24 Nonverbal Cues You Should Know

Huge shoutout to giphy.com here, which is where I got every single one of these gifs. The thing about nonverbal cues is that they’re nonverbal, and explaining them verbally isn’t always that helpful.

Actually, this is why I watch the same sitcom over and over. The first time, I probably won’t pick up on everything. Maybe not the second or third or fourth, either. But by the fifth time, I’m starting to see things I didn’t notice before, like how a certain joke was a vaguely sexual innuendo that is considered funny, or that this particular facial expression correlates to that emotion. And when I watch 10 seasons of the show, I’m familiar with the characters, so it’s even easier to put all the pieces of the social interactions together.

The takeaway here is that if you’d like to review 24 nonverbal cues, read this article, and if you want to learn them all, watch Modern Family.

Interest

  • They lean a little bit closer to you.
  • They ask questions or make comments that are directly related to what you just said.
  • They tilt their head to one side slightly.
  • They rest their head on one hand while looking at you intently.
  • They nod as you talk.
Gif of a person with medium-brown skin and black eyes. Their hair is tied back in a low bun. They are nodding and smiling and opening their mouth slightly.
Gif of a pug sitting upright and wearing a blue t-shirt and blue headphones, rocking back and forth.

Wait, no, that’s a dog.

Confusion

  • They frown and sort of look away from you, as in the following gif. (Eyebrows up means “I’m surprised/wtf.” Eyebrows down means “I’m thinking about this and it makes even less sense than I initially assumed.”)
Gif of Gloria from Modern Family, a Latina woman with long light brown hair. She is standing in a kitchen with a hand on her hip, turning her head and frowning.
  • They say “WHAAAAT?” with four As. Not three. Not five. Four.
Gif of a minion from Despicable Me saying "WHAAAAT?"
(The key to understanding nonverbal cues: hang out exclusively with minions.)
  • Their eyes widen. This one’s hard to describe, but see the following gif…
Gif of Monica Geller from Friends, a white woman with short, dark brown hair. She is slightly grimacing with a confused expression and blinking.
Monica Geller.
  • They have this frozen, frowny facial expression, like this guy from SNL whose name I can’t remember. Kind of sad, given how much I watch SNL…
Gif of a white man with short blond hair in a buzzcut. He is wearing a salmon-pink button-down shirt and frowning, looking confused.

Boredom

  • Their eyes are glazed.
  • They start to fidget.
  • They repeatedly try to interrupt you or say something.
  • They yawn a lot.
  • You’ve asked multiple open-ended questions, and they answered all of them with one or two words.
  • Their answers to your questions are getting a lot shorter (i.e., at the start of the conversation, they were talking much more than they are now).

“I personally yawn a lot, and it has no bearing on whether I’m bored or not. When I’m bored, I may be checking my phone (for the time) or stop contributing things to the conversation in an effort to extinguish it. This could mean shorter answers to open-ended questions, looking around/getting distracted, fidgeting (in the case that I’m being distracted about work and want to get back to something purely because I’m behind on something).” –Zoe

Frustration or Anger

  • They rub their face repeatedly.
  • They cross their arms tightly.
  • Their jaw is clenched.
  • They’re making way less eye contact than they did at the start of the conversation.
  • Their voice becomes colder and stiffer.

angry jamie chung GIF by HULU

This is a deceptive smile; notice how it rapidly turns into a grimace and the inside ends of the eyebrows draw together. I have no clue what show this is from. Resident Advisors, I guess?

Nervousness

  • They’re hunched over.
  • Their hands are shaking.
  • They stare at the ground and don’t make eye contact.
  • They twirl their hair around their finger.
  • They bite their lip, chew their nails, or something to that effect.
Gif of a white woman with shoulder-length blond hair wearing a sleeveless purple dress. She is laughing, and the caption on the gif reads, "[nervous laughter]".

Petition for life to come with subtitles so we don’t have to expend so much energy decoding this stuff?

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