Happy Feet and More:
20+ Secrets to Decoding Leg Movements

We’ve trained our faces to lie, but not our feet. Our feet telegraph our intentions.

I see it every week. My kid says she likes dinner but her body is literally climbing out of her seat, feet pointed towards her toys. Her priorities are evident, regardless of her words.

Through most of human history, we’ve relied on our feet to keep us safe without conscious thought. They just react.

Legs crossed towards someone indicates comfort with that person. Image "our bench days" by phlubdr, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Legs crossed towards someone indicates comfort with that person. Image “our bench days” by phlubdr, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

Surprisingly, the feet are the most honest part of our body. They can exhibit both positive and negative emotions… if you know what to look for.

As always, consider the non-verbal communications in context. Watch for a change in behavior from the baseline and try to tie that to a change in the environment.

This is a review of the third chapter in PRL’s current selection, Joe Navarro’s excellent What Every BODY Is Saying. Never miss another post when you join PRL!

Foot and Leg Behavior Indicating Positive Emotions and Comfort:

  • Happy feet: bouncing feet or legs. This can also signify impatien
  • Pointing feet: towards an interesting conversation, or towards the door
  • Bouncing or rocking on our feet signifies excitedness or happiness. This is an example of a gravity-defying behavior
  • Starter’s position, like a sprinter places her feet, indicate a person is ready to take an action
  • Crossed legs, when standing, is a sign of comfort. We’re putting ourselves off-balance and we’re less protected
  • Playful foot or shoe behavior is an attempt to be noticed, like flirting
  • Crossed legs, when seated, will cross towards a person we’re comfortable with
  • Mirroring someone else’s behavior indicates that we’re in sync with their thoughts and rhythms
  • People touching one another’s feet indicate that they’re intimate
Feet touching indicates intimacy. Photo "untouched-feet" by James Lee, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Touching feet indicates intimacy. Photo “untouched-feet” by James Lee, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

Foot and Leg Behavior Indicating Stress or Discomfort:

  • Feet will point towards an exit if someone don’t like a situation or a person
  • Sitting with their hands on knees, leaning forward, means a person is ready to leave
  • We all take up space. People of higher status tend to take up more space, but this will decrease if they experience discomfort
  • Legs spread apart to take up space while standing indicates a person isn’t happy and is trying to increase territory or authority
  • Invading someone’s personal territory is threatening
  • Crossed legs, when seated, will cross away from someone we’re trying to block
  • When seated with legs crossed, foot jiggling indicates nervousness, and kicking indicates an attack against discomfort
  • Changes from nervous foot and leg behavior to a sudden freeze behavior may indicate stress
  • Feet interlocked with each other or a chair indicates the freeze response and stress or caution
  • Feet tucked under a chair indicate that a person may be trying to minimize his exposed self
  • Watch for pacifying behaviors, especially rubbing the top of one’s legs with the palms
  • Changes in walking style can help us recognize a change in a situation or emotion
  • Aimless walking indicates that someone isn’t walking with a destination, possibly waiting for an opportunity for wrongdoing

Navarro recommends we look for multiple tells that indicate a similar conclusion, for example a foot lock to not draw attention, while also using pacifying behaviors such as rubbing the leg. We’ll cover additional pacifying behaviors in upcoming chapters.


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20+ Secrets to Decoding Leg Movements”

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