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Using Body Position to Defuse Angry People

During a hostile confrontation, a person may display aggressive body language without even thinking about it. But just as a person conveys anger through nonverbal cues, we can train ourselves to promote peace through other nonverbal cues that express peacefulness.

by Tristan Loo

According to American Psychologist Randall Harrison, its estimated that only 35% of human communication is conveyed through the spoken word. The other 65% of communication is done through nonverbal communication and the vocal qualities of speech.

During a hostile confrontation between two people, both parties will naturally assume either defensive or aggressive nonverbal behavior without even thinking about it. These aggressive nonverbal cues include, but are not limited to:

  • Finger pointing (very aggressive)
  • Glaring
  • Invasion of personal or even intimate space (4Ē and closer)
  • Arms crossed
  • Widening of stance
  • Hands on hips
  • Fingers clenched into a fist
  • Increase in the volume of voice
  • Is it possible to use nonverbal communication to defuse an angry person? The answer is: yes, it is possible.

    In much the same way a person conveys anger through nonverbal cues, we can also train ourselves to promote peace through nonverbal cues that express peacefulness.

    Open palms

    The single biggest nonverbal gesture that conveys peace is by placing your palms up so that they are facing upwards. Just as submissive dogs expose their throats to convey peace, our equivalent gesture is to turn our hands upwards.

    This feels entirely unnatural when we are confronted with a hostile person, so it requires practice, but you can practice this during any conversation. Open palms not only convey submissiveness, but also honesty.

    Triangle body pointing

    When someone becomes angry at us, it is common for them to turn their body so that it is directly facing our own. They might even start invading our personal space to increase their intimidation level. If we are also angry, the tendency is not to back down to this invasion, but rather meet them head on; however, this only serves to increase the level of tension.

    Instead, orient your body position at 90 degrees in relation to your partnerís body in such a way that if you were to draw a line in the direction that both of you are facing, it would intersect at an imaginary third point. This is known as triangle body pointing and in a normal and friendly conversation, we do it naturally.

    This type of body pointing facilitates cooperation because it provides a feeling of openness during the conversation. With our bodies at 90 degrees, it creates that imaginary third point which acts like an escape route.

    When we adopt a closed position, such as when we are faced directed at a person, it has a similar effect of pushing them into a corner because there is no out except through you and this is perceived as a challenge. Looking down In a hostile confrontation, glaring at each other is a sign of defiance and a nonverbal challenge to each other. The glare is such a powerful nonverbal signal that it can in and of itself provoke a fight.

    The reverse of that is to avert your gaze downwards. This signifies noncombativeness and submission. By gazing downwards, you are basically telling the other person, ďHey, Iím not here to fight.Ē

    Decrease voice volume

    When someone gets angry, the volume of their voice tends to increase. In response to their volume, in order for us to feel like we are the dominant being, we increase our own voice to a level just above theirs. This type of vocal competition fosters conflict.

    Instead of competing with their volume, do the opposite and decrease the volume of your voice. Speak in a gentle, calm, and soothing tone. The volume level of your voice should be a few notches higher than barely audible.

    This does a couple of things. First, it establishes that you are not in competition with your partner. Second, your partner wants to hear things that they can use against you in an argument. They canít respond to something that they canít hear. By decreasing the volume of your voice, you in effect, force your partner into becoming a better listener.

    Head tilting

    Most animals, including humans, are programmed to minimize exposure to their necks because this is a vital area that can be attacked. If you have ever witnessed two dogs attacking, they instinctively go for each otherís throats. Head tilting is a peaceful gesture because by tilting your head, you expose your neck. This has the psychological effect of disarming the other person by making you seem less threatening.


    By using one or a combination of these nonverbal cues, you can increase your chances of defusing a direct one-on-one confrontation with another person.

    Tristan Loo is an experienced negotiator and an expert in conflict resolution. He uses his law enforcement experience to train others in the prinicples of defusing conflict and reaching agreements. Visit his website at http://www.acrsonline.com or e-mail him directly at CEO@acrsonline.com





    Some Related Articles:

    Controlling Anger When Someone Yells At You
    The Frown, the Smirk and the Snort
    How to Defuse Other People's Anger
    5 Signs for Detecting a Liar



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