Feet Don't Lie: Look Down to Tell What Others Are Really Thinking
The importance of body language is stressed from an early age: watch those around you, and you'll know what they're thinking. While you might be skilled at deciphering the messages of crossed arms, slouched sitting, eye movements, and hand gestures, the key to understanding those around you is a little less obvious.
According to researcher Carol Kinsey Goman, we adjust our feet to our feelings about the course of any given conversation: if people turn their feet—not just their upper bodies—toward you, they want to engage with you and welcome you into the conversation. (It also encourages trust.)
As the Buffer app notes, Goman points out how unwelcoming feet can be when turned away from you: "When you approach two people talking, you will be acknowledged in one of two ways. If the feet of your two colleagues stay in place and they twist only their upper torsos in your direction, they don't really want you to join the conversation. But if their feet open to include you then you know that you are truly invited to participate."
For example, unless your work buddies turn their entire bodies to face you, you should probably politely back out of the conversation you just tried to enter.
Goman further explains that foot positioning can also signal when it's time for you to wrap up your discussions. When feet turn away, particularly in the direction of a door, those people are ready to wrap things up and want the talk to end. Although they might appear to be engaged in the conversation at hand, their feet are already preparing to head for the door.
Don't allow the upper body to sway you—unless your friend's feet are facing the same direction as the rest of their body, they aren't truly invested in what you're saying.
Worried someone's feet are lying rather than expressing their true feelings? With so many signals and easy ways to tweak body language, it can be confusing when trying to read another's signals, but our feet aren't as easily controlled as the rest of our body.
Goman notes, in an article written for American Management Association, that our feet are unintentionally expressive because they haven't been trained. When we attempt to control the emotions we convey, we focus only on our upper body and face, leaving our feet and legs to act of their own "free will," in a sense.
Basically, we show our true feelings through our feet: we shift, shuffle, and adjust our posture based on how comfortable we are in any given situation. Hate hanging out with unfamiliar groups? You probably spend a lot of time around strangers crossing and uncrossing your ankles. Desperately want to exit a weird conversation? Chances are, you're unconsciously curling and stretching your toes.
Though it might be considered impolite to stare at the ground during social events, you may want to start looking away from those around you to stare at their feet. The more clued in you are to others' foot movements and positioning, the better you'll be able to read what's happening around you.
If, for some reason, you can't get a feel for what someone is thinking by the position of their feet, then you can pay attention to the rest of their body language signs. And when someone is purposely lying, the face is the next best place to look.