By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO
Blocked or unblocked?
Practical Applications for Nonverbal Intelligence and the Emotional Indicators of Crossed Arms and Legs.
When I show the following image to people, I ask them, “tell me, what do you make of this woman? What does the position of her body indicate?”
Most of the time what I hear back is that this woman seems closed; that she is “blocked.”
What do you think? If you think she is closed or blocked, you’d be wrong.
Probably one of the greatest body language myths in existence is that crossed arms is an indication of “blocking”. Certainly, it can be, but most of the time people cross their arms as a pacifying behavior. It just feels good. It is soothing. Next time you’re in a movie theater, look around when the lights dim, and you will likely see people crossing their arms to comfort themselves. Essentially, they are hugging themselves, especially when in company.
Now, if someone is crossing their arms and gripping their forearms with enough force that their knuckles are white—this can be an indication of blocking or stress.
The woman in the image is crossing her legs only because she is comfortable. Her limbic system—her 24×7 alarm system—is allowing her to be off balance because she is relaxed and safe. But the minute she becomes threatened, her arms will drop, and her legs will uncross. Then, in the face of danger she will be in the freeze-flight-fight mode and ready for inaction or action.
Putting It All Together
At Merrill Research, we see indications of crossed arms and legs in qualitative studies when participants are truly comfortable in the setting. That is a good sign and should be the goal of any successful communications—to create psychological comfort during the process such that your subject relaxes and engages.
Just like the woman in the image.
Contact us today to see how we can help you or your organization become proficient at finding out what people are really thinking when they communicate with you. Most Communication is Nonverbal. Are You Fluent?
 The Rutledge Dictionary of Nonverbal Communications, s.v., “crossed legs/arms,” Routledge, 605 Third Avenue, New York New York 10158.
 The Dictionary of Body Language, Joe Navarro, s.v., “crossed legs/arms,” https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-dictionary-of-body-language/id1281489160.