gets here, I need a woman/man's opinion on something ...”

Don't rush through conversations. Remember names and use them frequently during conversations.

Show an interest in every person you meet. By showing an interest you create a favorable impression of yourself.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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