“These Are The Deadly Body Language Signs Of Anxiety” – Negotiation Insight

“Recognizing body language signs indicating anxiety is like taking aspirins before headaches occur.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert  (Click to Tweet)

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“These Are The Deadly Body Language Signs Of Anxiety”

“People don’t realize; they’re always negotiating.”

When reading body language, you must know the body language signs to observe to understand the meaning those signs convey. Without that insight, you’ll miss the full intent of the message. And that missed opportunity could have been the point to de-escalate a situation that then ignites into something more uncontrollable. 

Anytime a situation becomes tense, it heightens the probability that it will escalate into dangerous territory. It’s for that reason alone that you should be aware of sharp tensions. And, while some symptoms are more meaningful than others, depending on the situation, the following are signs that indicate degrees of increased imminent danger, that can become enhanced by anxiety.

Clenching Fists 

When an individual begins flexing his hands into clenching fists, he is preparing for some form of battle. That battle may initially be the source of verbal escalation. Then, it may become heightened by the anxiety that’s fed by the rise in tension, which would only serve to increase the probability of it becoming dire. Thus, each time a cycle occurs, it provides the fuel to accelerate the process. If an interrupt doesn’t happen to short-circuit the process, physical violence can become the endpoint. Since this act indicates the closeness of physical danger, it’s a sign that should not go ignored. To do so could be at your peril.

Flexing Neck

An often-overlooked body language sign of anxiety is neck flexing. While the effort can be engaged to exercise the reduction of tension in one’s body, if the source of that tension stems from stress, the environment becomes more susceptible to escalating into threatening behavior. And that could enhance the probability that you and others could become the target of someone’s fiendish out-lashes.

When observing someone flexing their neck, recognize that act alone doesn’t indicate pending troubles. Like with body language gestures in general, to accurately assess someone’s intent, the more gestures you observe, the better the information you’ll have to obtain someone’s intentions correctly. With that insight, you’ll become better positioned to take corrective action should danger ensue.

Invading Personal Space

There’s a space perspective that people have to others that indicate how safe and comfortable they feel in that space. You’ll note someone’s discomfort if they back up, or use a gesture, such as extending their arm outward, to allow you to see the extended space that they’d like you to keep from them. If, after receiving a signal about the appropriate distance one would like to maintain is violated, further assessment needs to occur immediately about the violater’s intent.

Because when the vicinity of space becomes violated, the act might become perceived as a hostile gesture. And, if the anxiety of other harmful actions accompanies that gesture, a dangerous situation could be born.  

Nevertheless, sometimes, people may want to be unusually close to you. In some cultures, it’s customary for people to engage one another in closer proximity than other cultures. If their closeness doesn’t cause you anxiety, let them feel comfortable by obtaining that closeness. But when it prompts uneasiness in you, say something before they have a chance to do something, that something being anything that might bring you further discomfort or harm.

Feet Movement/Placement

Of all the gestures that could indicate pending danger, depending on the space between you and someone else, feet placement is the one that you should initially observe. Because a person will use their feet to approach you, and the way they do so, will give you insight into the intent of their actions. Someone moving quickly towards you might be indicating that they’re happy to be in your presence. The reason for that may be what you should question. To make that assessment, you must observe other gestures. As an example, if the person has a scowl on their face and they’re slowly moving towards you, and they begin to smile as they get closer, you might interpret that action as being less threatening than someone clenching their fists as they approach you while not smiling.

Then, once someone is close to you, their feet will indicate their intention. As an example, if a person plans to exit your environment, one foot will point in the direction they plan to exit. If they intend to become more aggressive, they’ll move closer to you, and their feet may momentarily become aligned with yours. If an attack is imminent, before its occurrence, a momentary backward step may occur, followed by a thrust of energy to propel a fist, elbow, or kick. And obviously, you’ll know their intent to harm you at that instance. So, before things get to that point, pay attention to the body language that foretells its arrival. 


When I was a kid in early grade school, I remember playing a game called “what’s missing.” As the kids entered the classroom, the teacher had items placed throughout the room. The kids would take note of those items and their locations. After that, we closed our eyes. Then the teacher rearranged or removed some of the things. Once we could open our eyes, we had to tell the teacher what items were removed or repositioned.

I loved that game. It reminds me so much about reading body language signs. By noting what signs you saw one moment and observing how they’d changed into what they became, you can note when anxiety might be the motivator that caused that change to occur. Thus, by perceiving your environment via someone’s body language signs, you get a glimpse into the coming attractions. That means, by being observant of such actions, you’ll have more time to thwart the efforts that might lead to unwanted activities. And everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

Listen to Greg’s podcast at https://anchor.fm/themasternegotiator

After reading this article, what are you thinking? I’d like to know. Reach me at Greg@TheMasterNegotiator.com

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