Science Explains How Body Language Can Make Or Break Your Date

by Dan Scotti

Good public speakers always seem to get stuff done.

Because they're articulate, they usually do well in job interviews. They convey their hopes and qualifications without seeming scripted. At social events, they don't dig around for topics or make forced conversation. Awkward silences are rare, and they usually carry the conversation.

But choosing the right words is only part of the equation.

To be a truly skilled conversationalist, you need to focus just as much on what you don't say. I'm talking about body language.

According to Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D, a professor of leadership and organizational psychology classes at Claremont McKenna College, body language is extremely complex. It's also subtle.

For example, "hello" has one verbal meaning: It's a greeting. But when you add nonverbal cues, "hello" can mean a million other things. (Said grudgingly, it may not even be a true "hello" at all.)

Body language is tricky: Understanding nonverbal communication will help your presentation, but one wrong move can cost you the job.

Dating is another social ritual that begs for flawless body language.

When you’re out for a drink (or dinner, if people still do that) with a potential love interest, you can say all the right things and still come up short in terms of communication.

It’s important to pay special attention to some of the physical cues you may be sending off -- perhaps without your knowledge.

In his piece for Psychology Today, Riggio identifies different nonverbal cues that will decide if you go home with someone special... or if you go home alone.

The power pose

Riggio says that your posture will set the tone for how others perceive you. One of the things you should focus on is something Riggio refers to as the “power pose.”

The power pose doesn’t have to be the same for everybody. But it does have to work for you. For some, the power pose might be an arched back and a puffed chest; for others, it may resemble the “seated ‘CEO’ pose with legs on the desk and hands behind the head.”

At the end of the day, your power pose has to be one that you feel confident in -- not one you've been instructed to make.

Your power stance can be useful on a date; Riggio suggests that power poses “can increase your level of testosterone and commensurate feelings of self-confidence.”

When you're on a date, use your power pose to exude confidence. Show the person you’re courting that you know who you are.

Lean in, and tilt your head

According to Vanessa Van Edwards, an writer and self-titled "behavioral investigator," writes in Science of People about the importance of leaning in.

And this isn't the metaphorical language of Sheryl Sandberg; in Van Edwards's case, "leaning in" is literal. Even if you're saying all of the right things, leaning back communicates disinterest. Slumping your shoulders and reclining your head may feel comfortable, but you risk looking inattentive.

In dating, you want to show enthusiasm toward the person you're with, and that begins with body language.

Another way to show engagement, Van Edwards advises, is by tilting your head.

"If you are speaking with [people], let them know you are present and interested by tilting your head and gazing at them," writes Van Edwards. "Be sure to not look over their head or around the room; this shows lack of interest and sensitivity."

Eye contact

In some situations, prolonged eye contact may come off as creepy or intimidating. But when it's executed properly, you can really work some magic.

As Riggio says, eye contact can be as an extremely valuable tactic for flirting, and “for lovers, the amount of mutual gaze can be used as a measure of the degree of liking or loving.”

So, if your date is returning your glances, he or she probably likes you. (Conversely, it's a bad sign if your date avoids your eyes. Don't rule out social anxiety, though.)

Subtle gender-specific movements

In an article in The Telegraph, Peter Hutchison highlights a few ways you can detect attraction through body language. It is important to note, however, that certain cues are gender-specific.

For instance, it's a good sign when a woman rolls up her sleeve. According to Hutchison, the wrist is the softest part of her body, so by exposing this to you, she's attempting to be intimate.

Additionally, when she pulls her wine glass (or yours, Hutchison notes) toward her, she's inadvertently displaying her wishes to "close the gap" between the both of you (another sign of attraction.) Pay attention if she plays with her necklace or her hair -- these are more good signs.

Men, on the other hand, indicate desire by engaging in the "Flirting Triangle: He'll look at a woman's eyes, then her mouth, then back to her eyes again.

And if man pushes his shoulders back and breathes in, this is a good indicator of attraction.

Invading someone’s personal space

Getting too close to someone might put you on the fast track to blowing the a first date. But if the interest is mutual, crossing this boundary could be the tipping point.

As Riggio writes, “If the person invading our space is attractive to us, the arousal can be interpreted positively -- liking, love, stimulating.”

However, if you’re on a date with someone who doesn’t share these feelings, it can be extremely irritating and unwelcome.

Above all, body language is situation-dependent, so it’s important that you err on the side of caution before blowing up someone’s personal space.

That said, if you’re feeling the chemistry and want to roll the dice, it could pay off. Touching someone -- in a natural, casual, welcome way -- can also be another way to show your interest.

If you’re dating someone but have been having trouble showing this person how you truly feel, using body language can help you get your point across without coming on too strong. Just make sure you do it properly -- and respectfully.