Written by: Lauren Hirsch Williams, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
I've always been a people-watcher. Give me a cozy corner in a coffee shop, and I'm content for hours, nursing my drink (accompanied too often by a cinnamon bun) and observing the rich tapestry of human behavior around me. One time, I noticed something that changed my thoughts on analyzing body language.
It was a typical morning. The coffee shop was buzzing with hoards of people coming in and out, a constant hum of conversations melding seamlessly with the soft pop music in the background. As I sat in my favorite corner watching the scene, a young professional, whom I mentally named Steven, caught my attention (Sometimes I name people to see if the barista calls out the same name. Funnily enough, I'm right sometimes!). He was setting up what looked like a business meeting with a woman who later joined him. We'll call her Sarah (it turns out I was right about Steven's name, but never heard hers).
From the start, it seemed routine enough: a standard business interaction with laptops, pieces of paper spread around, and plenty of nodding. But as I settled into my observer mode, I noticed a subtle dance playing out beneath the table – a dance of feet.
Steven appeared eager, perhaps even a touch anxious. His heels were slightly off the ground, balanced against the legs of his chair, a subtle indication of nerves. Sarah, however, seemed fully present. Her feet were flat on the ground and not moving, a posture I recognized as one of confidence and engagement.
As Steven got deeper into his 'pitch,' I was drawn to a subtle shift. Sarah's feet began to pivot slightly towards the exit. Her face betrayed nothing, but her feet hinted at a waning interest.
Steven seemed to pick up on this even though he didn't appear to look at her feet. He started weaving in stories of how his product worked and had transformed businesses. Blah blah. The typical sales pitch. This change in his tactic, however, seemed to work. Sarah's feet gradually rotated back, realigning with him. I was enthralled. It was like watching a silent ballet of intent and interest.
A loud group barged in, shattering the cafe's momentary calm. Sarah's feet shuffled, signaling a fleeting distraction. But Steven was in tune. He leaned in, subtly drawing Sarah's focus back. And like loyal soldiers, her feet once again anchored in his direction.
By the end of their meeting, their feet had synced up. His were no longer up and anxious but were solidly on the ground, just like hers. They mirrored each other, signaling mutual understanding.
Why feet are the unsung heroes of body language
It's no revelation that our facial expressions have been conditioned since childhood. We've all been schooled in the art of maintaining a pleasant face, masking displeasure, or feigning interest. It's societal, it's polite, and let's be honest, often necessary to keep the peace in certain situations.
However, our feet remain relatively untouched by this conditioning. They're genuine, raw, and truthful. In a world where we're often told to "put on a brave face" or "keep a straight face," our feet haven't received the same memo. Have you ever heard "keep your heels on the ground?" Our feet react in real-time, mirroring our subconscious feelings and intentions.
In that coffee shop, I realized how
Engagement is Grounded: Feet firmly planted on the ground, facing the person you're interacting with, often indicates genuine interest and engagement.
Distraction and Discomfort Show: Feet pointing away, especially towards exits, can hint at a desire to wrap things up. Similarly, restless shuffling or repositioning can indicate distractions or discomfort.
Synergy is in Sync: When two people's feet mirror each other's positions, it often suggests they're on the same page or wavelength. This non-verbal synchrony can be a strong indicator of mutual agreement or understanding.
The ground-up approach to body language
As I left the cafe that day, I felt excited to notice a new critical insight into body language. We usually focus on facial cues, voice modulations, and hand gestures while a crucial piece of the puzzle is right under our nose (or rather, under the table).
So now, whether in meetings or observing strangers, I always start from the ground up. A subtle glance down gives me information I might have otherwise missed by a face that's been trained well. And it does make a difference. While faces play their parts, and I often talk with my clients and write in my book One Sense Ahead about reading faces accurately, it's the feet that keep it real. The feet, often overlooked, might just be the most genuine storytellers in the room.
Lauren Hirsch Williams, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Lauren Hirsch Williams is a Business Relevance Strategist, Pitch Stylist, International Bestselling Author, and Award-Winning Screenwriter. With decades of experience, which includes Worldwide Director of Advertising at PepsiCo, Founder of MovieHatch, and Creator of the new MyTurn TV Network for empowering women, she’s been on all sides of the “table”. She teaches others to find their inner strength by using their senses in an uncommon way. Her recent bestseller, ONE SENSE AHEAD, explains the protocol to start that process.