Body Language Expert | Motivational Speaker | Keynote Speaker | CSP | Communication Expert | Presentation & Speaking Skills Trainer | One-On-One Coach

My friends love to introduce me as a body language expert.  Whoever I am introduced to inevitably, crosses their arms, gives a tight downward smile, and steps away from me and then says, “Nice to meet you.” There are over 50 different interpretations for an arm cross. Below are a few fun arm crosses and their meaning.

Quick Cross- the arm goes across the front of the person’s body and protects the thorax (heart and lungs) and the ventral front (belly). But, the movement covers the person’s nervousness because the person seems to be doing something else. The person may be adjusting the shirt cuff, watch band, button or collar, or checking a cell phone or other electronic device. Any of these gestures gives a person an excuse to cross their arms in front of their body. I often see a quick cross in celebrities about to give an apology statement. When I teach my public speaking class I notice that executives adjust their cuff as they get up to speak.

Fist Cross - Crossed Arms (with the hands into fists) - It’s a strong sign of hostility as well as defensiveness. If it's combined with a tight-lipped smile or clenched teeth and red face, a verbal or even physical attack could happen. A conciliatory approach is needed to discover what is causing it if the reason is not apparent. When preparing to teach presentation skills to the FAA, I was observing a meeting between the FAA and neighborhood residents who would be affected by a new runway and flight path for the Atlanta airport. When the meeting started 21 residents of over 100 had their arms crossed in some manner. When the FAA official began speaking more people crossed their arms and as they did the FAA officials’ speech got faster and louder as he pushed to get through the wall. I have seen this a thousand times as a presentation coach, speakers feel the stress, antagonism and they feel more cut off and alone so they go faster. Some speakers get louder and more aggressive some get more anxious and apologetic.  By the end of the presentation there were only three people in the audience who didn’t have their arms crossed. All three people were from the FAA. It wasn’t surprising, but when the first residents got up to speak out of over 100 people all but seven arms came uncrossed in the group of residents and all four FAA people not in the audience crossed their arms! Many of them had the next arm cross.

Thumbs- Up “TooCool for School”Arm Cross-I was analyzing a video of the interrogation of a husband suspected of murdering his wife and charting the nonverbal behavior for the TV show “In Session.”  The suspect was sitting at the table with his arms crossed and his hands hidden under his arms, except for the thumbs which were sticking up.  This posture says someone is defensive, but superior.  It is seen in situations where someone wants to look cool and in control while still maintaining a level of protection behind their crossed arms. I have seen this pose given by so many gangster rappers in their videos.  I think it must be a part of the Gangster training video.  It must have some guy wearing sunglasses inside in a dark bar demonstrating and saying. “To look like a gangster, cross arms over your chest and stick up your thumbs, millions of hit songs will follow.”

Muscle Hug Cross-Crossing your arms and grabbing your biceps or elbows. You wish your muscles where bigger. This is a person who is fearful and insecure or not able to fight you now, but they wish they could.

Partial Arm-Cross - Whereone arm swings across the body to hold or touch the other arm to form the barrier in a one arm hug. Partial arm barriers are often seen in meetings where a person may be a stranger to the group or is lacking in self-confidence.

Broken Zipper Cross (also called the fig leaf) - Hand protecting the center of the pelvis. Needless to say we protect vulnerable parts of the body.  This is typically a male gesture.  Children may use this gesture when they are being admonished. I see it in lines outside the soup kitchen in Atlanta in humble homeless men.  I see this in athletes as they stand on the basketball court during the national anthem or as they are about to get an Olympic medal.