How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Closed Body Language
A significant cluster of body movements are all about closing. This is sometimes misinterpreted solely as indicating defensiveness.
Closure literally closes the body up. It may range from a slight bringing together of the limbs to curled up into a tight ball. Extreme cases may also include rhythmic rocking of the body to and fro.
In a closed positions one or both arms cross the central line of the body. They may be folded or tightly clasped or holding one another. There may also be holding one another.
Lighter arm crossing may include resting an arm on a table or leg, or loosely crossed with wrists crossing.
Varying levels of tension may be seen in the arms and shoulders, from a relaxed droop to tight tension and holding on to the body or other arms.
Legs, likewise can be crossed. There are several styles of leg crossing, including the ankle cross, the knee cross, the figure-four (ankle on opposite knee) and the tense wrap-around.
Legs may also wrap around convenient other objects, such as chair legs.
When legs are crossed but arms are not, it can show deliberate attempts to appear relaxed. This is particularly true when legs are hidden under a table.
Looking down or away
The head may be inclined away from the person, and particularly may be tucked down.
There can be several reasons for closed body language. This is one reason why reading body language can be hazardous and you should take into account other factors. In particular look for the transition when the body closes and the triggers that may have caused this change.
When we feel threatened, our body language becomes defensive. We use closure to place the barriers of our arms and legs across in front of us to defend ourselves from attack. When we close, we also make our body smaller, reducing the size of the target. When we tuck our chin down, we are protecting the exposed throat.
We also may be signaling to the other person that we are not a threat to them. Thus the held-in arms shows that we are not attacking and looking away from them removes aggressive staring.
In a variant of this, particularly where the person is holding themselves, a closed position may indicate self-nurturing. The person is effectively holding or hugging themselves in an imitation of a parent or other caring person.
Closing also may serve the purpose of hiding something that we do not want the other person to see. Holding the body still prevents it from betraying our thoughts. Looking away prevents the other person from seeing our expression that may show dislike or lying.
A more pragmatic form of closure is when we are cold. Huddling up reduces exposed body area and reduces heat loss. Holding warmer parts of the body against colder parts evens the temperature and prevents extremities from being chilled too much.
And we also cross our arms and legs when we are relaxing. It can just be a comfortable place to put those gangly limbs. We may look away because we are thinking, nothing more.
When you are trying to persuade a person, then their standing or sitting in a closed position is usually a signal that they are not ready to be persuaded. Moving them to an open position can significantly increase your chances of persuading them.
Force hand use
A common method sales people use to break a crossed-arms closed position is to give the person something to hold or otherwise ask them to use their hands, for example asking them to hand over something, turn over a page, stand up and so on.
The other common method of opening a person is to first adopt a closed position like them. Then some effort is put into building a bond with them, such that they start to like you and are attaching their identity to yours. Finally, you then open your position, unfolding arms and legs. If they are sufficiently bonded then they will follow you.
This should be done naturally and steadily, for example unfolding your arms in order to use your hands to illustrate what you are saying. If they do not follow you, return to the closed position and work further at bonding before trying again.