Simple Intention Cues: How to Read Body Language

When I post about simplicity, I usually post about simple living or creativity. This post is little different. As a communication instructor, I’ve learned a little bit about intention cues. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the cues that let someone know you want to leave.

I’m writing about this topic because recently I was in a position where I wanted to leave a situation, but the other kept trying to engage me into unwanted conversation. Here are some of the most common intention cues that suggest someone wants to get away from you.

1. A Twist of the Hips

If you’re having a conversation with someone and they twist their upper body in a direction that’s not facing you, that’s a pretty good sign that they want to leave. If someone keeps talking to you beyond your comfort level, you can try turning away to give them the hint that you want to go.

2. The Point of a Foot

One of the best ways to discover people’s true feelings is to watch their feet. People don’t think about what their feet are doing. If someone continually turns their foot away from you, during a conversation, it means they want to leave. They often turn their foot in the exact direction they want to go.

3. Backing up

The other day I was feeling uncomfortable in a situation. I kept backing away from the person who was trying to engage me into conversation. They kept trying to talk to me. I had only come to ask a couple simple questions and leave. I backed halfway out of the room before I finally said, I really need to go. Then I turned around and left.

4. Averting Eye Contact

If someone you’re trying to talk to keeps turning their head away and averting eye contact, that’s a clue. If they are looking toward a door or an exit, that’s a clear sign. During another conversation that I was involved in last Friday, that’s exactly what I kept doing. I was uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the room. So I turned my head toward the door several times. The other person did not notice my intention cue and kept talking.

5. Looking Toward an Exit

If your friend keeps looking toward the door, it’s a good sign she wants to leave. It’s a good idea to pay attention to intention cues. It’s also a good idea to be a high self-monitor. This means that you know how to watch your own cues and other nonverbal behavior. This way you can understand how others might perceive you. I was recently told I was displaying aggressive behavior. But if one was to video the situation, they would see that I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave.

6. Fidgeting

If someone seems nervous and fidgety during a conversation, it might mean that they want to leave. Perhaps they’re in a hurry to get their kid to the math tutor. Or maybe they have to pee real bad. In any case, nervousness and fidgeting could be an intention cue. Note number 3 on this list.

7. They verbally say they need to go

This is a no-brainer, but sometimes people don’t listen. Last week, in two instances, I told two different people that I wanted to leave a handful of times. Still, they kept trying to engage me into further conversation. I kept backing away and turning my head toward the door, but they kept talking. It was frustrating that they could not read my intention cues.

8. Starters Position

The photo on today’s post is called starter’s position. It’s another simple intention cue that tells you somebody wants to move on.

It’s important to understand simple intention cues. Since gaining a Master’s Degree in Communication in 2000, I’ve always had an interest in non-verbal communication. I’ve read several books on the topic. One of my favorites is called What Every Body Is Saying by ex-FBI agent, Joe Navarro.

Life would be so much simpler if everyone took the time to learn to read some simple intention cues. There would be less conflict and more understanding. I encourage you to take some time to study nonverbal communication. It might help you out in a pinch.

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