Fine Tune Your Social Skills By Paying Attention To The Feet- They Leak Our Intentions!
We rarely consider the feet when thinking about body language, yet our feet are one of the most honest parts of the body- they leak our intentions.
Even just a basic understanding of foot direction can improve the way we interact socially, across all areas of our life- from knowing when someone is really into you, to knowing who to approach at a networking event.
Let's cover the Basics...
When we're having a conversation our bodies orient towards the other person, showing nonverbal respect. In most cases our head will be facing them as well as our torso- but where are our feet pointing? If we are engrossed in the conversation or the person, our feet will be pointing towards that person, as well as our head and torso.
What does this look like?
The images below show intimate moments or conversations in which the participants are fully engaged. As you can see, their feet are pointing towards each other.
If we're not fully engaged in a conversation, our feet will be pointing elsewhere- to where we would rather be, or where we should be. This applies whether we are sitting or standing.
Picture this. You're enduring the droning, one sided conversation of your talkative colleague (you know the one). It's been going on for quite some time and all your polite efforts to end the conversation have gone unheard. Your head and torso face towards them, because you don't want to appear rude. Yet your (honest) feet give the game away. They'll be pointing in the direction of where you'd rather be; towards the exit, your work space, someone else or even the bathroom. Pay attention to your own feet next time you find yourself in one of these interactions.
If your talkative colleague had a little more social intelligence, they would have already noticed that it's time to bring the conversation to an end. They would have responded to the subtle cues that say (nonverbally) how you really feel- your feet being a dead set giveaway.
If you're reading this and thinking "Is it possible I'm that talkative person?", then don't worry, skills to help you understand how people are feeling can easily be learnt. Start with paying attention to the feet!
Interestingly, studies on courtroom behaviour show that jurors point their feet towards the exit, when listening to a witness they don't like.
If you're in conversation with someone and their feet aren't pointing towards you it doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't engaged in what you're saying or that they don't like you, it could simply be the case that they need to be somewhere else- maybe they have a lot of work to complete, or another appointment to get to. Take this as your cue to end the conversation, respectfully allowing them to get on with what they need to do. If you still have important information to convey, you can schedule a time to continue, or offer to follow up via email.
We can read foot direction to know when it's appropriate to end a conversation. And we can also use this behaviour to subtly indicate to someone that we need to be elsewhere, at those times when we are engaged in the conversation, but we really do need to be somewhere else. Understanding foot direction can also help us to know when it's appropriate to join a conversation, or not. This can be particularly useful at networking events, when we're out of our comfort zone and not sure whether to interrupt in order to join people we don't know, mid-discussion.
When people are conversing, yet open to others joining in, their feet will tell you so. Typically, one foot will be pointing slightly outward. This is your cue to approach. Look at this in the image below and compare the difference to when two people are fully engaged in a conversation and not as open to interruption.
It can be unnerving at networking events, especially for those that are more introverted. Knowing when you're pretty safe to interrupt a conversation can make a lot of difference in your own levels of comfort and being more successful with your interactions. Work on this skill by observing foot direction in yourself and in others. You'll find that it can be a useful tool to gauge the feelings of others, as well as an indicator to better influence your own behaviour.