I’ve heard a lot of different things about what crossing your arms means and how you are perceived while crossing them. Sometimes that’s just what’s more comfortable for me, but I don’t want to give the wrong impression. What’s your take on this?
Chris, 21, University Student
You’re in good company because many people find crossing their arms comfortable. However, as you’ve figured out, body language is about perception. You’re wise to be conscientious of the unintended messages you’re giving off when your arms are crossed. Some common misperceptions about crossing arms are that you’re closed off, angry, anxious or uninterested. For some people, this may be true.
When you deep dive into the psychological reasons why people cross their arms against their chest, it’s usually an attempt to self-protect against rejection, trouble or pain. Think about it. Let’s say your professor wants to talk about your last research project. As you’re walking to her office, you’re feeling anxious because you know the coveted research position you’ve been eyeing rests on this research project. You researched the topic, interviewed credible sources and even double-checked for grammar errors in your report. Yet you don’t understand the point of the meeting. As soon as you enter her office, you have a seat and cross your arms against your chest. She tells you how impressed she is with your diligent research into the topic and she offers you the coveted position on her team. However, in the middle of her conversation, she pauses to ask you if you’re okay with a puzzled look on her face. You’re perplexed by her question because you expressed your interest at the beginning of the semester. You don’t realize that your crossed arms send a message of uncertainty. When the emotional stakes are high, people tend to protect themselves figuratively through their body language.
You’d be surprised to know the number of people who give negative impressions in meetings, negotiations and social gatherings by crossing their arms. I tell my coaching clients to keep their arms relaxed by their sides when standing or rest their arms on the armrests of chairs or on the table when sitting. Having your arms relaxed and your hands visible gives the perception that you’re relaxed and ready for business or mingling.
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