When Shoulders Speak…What Our Most Overlooked Body Part Tells Others Reply

By Chris Simmons

The shoulders lack the range of motion and expression associated with the arms, hands, fingers, and legs. That said, they are the mantle of one’s torso. This prominence – especially considering the shoulder’s closeness to the head – plays a key role in amplifying verbal communication (including intentional silence). The eight most common shoulder positions are:

Raised:  Standing with shoulders erect is indicative of power and respect or fear-based arousal. Conversely, hunched shoulders can indicate the individual is cold or tense (from anxiety, fear, or exercise).

Pulled Forward:  This stance occurs naturally when the arms are folded, often done as a defensive position to show defiance or emotional distance.

Pushed Back:  “Puffing the chest” indicates aggressive posturing and perhaps that one is ready for a confrontation.

Turned Away: Giving someone the “cold shoulder” often signifies contempt or avoidance as one is terminating eye contact and precluding further conversation. On the other hand, when someone maintains eye contact but intentionally turns the back of their shoulder to the speaker, they are indicating a need to leave.

Relaxed:  Stress is carried in the shoulders, so a truly relaxed individual will display low-hanging (in some case, sagging) shoulders with freely moving arms.

Leaning:  To lean against a wall or another individual is an indication of trust and/or relaxation. Leaning forward can signal interest or be an attempt to intimidate.

Shrug: A full shrug is the universal gesture for “I don’t know.” In contrast, a partial shrug suggests the individual is insecure or uncommitted in their response (that is, he/she knows more but prefers not telling). A one-shoulder shrug is often a sign of deception.

Circling:  Frequently associated with exercising of the shoulder girdle, it may also include a rolling of the head and neck. The basis for such action generally focuses on reducing muscle tension or preparing the body for exercise/action. However, if you are speaking to someone and they begin this gesture (without a tension/exercise rationale), it is a sign of disrespect.

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